We're actually talking about technologies used to build some of the rich, immersive digital experiences you're seeing on the web these days. Gone are the days of static pages -- new technologies are letting users zoom infinitely and experience the web in 3-D, much like users have been able to in video games. The graphic cards in computers are getting better, and that means that the web is just going to keep getting better-looking.
What's the deal with Silverlight? I've had to download it to stream the Olympics and March Madness on Demand.
Silverlight is Microsoft's rich-video technology. Like Adobe's Flash, Silverlight requires you to download a browser plugin and, because it's still pretty new, fewer computers have it -- and that's keeping some marketers from adopting it. Silverlight is at a very early stage, but it's growing rapidly.
Microsoft's strategy for Silverlight is to sign deals that have it power a few really big, high-profile video events. The Olympics on nbcolympics.com was one of them; March Madness on Demand on cbssports.com was another. Silverlight's advantage is that it's graphically very rich, but because Flash is so widespread on users' machines, it remains the platform of choice.
So let's say I build a video-heavy, graphically rich site -- will the search engines be able to read it?
Good question! And one to be sure you ask that at the start of any new site design or redesign, as it may affect the architecture of the site.
HTML and Ajax are much more readable by search engines than technologies such as Flash and Silverlight. One option if you want a Flash-rich site is to build a sort of HTML ghost site underneath it that the search engines can read. Another is a hybrid approach, where some of the site is in a more-readable language. Some agencies have created their own unique workarounds.
Is browser compatibility really still a problem? I mean, it's 2009!
Unfortunately, it is still a consideration of any developer. Pages can render differently depending on whether you're looking at them in Microsoft Explorer (the most common browser), Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari or a browser optimized for mobile like Opera.
"Early adopters of any websites are bloggers," said Farid Charouki, creative director at MRM Worldwide. "If your website starts getting trashed from Day One, you lost the battle."
All of this sounds cool, but complicated. Who can I call to do this stuff?
There are lots of folks who can handle web development, from specialty production shops to larger agencies. Know that while digital agencies can often handle production in-house, more traditional agencies often hand the work off to subcontractors.
Some of the new technologies are making things easier. Mr. Charouki, for example, likes an emerging development platform called Unity. "A lot of companies want to create high-end branded video games or advergames," he said. "This used to require two years of development with 20 full-time people, and it was hard to port it to different platforms. Today you can have a small team, spend a few months and not an astronomical budget and have that online."
What about other devices?
Markers should increasingly consider developing internet-connected experiences for other devices. Chris Bray, director-technology at Schematic, rattles them off: the Amazon Kindle, GPS devices, IPTV, large interactive walls, casual gaming devices, tablet PCs and surface PCs.
"Smart advertisers are going to want to adapt to new platforms as they emerge. They're going from living room to car, where they might have a heads-up display; using a GPS device; using PC at your desk at work; then walking to the coffee machine that has interactive display."