Multimedia isn't really a very good term for the creation, production and delivery of media content. Unfortunately it has become a standard part of the IT vocabulary, and many people view it to be a single activity, but actually involves many different skills from content design to software engineering skills. For example many find it difficult to differentiate the creation of the content from its development as an integrated system. Many also cannot differentiate this development from the delivery of the material. Each of these stages is a definitive part of the process, and require different skills at each stage. As illustrated in Figure 2, the stages might be:
Content creation. At the creation phase there are normally expert users, who know how the system should operate, and who it is aimed at. For example, a French language teacher will know how to present a structured course in the teaching of French, for a certain level of knowledge. They may not know how the material would operate in a multimedia environment, but they can produce material in a form that could be used in this.
Content integration. This is where IT skills are important, and normally involves inte-grating the content into a single package. As much as possible the developer must have communications with the content creators, and the delivery specialists.
Delivery. This is an important stage as it involves delivering the content to the user's computer. Typically these days the delivery is over the Internet, or over a network, thus bandwidth is a major consideration. It is important that delivery issues are taken into account, before the decisions are taken on the design and development of the package. The important elements
Maintenance. The material, once produced, must be kept up-to-date, and bugs fixed, and new material generated.
Figure 2 Multimedia stages (©billatnapier)
Just like software development, there is no defined way to develop multimedia. Each devel-oped system will have its own aims; its own target audience; its own method of delivery, and its own special problems. The factors that typically affect the develop cycle include:
Aims of the content. Different subject areas have differing requirements for the way that the content requires to be delivered. For example, a PhD student might require just a basic text-based document with simple line drawings for their research, but pre-school children would require a more graphically rich user interface, where text was replaced by pictures. The navigation would also be simpler.
Source content. The source content can be available in a number of different formats, and it may have to be generated before the system was developed, or it may have to be produced after the system has been designed. Another major factor is the protection of the content against it being copied by others.
User system requirements. This can have a great effect on the type of multimedia used, as it does no good at all to develop a totally graphical-based, animated system for a mobile computing device which has limited processing and memory capabilities. The operating system can also have a great effect on how the content is presented. It is extremely difficult to aim the requirements at the every user, but market research will show the typical systems that the target user uses.
Delivery. This is a major factor, and the delivery type should be defined by both the user, and the type of material. A multimedia system which has a great deal of video content will typically not cope well with a modem connection to the Internet. Thus CD-ROM delivery would probably give better delivery. Also it is difficult to deliver ex-ecutable programs over the Internet (and, in some case, they should not be trusted), and CD-ROM distribution makes this easier.
Maintainability. This is an important factor for the long-term development of a mul-timedia product. It is unlikely that the product will ever be completely finished, as new material is often required to be added to it, or bugs fixed. Thus, maintainability is an important factor. It does little good to develop a system, which is extremely difficult to add to, or to change in any way. A good example of this is in the Adobe PDF format. In this a package known as Abode Acrobat can be used to convert from many types of documents, such as Word documents, to the PDF format. Acrobat can then be used to add navigation, movies, sound, menus, and so on. Unfortunately it is difficult to up-date the original material without starting from the beginning again (although there is a basic touch-up tool to make small changes). Thus it is often better to choose a system which can easily update the material and reproduce the product. It is thus an advan-tage to make the media elements as small as possible, as a change in these will not have a great effect on the rest of the material.
Compatibility. This can be a major factor, for many reasons. If possible the amount of development for different types of delivery should be minimized. Thus it is a great ad-vantage to a developer if they can develop the same material for both CD-ROM delivery and also for Internet delivery.
Resusability. This is important, especially when parts of the multimedia system can be used in other systems. If possible content should be developed in a generic way, so that it can be easily modified so that it can be used again in another system. For example, a developer could develop a range of buttons, with associated interactions. If possible the develop should design them so that the could be easily used in another system. This might involve creating a way of changing the color of the button, or the text, or the way that events occur on the buttons.