the web has left dial-up behind

January 11, 2009 under Internet

It’s a new year and that means that I’ve recently returned from my annual Holiday trip to visit the in-laws in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At Dena’s father’s house, which is off the beaten path, broadband (minus satellite) is not an option. Dial-up, and rather over-priced for that matter, is the only option.

Web technology progresses at a brisk pace, enriching the browser experience via AJAX, Flash, and video. Broadband has kept pace with this to mitigate the bandwidth requirements of these new technologies. When I first signed up with Rogers’ broadband Internet service nine years ago, download rates were a tad under 1Mbps. Today, without changing my tier or paying more, I can currently get up to 7Mbps, although it’s more realistically in the neighbourhood of 4-5Mbps.

While at Dena’s father’s house, it became apparent that the sites that I visit on a daily basis (Gmail, Ping.fm, Twitter, Facebook) would be barely usuable on a 40Kbps dial-up connection. The four aforementioned sites do have clean designs, but their use of AJAX (and the amount of JavaScript code required to be downloaded to the client) choke a dial-up connection. This made me realize that even in my own development work, I write a fair amount of JavaScript code for AJAX use to improve user experience, but I now am aware that dial-up users won’t be experience much while they wait for the page to load. We spend plenty of time optimizing back-end code running on the web server, but perhaps we’ve neglected tweaking the client-side code. If there were reliable statistics regarding broadband vs dial-up users, we’d have a valid business case.

In the end, to make these sites usable on my father-in-law’s computer, I resorted to using the mobile versions of the websites:http://m.ping.fm, http://m.twitter.com and http://m.facebook.com. As a nice touch, GMail offers a basic HTML version of the site while the JavaScript code loads. It was better than nothing.

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