internet

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Some people just don’t get it. The guy who rides your tail in traffic clearly doesn’t get it - forcing you into the right hand lane won’t help him get past the line of trucks that are forcing you to drive slow. The people who shout at airline gatew agents clearly don’t get it - it’s not that person’s fault that the plane is late, and there is very little they can do. A lot of people just don’t get the internet.

The internet officially turned thirty the other day. For thirty years packets have been travelling around the world on the ever expanding infrastructure of the internet. And yet, in all this time, very few real advances have come forth. I don’t think that places like Amazon or Buy.com really represent an advance - it’s basically distribution under different means; a middleman of a different sort. The same with a lot of online journalism - the production cycles follow their print counterparts very closely. CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others are all just starting to understand the twenty four hour nature of the internet. Places like Slashdot, Hacker News Network, and the like all fully understand the global accessability of the internet. Further, Slashdot represents one of the truly revolutionary things on the internet: the virtual community.

I realize that the Well has been a virtual community for far longer than Slashdot has even existed. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Mindvox, my particular favorite online community from about 5 years ago. But I find the Well to be less generally accessible than Slashdot and Mindvox no longer seems to exist; thus I find Slashdot to be more of a revolutionary phenomenon. News blurbs are posted on a wide range of subjects, with appropriate links to further reading, and readers are encouraged to engage one another in lively discussion and debate on the subject matter posted. Within minutes of a new story there is likely to be at least half a dozen responses, and by the end of the day the number of responses can easily span into the hundreds. Of course, some people just don’t get it here, either - as invariably the very first response always says “First Post!”, and the flame wars that can ensue are really the thing of legend - Slashdot readers can be some of the most acerbic and zealous people on the net.

Another real revolution that I see is ICQ. This instant messanger allows people to communicate in near real-time fashion. It’s a far more intuitive means for communication for most people, and far more suitable to the bulk of on-line discussion. And if one of my buddies is not online, I can still send him a message which will be stored on the server and sent to him as soon as he logs on. This is far more appropriate for community development than IRC is. IRC is an extremely active engagement - you must log into the server, specify a nickname (that isn’t currently in use), and then join a room. ICQ is far more passive - once you’ve added someone to your contact list, you can send and receive messages with ease. Of course, the down side of this is the ease with which one can receive spam.

Not a week goes by without my mailbox receiving some kind of forwarded spam. And rarely does a week go by without someone sending me something unsavory through ICQ. Email is easy enough - I delete it (I may read it, if I’m so inclined). I’d much rather receiving email spam every day than the countless pounds of crap postal mail that I receive - at least email doesn’t waste any natural resources. ICQ spam is a little more annoying. If it’s from a friend, I find myself agitated that they sent it to me. If it’s from a stranger, I have to go through the process of obtaining their user information so I know if it’s someone I know using a new nickname or some such, before I can delete it.

And maybe I’m expecting too much of the newbie users, but I just don’t think they get it. How many times do people need to be told that you cannot get a virus through reading an email? Ever since the GOOD TIMES rumor started spreading (how many years ago was that?), I get forwarded message after forwarded message from people detailing how I should not even look at my mailbox if it contains a letter titled GOOD TIMES, or WIN A TRIP TO DISNEY LAND, or something. I understand that a newbie doesn’t understand fully the nature of email, and the inner workings of a computer virus. But rather than figure it out (through countless resources on the web, or by asking a technically savvy friend) they blindly propogate the spam by forwarding it on to everyone they know. The same with ICQ - every couple of weeks I get a message (or three) forwarded telling me to forward it to everyone I know. The claim is that Mirabilis is going to stop supplying service unless everyone shows that they use ICQ on a regular basis - and the only way you can do that is to forward the message. Now, even if you don’t know much about the way internet client-server technology works, the assumption here is completely false! Look, if Mirabilis can tell that you’re sending one message to everyone on your contact list, what makes you think that they can’t tell when you send one message to one person? A logical look at the claim shows it for the crap that it is.

But the people who really don’t get it are the internet advertisers. Web page commercials are becomming more and more prolific. Bandwidth costs money, and the only way to support a popular site is to get advertising revenue or some sort of sponsorship. I’m not that opposed to advertising in general. But I am opposed to old-school advertisers propogating their old-school mechanisms in the new capacities of the internet. It seems that print media advertisers are trying to make a one to one correlation between an advertisement in a magazine and an advertisement in a web page. They’re trying some new things - like rotating ads, and traffic monitoring, so that they can custom tailor the ad served to you based on how many times you’ve been to that site, or what specific pages you check regularly. But what they don’t seem to get is the basic communication mechanisms of the internet. The web advertisements are generally located on a different server. So you connect to your favorite web page, and in turn have to make a connection to another server to get the ad - and since the ads are generally at the top of the page, this slows the entire process of loading your favorite page (web pages are loaded and displayed sequentially, starting at the top and working their way down). If the connection between user and the ad server is slower then the connection between user and their favorite web page, then it looks like their web page is slow. It’s a matter of perception.

It’s a tricky business. I’d like to say “Put the ad files locally on each web server that you advertise on” in an effort to decrease load times, and make life generally better for the public at large. But this isn’t entirely viable for them, as one advertising server hands out hundreds of different ads to hundreds of different web pages. I’d also like to see advertisers embrace new technology in an effort to improve the content of the ads they serve. I am not at all interested in GeoCities advertising, or special deals from some online entrepeneurial start-up. If a web site can custom tailor the advertisements for me, based on the places I go regularly, then I’m all for that. I’d like to get ads for special deals on X10 products or a new game. But that sort of customization is not easy to achieve, and not at all reliable, as it relies heavily on the use of cookies. And since a lot of paranoid people disable cookies in their browsers this sort of functionality doesn’t work.

The other big gripe I have is the content of the actual ads. In the effort to embrace all the cool new technology, advertisement banners are invariably animated GIF files. Aside from the fact that I personally loathe animated GIFs, they present an increased load time for the web page they reside on - the GIF sitting at the top of the page is loaded and displayed before the rest of the page. If the GIF is a big file, and the connection to the ad server is slow, this can really delay the loading of the page. And Allah forbid a discreet advertisement sitting at the bottom of the page! No, the ads must be big, flashy eye-catchers and must have ideal screen placement at the top of the page. Or the advertisements occupy the entire left third of the screen, thereby contracting the screen space for the content that the user went there to see, making pages unnecessarily long.

I don’t have a problem with advertising in general (or perhaps in theory, at any rate). But current advertising practices leave a good bit to be desired…


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