Improving Communications and Understanding

Certainly, multimedia can be more effective than other methods in immediately informing you about the way that people sound, look and feel about things. (Links to SOUND, LOOK, FEEL embedded movies have been dropped from this Internet version.) But there's a long way to go before the home video-phone and desktop video-conferencing bring multimedia communications into the forefront of how people relate to each other remotely. Or is there? When one considers how fast the Internet system of communications has grown, to network a presently-estimated 25-million computers around the world (academic and commercial, public and private), how access to host servers is becoming easier and cheaper, how rapidly optical fibre is spreading beneath the ground between our homes, then are we not just a few years away from a truly multimedia-capable Internet? Certainly, that's what the Internet Engineering Steering Group is currently discussing (July, 1994): protocols for multimedia transmissions in the twenty-first century, -- which is, afterall, just six years away! (See Graham Finnie, "Protocol Set To Transform Internet", Communications International, 18 July 1994, p.6.)

If you are accessing this document over the network, by means of a WorldWideWeb browser such as Mosaic, you are, of course, experiencing a multimedia communication, albeit at a low level and in a rather one-directional fashion (you can, of course, send comments using the 'please let me know' facility on the first index page of this article). Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) documents such as this one do show how multimedia can be used to talk about itself, to illustrate immediately some of the possibilities. And HTML documents are remarkably easy to create. No doubt future HTML documents will be more multimedia-capable. Presently, as you see, you can combine text, stills, movies and sounds. It is interactive multimedia but it's not perfect, and both of us (you the reader and I) need to have prepared quite a lot of ground to ensure that you receive all the information types and that they display or run correctly on your machine (which could be a Mac, PC or UNIX workstation).

Cross-platform computer connectivity is still a significant barrier to communications. It bodes well for the future, however, that HTML does work across the major computer platforms. And that further barrier to communication -- the ease-of-use of the tools -- is equally becoming less of a problem as graphical browsers such as Mosaic continue to appear and improve.