Just as the Internet has changed the way that businesses communicate with consumers, it will change the way consumers communicate with each other. Digital technologies, combined with the communication and distribution medium of the Web, will enable consumers to create and share personal multimedia content. According to a new Report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), sites and vendors that exploit this trend will improve customer retention and drive related commerce activities.

“Consumers’ current media experiments are baby steps compared with what is to come,” said Jeremy Schwartz, a senior analyst in Media & Entertainment Research at Forrester. “In five years, 57% of US households will use some form of personal rich media once per month. It is painless, affordable, and easy to use.”

Consumer electronics vendors and Dot Coms are fueling consumer adoption of personal rich media by creating products and services that make it easy for consumers to create and share their own multimedia content with a minimal commitment of time and energy. Camera companies are producing digital cameras and camcorders that make uploading images to PCs and Web sites quick and easy. Sites are offering services like digitization of 35-mm film, online photo storage, and tools that let consumers easily create and share photo albums and slide shows.

In addition to new products and services, personal rich media will take off because it does not require consumers to adopt entirely new behaviors. Consumers will simply have a more sophisticated way of creating, sharing, and communicating personal content. Broadband’s fast, always-on connection will further facilitate the growth of personal rich media, as more time will be spent creating content and less time will be wasted waiting for uploads or for PCs to reboot. As broadband adoption reaches 16 million households by 2002, consumers with high-speed access will create and share video greeting cards and home video productions.

“By 2005, video email or pointers to rich media content will replace text messages as the main online communication mechanism. Text-based email will seem as archaic as black-and-white TV,” added Schwartz.

As personal rich media becomes mainstream, sites will be forced to diversify products and services. Sites will need to accommodate consumers at every stage of their voyage — from the novice looking for predefined content to the expert seeking out online tools. As consumers create greater volumes of personal rich media, they will require asset management tools to rein in their content as well as their increased need for digital storage.

For the Report “Personal Rich Media Takes Off,” Forrester drew upon 35 interviews with consumer electronics vendors, software manufacturers, and Web sites, in addition to Forrester’s Technographics. data about consumers’ online usage.