Animation, audio, and video that don’t support user goals won’t benefit eCommerce sites. According to a new Report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), real broadband value will come from building enriched data, presentation, and function into Web browsers to overcome the shortfalls of today’s online interactions. Firms will build three types of rich interfaces: thin clients, muscle clients, and fat clients.

As broadband-enabled users rely on the Net for self-service, they’ll favor sites that help accomplish goals without being interrupted by unwanted cartoons and movie clips, said Randy Souza, associate analyst at Forrester Research. Firms should take advantage of broadband’s ability to deliver content to upgrade their sites — by moving data, presentation, and function to the desktop — not abusing visitors with intrusive glitz.

Today’s bandwidth constraints and browser incompatibilities have forced sites to put function on servers or abandon it altogether. However, broadband is accelerating — reaching 52% of online households in 2004 — and browser makers are aligning their standard support. The arrival of broadband and standards-compliant browser platforms will allow firms to deliver rich content through direct manipulation, streamlined interaction, and real-time computation. Three varieties of enriched clients will evolve as thin clients get nimbler, muscle clients emerge, and fat clients stage a limited comeback.

Thin clients will use minimal DHTML — an interactive variant of HTML — to optimize information access, but they’ll continue to depend on the server for data and function. These interfaces will streamline navigation to deliver faster and easier paths to content. However, to conserve bandwidth and universal assess, thin clients won’t expand or duplicate the browser’s built-in capabilities. All data will remain on the back end, and as a result, they will lack the option of direct manipulation.

Muscle clients will emerge by 2002, as firms take advantage of improved standards support to build more significant pieces of functionality into their eCommerce offerings. These enriched front ends will allow firms to differentiate their sites by pumping up Web content with desktop power. Because muscle clients operate within a browser, they provide tight integration with existing online content and services.

Few firms will take client-side interactivity to the next step and develop true fat clients. These applications will offer more interactivity than muscle clients, as well as the option to store information on PC hard drives. However, they will still leverage an Internet connection, allowing firms to embrace the Net while designing interfaces dedicated to supporting the core services a company provides. Heavy initial downloads and ongoing data synchronization with servers will burden users, and few companies will commit the time and resources required to build afat client.

By 2004, rich client interfaces will drive the majority of consumers’ PC-based Web experiences added Souza. Firms will decide which kind of client to build by mapping their need for direct manipulation, streamlined interaction, and real-time computation to the strength of each client type.

For the Report Broadband Transforms Interfaces, Forrester interviewed 30 commerce site owners. Forrester concluded that designers struggle to make their sites quick and easy to use, while they eagerly await the opportunity to offer enhanced images, audio, video, and animation. Today, 20% of respondents offer broadband content, and 74% plan to do so within two years.