Interactive Media

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  • Topic: Multimedia, Digital media, Interactive media
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Interactive Media— What’s that? Who’s involved?

Elaine England and Andy Finney ATSF January 2002

ATSF White Paper—Interactive Media UK—©2002 ATSF

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Interactive media - what’s that?
For those people that have been part of the digital revolution this query seems rather trivial. But it is experience and expertise that allow people to discuss terminology without actually defining the terms. It is easy to forget how long it takes to get up to speed! For those people starting off on the quest or for people like career advisors trying to offer initial advice on the subject, there appears to be no easy way into this unmapped territory. The relevance of this paper is not just for new entrants: many in the industry have a fragmented perspective without realising it. So in an attempt to clarify the position, we take an aerial perspective related primarily to the UK.

The definition
Interactive media is the integration of digital media including combinations of electronic text, graphics, moving images, and sound, into a structured digital computerised environment that allows people to interact with the data for appropriate purposes. The digital environment can include the Internet, telecoms and interactive digital television. No wonder it is difficult for new entrants to understand. The important concepts to hold on to are ‘interactive’ and ‘media’ across a range of ‘delivery channels’ or ‘platforms’.

What causes the confusion?
The terms used ... There are many terms used to denote the interactive nature of digital applications—multimedia, new media and interactive design are common examples. Because the interactive sector has quickly evolved through phases, the terms have often been coined to reflect a phase that then gets surpassed. A quick historical overview will give the background that causes confusion for those joining the dynamic sector. The word Multimedia used to have a specialist connotation for the audio-visual industry. Uses of multiple or mixed media in such analogue systems as slide shows or overhead projectors were known as ‘multimedia’. But this specialist use was superseded by the arrival of digital technology. Integrated digital media was termed interactive multimedia and usually shortened to plain multimedia for convenience. The need to differentiate between analogue (linear) and digital (interactive) uses of media spawned other terms like New Media and Digital Media. The term ‘New media’ carries it’s own problems as the media associated with the original term are replaced with newer instances of the ‘new’. Obsolescence is endemic in the interactive arena. However, the term remains in use although Digital Media and Interactive Media are more stable terms and are being used increasingly. The term Interactive Media highlights the interactive connotation that is a key characteristic of the difference between the older style media and the new. When the Web quickly became the largest hardware platform, and development for it became the most common form of

ATSF White Paper—Interactive Media UK—©2002 ATSF

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interactive development, the emphasis on ‘media’ was dropped. This may have been because the capacity for using media other than text on the Web was and remains limited. Skill sets such as Web Design, and Web Development came to the fore and these more specific terms overshadowed the more general terms like Digital Media and Interactive Media. The irony is that ‘multimedia’ is the preferred term still used by telcos (telecommunications companies) because when they entered the interactive arena only a few years ago, they did not have any previous use of the term and did not find it confusing. In the wider technological context, terms like ICT (Information and Communications Technologies—favoured in the education sector), the Digital Revolution, and Convergence began to be used in an attempt to define the pervasive changes that interactive technologies were causing within traditional...
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