With the demand for multimedia output growing, the display of material on CD-ROMs has become widespread. CD-ROMs are less vulnerable to damage from human handling than other output. CD-ROMs can include full-color text and graphics, as well as music and full-motion video, so as an output medium they provide a designer maximum creativity. The DVD (digital versatile disc) is also a useful output technology. Not only are DVDs used for output, but they also are used for backup storage.
Many of the new Web-based systems you design will have the capability of sending electronic output in the form of email, faxes, and bulletin board messages that can be sent from one computer to another without the need for hard copy.
Email can be set up and run internally in the organization through an intranet, or set up through communication companies or online service providers. By designing email systems, you can support communication throughout the organization. A useful and flexible email system can form the basis of support for work groups.
Two newer groups of technologies that allow users to pull information from the Web and also allow organizations to send information to them periodically are being designed for organizations. These output technologies are called pull and push technologies, reflecting the way users and organizations look for information on the Web and either “pull” it in downloads or have it sent, or “pushed,” to them.
RSS (really simple syndication) feeds are XML documents that users can obtain from links on Web pages or to which they can subscribe. They contain a title, usually the same name as the Web site of the RSS feed; a link, often the same link as the Web page; a short description; copyright; the language the text is written in, using a standard code such as en-us (for English—United States); pubDate (the published date); lastBuildDate (the date that the RSS feed was last modified); images; text; and other information. RSS feeds are usually marked on a Web page by white XML or RSS text on an orange button. Recently an orange square with three white lines depicting radio waves was introduced in Firefox as a secondary button symbol, and it is gaining in popularity.
RSS is supposed to be really simple. It is made up of a feed (also known as a channel), which has a title, link, and description, followed by a number of news items, each with its own title, link, and description. Although it is supposed to be simple, you should realize that there are over a half a dozen different versions of RSS and a similar syndication format called Atom. Developers can provide RSS feeds on their company’s Web site or develop them for clients.
The RSS feed is read using RSS reader software, often a free program. These readers, sometimes called news aggregators, are programs that track updates, download, categorize, and display RSS feeds. RSS is a way of gathering and distributing news and other content from multiple sources.
RSS news readers can either stand alone or be integrated with your browser as plugins. At this time, popular news readers are Bloglines, BottomFeeder, FeedDEMON, MY MSN, My Yahoo!, NewsIsFree, NEWSMONSTER, Pluck, RSSBANDIT, SHARPREADER, and Wizz RSS (for Firefox browsers). Soon the market for RSS readers will shake out and only a few RSS readers will survive.
RSS has the advantage of efficiently organizing news and other information from a variety of sources chosen by the user. It is also timely, with the latest news displayed first. RSS is not limited to news but can be used to keep track of the latest revision of a book or manuscript, check new movie or theatre reviews, or gain early knowledge of new software for your mobile phone.
An important output technology made possible by the Web is pull technology. If you have tried to pull information from the Web by clicking on links, you have used the most basic type of pull technology.
In the future, evolutionary agents (programmed using intelligent agent software) may be used to help organizational members find what they need on the Web. These agents will relieve some of the users’ typical burden of searching the Web, because the agents will observe and understand users’ behavior as they interact with a variety of material on the Web, and then can be programmed to seek out the information users want. In this way, Web searches will be more efficient and more effective for users.
Another type of output analysts design is Web and wireless content delivered via push technology. Push technology can be used for external communication to push (electronically send) solicited or unsolicited information to a customer or client. It can also be used within the organization to focus the immediate attention of an employee or a decision maker who is facing a critical deadline to critical items. The term push technology can be described as any content sent to users at specified times, from basic Webcasting to selective content delivery using sophisticated evolutionary filtering agents.
Many traditional as well as Internet-based businesses are experimenting with push technology. Push technology can get the information to the person who needs it. Broadcasting information to all employees is less expensive than printing out information and then distributing it to a select few. However, the analyst needs to guard against flooding employees with meaningless pushed information.
Push technologies are highly flexible. For example, when output is delivered over an intranet to a PC, the user is able to take it and customize it in many ways. An employee may decide to look at a single product or may want to generate a graph of sales over time.