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To stream or not to stream: the H2F Media question
Pricey, but popular approach gets viewer response

By  Brian Livingston October 15, 2002  

Considering how much mail people get these days, you often hear that you should never insert a streaming video file or other "rich media" content into an e-mail message. But a Lake Oswego, Ore., company is doing so quite successfully, using sophisticated techniques.


H2F Media, named for its three founders' initials, specializes in rich content. In its e-mails, a small video is downloaded automatically or when the recipient clicks Play. The company is planning an as-yet-unannounced upgrade of its Adaptive Media Package (AMP) software to Version 2.0 in the coming weeks.

One sender of AMP messages is a Las Vegas hotel whose guests have agreed to receive e-mail about upcoming specials, according to Jeff Gaus, H2F's VP of sales and marketing. Another is a university football department, which sends high-school athletes glamorous videos of the sporting life on campus.

H2F doesn't embed videos into the body of its outgoing e-mails. Embedded multimedia and image files are often stripped out by corporate mail servers.

Instead, H2F has developed a seven-part message, using the Internet's MIME e-mail standard. When a recipient views a piece of mail, the message determines the user's available bandwidth on the fly.

The user then sees a video in a smaller or larger frame, and a higher or lower refresh rate, adapting to the bandwidth. (Users with plain-text e-mail clients see a text message urging them to visit a Web page.) In a clever trick, the videos -- formatted as Microsoft WMP files -- play within the e-mail message, rather than opening a separate Windows Media Player window.

All this has given H2F an intimate look at the Internet capabilities of its entire recipient base. Although its list is more high-end than a random sample of average Americans would be, H2F's findings of actual throughput still show some surprising results:

Percent of Users Categorized by Actual Throughput

12% - Under 28.8Kbps (9.6Kbps or 14.4Kbps modems)

09% - 28.8Kbps to 56Kbps

34% - 56Kbps to 100Kbps

23% - 100Kbps to 300Kbps

20% - Over 300Kbps

Eight out of 10 AMP recipients enjoy throughput higher than 56Kbps, suggesting they're retrieving e-mail through a corporate, campus, or home broadband network. But the largest category -- 34 percent -- are getting only 56Kbps to 100Kbps of throughput. This indicates a network that is totally congested, Gaus says. You can't assume people have high bandwidth just because they're accessing the Internet via a T1 line or cable modem.

Even so, 28 percent of AMP messages are opened by recipients, over 14 percent view the entire video, and more than 5 percent click a link in the message, Gaus says. (These figures include all AMPs his company transmitted in the nine months ending June 30.)

The messages aren't entirely trouble-free. If an AMP appears in a Microsoft Outlook "preview pane," and its video clip is set to play automatically, two audio streams will overlap if the message is also opened in a separate window. Whether or not the video will auto-play is "a choice of the designer," Gaus says.

AMPs aren't free, either. H2F charges $2,500 to format each one, plus storage charges for videos kept online after an initial 30 days, and 8.5 to 12.5 cents per message transmitted. Many clients find this well worth it to get that 5 percent response rate, though.

For samples of AMP delivery, see the H2F Media Web site: http://h2fweb1.conxion.com http://bri.li/4e70

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Prices just keep dropping on tiny hard drives that fit on a key ring and plug into the USB slot of your laptop or desktop. The much-in-demand 128MB size -- with more capacity than 88 floppies -- has fallen below $100.

Not too many places can keep these babies in stock. But if you find an e-tailer with a supply and you'd like an easy way to carry your data from office to home (or anywhere), JMTek's 128MB unit may be your answer. For more information: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/7580

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1. Yahoo switches to paid auction listings to woo large online e-tailers: http://www.news.com http://bri.li/438

2. New browser reshapes and displays entire Web pages on cell phone screens: http://www.cnn.com http://bri.li/820

3. Tiny businesses find ways to use Web sites to break into local markets: http://startup.wsj.com http://bri.li/c08

4. Anti-virus makers find spam-filtering is turning into big business: http://www.ispworld.com http://bri.li/ff0

5. Want your e-business to fail? Follow these 10 simple rules: http://www.globetechnology.com http://bri.li/13d8

6. Changes to Google page-ranking algorithm alarm some users: http://www.searchengineforums.com http://bri.li/17c0

7. Flash MX makes artistic displays practical for users with low vision: http://www.useit.com http://bri.li/1ba8

8. Keyboard of projected light may eliminate bulky objects to lug about: http://news.bbc.co.uk http://bri.li/1f90

9. How does SOAP compare to CORBA and DCOM for Web services?: http://www.newarchitectmag.com http://bri.li/2378

10. Bill Gates will send you money! And other fabled Internet hits: http://www.computerworld.com http://bri.li/2760

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One of the most popular short videos this week at iFilm.com, the Internet movie guide, is the hilarious "How to Be a Cyber-Lovah." Keir Serrie directs actor Chad Benton as Herb Zipper, a portly Web surfer who honestly admits, "In the real world, I'd be suffering from the sting of rejection." On the Internet, however, "It's always 1977."

The film is conceived as an over-the-top infomercial for Herb Zipper's site, an actual "cyber shop" with outrageous descriptions of actual products for sale. The video is rude, but there's no nudity, and it's very funny. See it at: http://www.ifilm.com http://bri.li/c3a0

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston: http://SecretsPro.com

Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

Win a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. mailto:Brian@SecretsPro.com

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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