The key word that describes what we do is "communicate." People love to connect and to tell stories. The purpose of the Flash Communication Server MX is to provide that capability to the designer of dynamic sites. The interfaces he or she designs will be the way users connect and tell their stories.
Chat is great for text-based communication. Due to its low bandwidth requirement and platform neutrality, it is accessible in all bandwidth situations.
The combination of Flash MX 2004 and the Flash Communication Server MX gives you the opportunity to go beyond text chat and explore real-time, two-way communications. Chat still has a time lag. You post the message, the respondent reads it and types a response, and you wait for the post.
Use streaming video and audio, and that time lag is a thing of the past. Even the bandwidth issues are becoming less important because audio and video communication can be compressed for max throughput in a minimum bandwidth (56k modem) environment.
When designing the pages that incorporate audio and video streaming, it is the prudent designer who ignores the technology and instead focuses on designing an interface that is both functional and usable.
In Flash MX 2004 you can build simple "communicators" using the Communications Components shown in Figure 17.1. You have seen how easy they are to use, and their attraction to the average developer is that they work.
The other attraction is the range of coding requirements. With the use of components, you can drag and drop your elements onto the Flash stage, and little or no programming is required. On the other end of the spectrum, you can hard-code your own elements to do exactly what you want. There is great variety in what can be accomplished.
Though the designer inevitably dictates the complexity of the design, communications solutions can be implemented in a matter of minutes if the need arises. In fact, the components can be used to stream audio and/or video at various bandwidths. This is due to the capability of the Flash Communication Server to adjust the video frame rate and audio compression used for the sound.
The best test for functionality is asking if the technology is transparent?determining if the user is unaware, for instance, that they are viewing a video passing through the Flash Communication Server MX: The Flash MX 2004 Communications Components pass this test.
One of the authors pointed out a great example of transparent technology that is just too good to pass up. He calls it the "Toasted Bagel Effect." His toaster actually has a CPU and all that implies. Still, the technology is transparent when using his toaster to toast a bagel.
When it comes to building a video and audio communicator for the Oakbridge Community Center, the key selling point is that anyone with a Flash Player can use it. According to Macromedia, the Flash Player is the single most rapidly adopted piece of software in history. It is ubiquitous and has a market share larger than the Big Three clients… combined.
The other key point is that no technology other than a microphone and/or web cam is needed. In fact, if the user can connect either of these devices to his or her computer, he or she is just about ready to go. Even then, none of that hardware is required if all the participant wants to do is to view or listen to the discussion.
Finally, as we pointed out, the Flash Player technology is about as close to being transparent as one can get. It provides instant audio and video communications within a web page. Best of all, the users won't need a user manual to learn how to get connected and participate. That, in many respects, is the ultimate usability test.