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W3C recommends SMIL

The W3C formally recommends Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, a spec that helps synch up images, text, and sound on the Web.

The Web today improved its coordination with the World Wide Web Consortium's formal recommendation of Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, a specification that helps synch up images, text, and sound on the Web.

The newly recommended language, known as SMIL and pronounced "smile," will give Web developers a means of specifying how and when multimedia elements will show up on their pages. For instance, a developer could write a SMIL document for a page on which text appears, followed by a series of images and accompanied by music or spoken word.

The W3C, whose recommendations are not legally binding but are widely respected, gave its preliminary thumbs-up to SMIL in April.

Some have touted SMIL as a stepping stone to a World Wide Web that more closely resembles television.

"The thing that SMIL adds is a temporal aspect to your pages," said W3C working group editor Ian Jacobs. "Before you could have static multimedia that didn't come and go. Now you can create more dynamic presentations."

Web users are accustomed to seeing active multimedia on the Web in video files, for example. But SMIL will let developers separate and synchronize multimedia elements throughout an entire page and without the constraints-- most importantly, bandwidth hogging--of video.

SMIL is an application of eXtensible markup language (XML), which lets standards bodies and individual industries write markup languages tailored to specific needs. In one application of XML, called MathML, the special tags are specific to mathematical functions. In the case of SMIL, the specially created tags refer to the presentation and synchronization of multimedia elements.

In addition to conserving bandwidth and making multimedia Web sites easier to produce, SMIL will make those Web pages more accessible in two ways: First, because text in a multimedia presentation can appear independently outside a video frame, it is therefore accessible to search engine spiders and browser page searching tools.

Secondly, the separation of text from video and audio will increase accessibility for the visually impaired by letting screen readers access that information. In this respect, SMIL will achieve for multimedia Web pages what cascading style sheets did for Web pages in general, letting authors stylize text instead of representing it with images that screen readers could not read.