Internet Bandwidth Is a Finite Resource

A while back, I suggested that Flash, and more generally, video, was being too heavily used on the web. Despite the lively discussion that ensued from that post, I still stand by my original opinions. And a recent post from a Flash developer sparked another vigorous discussion, with many of the commentators feeling that Flash is on the way out.

Since the dawn of the Internet, it’s been an article of faith that connection speeds will get faster and costs will drop. We might be seeing the end of that trend. If predictions are correct, we’ll be facing a mobile bandwidth shortage in just a couple of years.

Once upon a time, web developers knew that we had to keep graphics to a minimum, since many Internet users had slow dial-up connections. Today, we’ve become dependent on multimedia, which, in many cases, is a crutch for those who don’t have the time or just don’t want to bother to write effective site content. This is a bad idea. Sites with content that is wholly, or mostly, contained in videos are probably not reaching:

  • Most of the people who use mobile devices, including iPhones. Over 50 percent of Internet shoppers are using mobile devices, most of which don’t support Flash, and have small screens that don’t display images — especially moving images — well.
  • Many people with mobile connections who have data plans that cap bandwidth use. Exceeding those caps can be very expensive. You and I are probably already considered part of the “mobile workforce,” and this category is growing rapidly. One-third of all workers are anticipated to be mobile by 2013. These users will likely be on capped connections.
  • People who don’t install Flash for security reasons.
  • People with old browsers.
  • People with visual disabilities.
  • People who are behind corporate firewalls.
  • People who use software or browser add-ons that block multimedia content.

If you’re a web developer, or are updating your web presence, try not to get too dependent on video, audio and other bandwidth hogs. I like a friendly multimedia experience as much as anyone. But do yourself a favor and ask these questions.

  • Is this video (or audio) really necessary, or is it being included because it’s easier than actually writing a cogent description of what the site is about?
  • If you must include a video, then what will people see if they can’t load the file? Will the site degrade gracefully? That is, will people see helpful alternative content?

It’s possible that faster, better and cheaper bandwidth may be on the horizon. Google seems to want that. But they are also pushing projects to increase the efficiency of the web. So living with limited bandwidth may be the next “inconvenient tech truth,” and we should plan our web projects accordingly.

How can you make your web projects more bandwidth-efficient?

Image from sxc.hu user CDWaldi

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