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31th March 1997
Are we mis-using the Net?
The Internet was originally designed with individual point to point communications in mind. Send an email from mailbox A to mailbox B or transfer a file from this site to that - easy stuff.

It's not too hard to estimate and provide adequate bandwidth and processing capacities to handle this "point to point" type of communications and for a long time this has meant that the Net has held up pretty well to the strain of an ever-increasing number of users.

Unfortunately we're now starting to see a different type of traffic appearing on the Information SuperHighway.

Firstly there's the arrival of bulk commercial emailings where one single person can create quite literally millions of individual messages which contribute to the growing load on the Net.

Then add in the effect of "push" technology which is a really high-bandwidth an extension of the mailing-list concept. Now users can register with a growing number of sites and have a regular diet of multi-media-rich content delivered to their computers, 24hrs a day.

Finally, we have the emergence of bandwidth-hogs such as real-audio, streaming video and Net-telephony.

Combine all these and we see that the keen Net user can keep their modem link saturated and driven to capacity for almost 100% of their online time - what is this doing to the Net?

Look at the figures
What does this massive surge in bandwidth consumption mean to the average Net user?

Let's consider a mid-sized ISP with maybe 50 modems, all capable of 33Kbps. Let's assume they've got a 512Kbps link to the internet, is that enough?

Just do the math - it only takes 15 users running "flat out" to fill up that 512Kbps pipe to the ISPs site - what are the other 35 users going to do?

Just six months ago, the average "surfer" presented only a relatively light load on the Net. A few email messages don't add up to much and jumping from Web page to Web page usually provides some reasonable "slack" while the content of each is assimilated.

But what happens when you connect to a site which is spewing out RealAudio or streaming Video? Just watch the modem lights and you'll see that the line gets driven very hard.

This means that if you're a "hard rider" who likes to frequent sites loaded with audio, video, shockwave and the like, you'll find things slowing down as you fight for a share of your ISP's pipe. Even if you're a "light surfer", you'll still find things crawling as the hard riders monopolise the available bandwidth.

feeling clogged?
The Net is the wrong tool!
It hurts at both ends
So you might think - just make sure that the ISPs keep increasing the size of their pipe to the Net and all will be fine - won't it?

I'm afraid not - because the problem also affects the sites which are pushing the information down the pipes at the other end.

An example of this was the way several Web sites in the USA crumbled under the load on Oscar Night when the Academy Awards were announced. Some of the more popular sites were getting in excess of 6,000 hits per minute - a load which caused more than a few problems for eager surfers trying to get "the latest". Pipes clogged, servers fell-over and lots of people got nothing.

So why is this happening?

Simple... the Net is NOT a broadcast medium.

Just compare the way the Net works with the way TV and radio operate. If you add yourself to the total viewer audience by turning on your TV set and tuning it to your favourite program does this add an extra burden to the TV transmitter? Does it even know that you've tuned in?

Of course not... TV and radio are true broadcast technologies which can reach a million people as easily as one.

Design a Web site to handle 1,000 visitors a day and it will almost certainly spit its dummy under the strain of 1,000,000 visitors during the same period. The Net is designed for one-to-one communications, not broadcast-type activities and unless we wake up to this and devise some new strategies for coping with this type of mis-use, we're heading for big trouble.

What's the solution?
There's no "quick fix" to the problem but PointCast, the pioneer of Net broadcasting with their "push" technology, are on the right road with their "repeater sites". Instead of cluttering up the Net by always delivering information direct from a central point, PointCast offers the option of setting up a local redistribution site.

For general Web surfing, the proxy server that most ISPs provide on their site operates on a very similar principle - keeping local copies of often-requested Web pages but this doesn't work for the newer technologies such as streaming audio and video. For these we will need explicit repeater points on the Net.

The big question however is "who's going to pay?". When it comes to parting with hard-earned cash, there's a huge resistance amongst Net users - the consumers, and the sites creating the content can't afford to fund such operations without some kind of accompanying revenues.

Maybe all the RealAudio and streaming Video publishers will form some kind of cooperative exchange system to the benefit of all concerned or maybe it will be more formal with the exchange of hard currency, but what ever happens, I doubt we can afford to simply keep abusing Net bandwidth the way we presently are.

Why do I even bring up this subject this week?

Well if you haven't already, go and take a look at the Radio NZ Web Site which has to be the single largest bandwidth-hog in the country. It will stress your modem and your PC to its limits. This site qualifies for the most blatant abuse of Net bandwidth in New Zealand. It wouldn't take too many sites like this to bring the country's backbone to its knees!

RNZ is a bad example
Used to be I couldn't even spell Web Designer, now I are one!
Where are the standards?
There was a time when a very high percentage of the new sites launched on the NZ Web were of a very high standard. Quality graphics, ergonomic design and well thought out marketing strategies combined to produce results we, as a country and an industry, could be proud of.

I'm afraid to say that in the past six months the standards have dropped dramatically. Now every man and his dog is grabbing a copy of Navigator Gold or FrontPage and calling themselves a Web designer. Where are the standards?

Again I'll cite the Radio NZ site, not because it's the worst example - or even particularly bad but simply because most people expected a lot more than was delivered.

The site fails in almost all areas. The graphics are crude and clunky, it's an ergonomic disaster and there seems no hint as to how the site fits in to RNZ overall strategies - I mean, can I send email to Kim Hill or the Morning report team? Why not? If the purpose of the site is to deliver an audio feed - what's with all the Java eye-candy and streaming video? Why offer to sell motorcycles then fill your showroom with Mac trucks?

I'm aware that WDNZ are discussing the viability of introducing some kind of accreditation for Web designers that prove themselves capable of meeting an acceptable standard. This has to be a move in the right direction since the market appears to be in growing need of protection against "cowboys".

And just for the record ... no, I don't consider myself to be a "Web designer", even today my colouring-in books are full of pages where I've gone over the lines - again :-)

A Pre-announcement
Watch this space next week for the announcement of a sponsor for what is currently Aardvark's "I Can't Believe It's True Award". The sponsor is the producer of one of the world's best soft-drinks, a beverage which has long been associated with computers, programmers and "techno-geeks". Winners of the award will receive some of the sponsor's product - and of course the adoration of thousands of regular Aardvark readers.

Stay tuned for details....

Free drinks!

I Can't Believe It's True!
I wonder if Sony or one of the other music publishers will come down on me like a tonne of bricks (as BSA did) for publishing this link to seemingly copyrighted material on the Net:

Free music on the Web

 
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