Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the computing technology is the ability to combine text, graphics, sounds, and moving images in meaningful ways. The promise of multimedia has been slow to reach the web because of bandwidth limitations, but each day brings new solutions. The options enumerated here are certainly not the only ones and will surely soon become outdated but they are the solutions we use in our work and have proved to be the most practical and effective for our purposes.
Splash vs. content
Web designers must always be considerate of the consumer. A happy customer will come back, but one who has been made to wait, and is then offered goods that are irrelevant, will very likely shop elsewhere. Since multimedia comes with a high price-tag in terms of bandwidth, it should be used sparingly and judiciously.
Splash screens have become a common location for multimedia elements. Like the cover to a book, splash screens are intended to entice users into a site to open the book and read what's inside. Animations and sound can pique a user's curiosity, compelling them to enter the site and explore. Using "splash" in the interior of a site, however, is not something we advocate. As we discuss in the interface section of this manual, any page element that is not relevant to the content is simply distracting.
The options for content are essentially defined by bandwidth. Audio files can be compressed so effectively that sound can now be considered for site content, particularly for intranet sites. For example, a site about poetry could include recitations; a text about a composer could include excerpts from her work; a language site could include pronunciations.
Animation files at present are not terribly useful as content because of compression limitations. Most animation file formats require the file to be fully downloaded before it can be played, so file size is a serious limitation. And most popular animation formats do not support compression, so if one content-rich GIF image is 30k, two combined makes 60k, and so on.
If your site will be accessed by people using modems, forget about digital video, at least for the moment. The quality compromises required to deliver video to modems altogether obviate its usefulness. However, if your site is intended for use on an intranet, video content is a definite possibility.
Each day brings a new plug-in that allows users to see new and exciting things using their favorite browser software. This is especially true of multimedia; the options for encoding and delivering audio, animations, and video are dizzying. It is tempting to create files that utilize the functionality offered by these custom plug-ins, but there are two considerations designers should bear in mind. First, you will loose a large number of users when they hit the "Plug-in not supported, etc..." dialog box.
The bother and potential confusion of downloading and installing plug-ins will deter a large percentage of users. Secondly, it is not prudent to create content in a custom file format which could quickly become obsolete. It is best to create your multimedia content in the standard formats for operating systems and browser software.