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No Broadband in sight. What about telling Web designers about it?

December 5, 2000
Most Web designer companies come either from the communication or the computing sector.

Most of them have now managed to gain the gifts they were lacking, whether these gifts were computer related for the agencies coming from the first sector and marketing and communicating related for the agencies coming from the second sector. Both types of agencies now call themselves Web agencies.

After a rather difficult start that was mainly due to a lack of qualified abilities on the market, most of them have now managed to create efficient teams, well able to build functional websites.

When you take into account what opportunities the web gives us and what net users really expect, we can only notice that the quality of these sites remains rather poor: sites with a navigability which is badly thought when thought at all, interactive services with a very weak added-value, malfunctioning graphic charter, frequent problems of prospective rise, and above all difficult accessibility to the web pages and applications, which are often due to latent loading times.

I would like to pay particular attention to this last point, since it not only plays a key role in the consumer's experience, but it also indicates how difficult it is for Web designers to tackle the Web technologic reality.


Web agencies that come from the communication sector have their own culture which has always considered the web as a "poor" media as far as its means of expression are concerned, in comparison with television for instance. And instead of creating a new writing type that would be dedicated to the Internet only and that would take into account the type of Internet access that is used (a loading time that does not exceed 8 seconds with a modem 28.8, primacy of texts over pictures, etc), it seems that web agencies are waiting for broadband to become an Internet reality for all users.
It will then be possible to multiply Flash animations and 3D product demonstration videos. That's the reason why these providers regularly put forward some new revolutionary technology (Java applets, Flash, VRM which never really existed, by the way, and today the Rich Media Ad banners), which are just as regularly rejected by Internet users… since they simply can't have access to them, because their connection is too slow.

We reach the same conclusion with Web agencies that come from the computing sector.

Up till the arrival of Internet, applications were only workable in a well-defined environment: the information was structured within the local network itself or from a long-distance one, the number of computers was known, it was possible to simulate a rise in work according to a typical day, etc. As a result, it was a common phenomenon to develop applications on the same day as the local network, or even the hardware part, was brought up to date.

With the arrival of Internet, everything changed. Designers now have much less power over the modes of access used by net surfers on the sites. They can only opt for a practical attitude consisting in always testing the answers provided by the computing system to the questions asked by the net surfers in order to find out at what stage it will be necessary to tip it over a more powerful server (by adding new frontal servers, or by using a load-balancing type of application, etc…).
There is one rule web designers cannot break, they can no longer play on the dial-up application since they do not have any control over the different type of dial-up IP's net surfers use.

And yet many Web sites (such as banking sites or broker-on-line sites that mostly use Java-based developments servers) act as if the quality of the connection between the user and the server was just as dense and "sure" as the one that exists on a local network.

For many Web agencies, the Web is not mature enough, connections are too slow, but if they wait a little, till broadband becomes generalized, everything should be ok.

Some sites got carried away since nearly 74 percent of them say they expect to deploy broadband content in the next two years.

And yet, broadband content is far from being what web agencies think it is. When you take into account how insecure economic models are due to the present broadband deployment (cable or DSL), the huge investments that are needed and the present lethargy of most online households which are still poking along at 28.8 or 56 kbps, you realize that broadband won't be used massively before 2004, which seems very far off in the Web reality.
This also applies to Web connections within firms since reality seems to differ dramatically from what's usually thought. On nine financial services sites tested by Webcriteria, office broadband connections only helped the company's "users" to follow links on an average of 25.4 percent faster than home "users" with dial-up modems. Sure, companies use powerful office broadband connections (128 or 256 Kbps, T1) but you also need to take into account the fact that all associates use the connection all day long, which slows down the process for each internet user.

Most websites planned on displaying video services (e-learning or e-entertainement) but the future no longer looks so rosy for them since only very few internet users will actually manage to view them. This is the reason why pop.com went bust. It was a site promoted by Stephen Spielberg that aimed at broadcasting videos on the net at people's will.

It goes without saying that internet users are willing to accept long loading times for the services that offer them a very high added-value, such as financial simulation applications times, but this will remain an exception.

In the next two years, Web developments will mainly consist in optimizing back-offices and server operations, while one must always bear in mind that most online households will poke along at a few dozens kbps.

Source : Business 2.0



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