Problem is, the masses may not have big enough modems to maneuver the multimedia World Wide Web.
What are marketers and media companies on the Web to do? Wimp out and keep a site simple or aggressively play the 'Net?
Correct answer: Do both.
"If you want to reach everybody who's reaching the Internet, you have to go for a `bandwidth-agile' approach," said Emily Green, senior analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. That means designing sites that can take advantage of the coolest multimedia features for power users and scale down to a less graphics-laden site for consumers computing at a mere 9600 baud.
Computer watchers expect new home PCs by late '96 to come with 28.8 baud modems, twice the current standard, making multimedia features on the Web more accessible.
"You will find it difficult to buy a computer a year from now that doesn't have a 28.8 baud modem," said Steve McGeady, VP-general manager at Intel Corp.'s Internet Technology Lab.
Mr. McGeady offers another reason why Web developers had better be filling that faster connection with flashier content: PC consumers are getting so accustomed to vibrant, rich CD-ROMs that they are demanding more of home pages.
Game software like "Doom" sets users' expectations, so Web site developers should be striving to make sites just as engrossing, Mr. McGeady said.
"If an advertising executive wants to get people's attention, that's the world in which they have to compete," he said.
Perhaps the most buzz has surrounded Java, a programming language from Sun Microsystems that can give Web sites a multitude of multimedia for audio, animation, 3-D, interactivity as well as nifty features like instantly updated stock quotes or sports scores. Sun officially releases Java and its companion HotJava Web browser this month (see related story on this page).
Macromedia late last month unveiled a rival technology, Shockwave. Microsoft Corp. is developing Blackbird to create content for the Internet and Microsoft Network. Adobe Systems is building Amber, a new version of its Acrobat multimedia tools. If those catchy names don't catch your interest, Netscape Communications Corp., Apple Computer, Oracle Corp. and Quarterdeck Corp., among others, have their own wares to pitch.
Which is the right one?
The correct answer is: Any of the above.
"It's not a matter of picking between Java or Blackbird," said Intel's Mr. McGeady. "We could spend an hour talking about the pros and cons of each one. The most important thing is for people to be out there experimenting and trying things."
Still, Web site managers run a risk in picking Web options, such as full-motion video, that are too far ahead of PC and bandwidth capabilities.
"There could be an inappropriate use of new technology," acknowledged Michael Conte, group manager of Microsoft's Personal Systems Division and one of the company's Internet experts. "But there's probably a bigger danger in shooting too low."
The danger of aiming for the lowest common denominator is a competitor may shoot past with a far more compelling Web offering.
Just because new-fangled features are available doesn't mean Web sites need incorporate all of them. A record company, obviously, should employ audio clips; a movie studio, some video clips. A mail-order house may want to let customers see how clothing looks on a model of certain shape and size.
And a perfume company may want to try odorama. OK, site scents don't exist-yet. But "don't get swayed by fancy technologies," said Kevin Wandryk, director of business development at Adobe Systems.
Indeed, there is a trend toward cleaner, simpler graphics when Web sites get remodeled, said Victor Wheatman, research director for electronic commerce at Gartner Group, Santa Clara, Calif.
New technology also is making it easier for non-technical people to design standard home pages. This should mean communications professionals at ad agencies and across organizations will have far more direct involvement in the content of Web sites.
Adobe, for example, is selling Adobe PageMill, a $99 Web authoring program for Apple Macintosh. It's one of a crop of new basic Web design packages that will revolutionize Web publishing much as new technology reinvented desktop publishing a decade ago.
Picking Internet tools to build a Web site is not easy, but decisions today may not really matter in the long haul. Intel's Mr. McGeady likens the selection process to the way companies had to choose a word processor or spreadsheet a decade ago; in hindsight, it was more important simply to pick one than to wait till the market was settled out in the '90s.
With the cool collection of tools to design multimedia Web sites, the point is to check out the offerings and then pick what seems best for today. Just do something. It's always possible to switch later.
Says Mr. McGeady: "The people who are frozen like deer in the headlights of this oncoming technology will end up like those deer: roadkill."