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We have written before about the rapid growth of the internet and the fact it is predicted to become much more popular over the coming years. This has become that much clearer now that technology giant Cisco has released the results of a study into current and future internet use. They predict that by 2015, the number of internet-capable devices will outnumber humans 2:1.
To put that into perspective, it essentially means that within four years, there will be roughly 15 billion internet ready machines on planet Earth. Despite so many devices, it is predicted that around three billion people will be connected to the internet – around 40% of the world’s population, meaning that people who have internet access will be more likely than ever before to own more than one internet-capable device.
This raises both plus points and negatives. To start with the good things, it is obviously fairly positive for anyone who relies on the internet for their livelihood. Web designers, copywriters, online businesses and more look set to be kept in decent business over the years to come as more people start to use the World Wide Web and the number of websites proliferates. It’s most likely good news for the majority of web users too, as with more people coming online, you’d hope that there’d be a corresponding improvement in internet-capable machines.
There are some potential problems that come out of these developments as well, though. Cisco says that online traffic is set to quadruple, which is only going to exacerbate current issues with the web. One of these issues relates to IP addresses. You are probably aware that your laptop, tablet PC or other internet device has one of these IP addresses (or, more specifically, and IPv4 address). This is what identifies them so they can send and receive data online.
When the IPv4 system was created back in the 1970s, there were around 4.3 billion addresses created. Of course, back then, that was plenty, but no one predicted just how many web devices would be around in the future. IP addresses are allocated by the Internet Assigned Names Authority and, in February 2011, they gave out the last batch of the current addresses. It’s thought they could all be distributed as early as August.
Luckily, there is an updated version of the IP address, known as IPv6, but just as it has been a struggle to get web users away from out-dated technology such as the IE6 web browser, it has also been hard to get companies to adopt the new IPv6 system. The new system offers trillions of addresses, but the rush to adopt it hasn’t been quite as efficient as the IANA might have hoped. The good news is that there is a world testing day for IPv6 on 8th June so progress should be made fairly soon, but unless swift action is taken, web users might find themselves in possession of web-ready devices that can’t actually connect to the web.
Another interesting fact raised by the Cisco report is that by 2015, the average US resident will own seven web connected devices. Also, by 2015, tablet computers are expected to account for around 6% of all web traffic, which means that they will be responsible for more traffic than was handled by all web-connected devices in 2006. Every second in 2015, 1 million minutes worth of online videos will also be streamed online – this is predicted to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, growth areas for the internet. Wi-Fi is also expected to be more prominent than fixed broadband within the next 5 years and by 2015, web traffic will measure at 966 exabytes.
These are figures that even a few years ago would have seemed staggering. Like when money starts to roll into the trillions, it begins to get harder to imagine exactly what it looks like, but it seems safe to say it’s fairly easy to imagine the enormity of this growth. The infrastructure of the web needs to be updated – and fast, to avoid users being unable to get online with their devices.
Well. They say that it often takes an impending crisis for decisive action to be taken, so we hope that the distribution of the last IPv4 addresses in the coming months provides the wake-up call that it is increasingly clear is needed.
You are no doubt familiar with the G8, the group of rich nations that meet every once in a while to discuss potent world issues and try to come up with solutions to global problems. They’re meeting again this week and it’s fair to say they’ve got a lot to talk about: from the global economy to the current wave of revolutions taking place and the aid promises they made a few years ago, there’s plenty on the agenda. Perhaps that’s why a notable related event hasn’t had quite as much media coverage as it might otherwise have done.
That event is the eG8 forum, a kind of bolt-on to the main G8 summit that was designed to look at the issues posed by the internet and the role it plays in an increasingly interconnected world. It was opened on Tuesday 24th May in Paris by President Sarkozy and was set up as a two-day event, with some of the biggest players invited. From the big names such as Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and Eric Schmidt (Google’s executive chairman) to other players in the information and communication industries, the people attending the forum are some of the most influential in the world when it comes to the internet.
The eG8 looked at the issue of ‘The Internet: Accelerating Growth’ and it’s fair to say it has opened up something of a debate. President Sarkozy used the opportunity to argue for increased internet regulations, suggesting that as the World Wide Web is a global phenomenon, it needs global rules. He made the argument that while the internet offers opportunities for ideas to be heard like never before, the internet should never be a replacement for democracy.
In his opening speech to the eG8, he said: "Total transparency has to be balanced by individual liberty. Do not forget that every anonymous internet user comes from a society and has a life."
The speech was timely: if you live in the UK, there is no way you can failed to have noticed the current furore surrounding superinjunctions and, in particular, the fact that most current injunctions apply mainly to the big broadcasters and newspapers with online forums such as Twitter either not being included or being badly policed when it comes to enforcing those privacy injunctions. This has allowed particular cases to be ‘broken’ through Twitter (we’re not naming any names to be on the safe side) and now high court judges are asking the social networking site for the details of users who have allegedly broken injunctions.
The whole issue feeds into the debate and privacy and the issue over what exactly counts as ‘the public interest’. There are arguments for and against introducing more regulations to the internet, but ‘the public interest’ and privacy are not the only issues raised by the internet and the discussions that were held at the eG8. They also looked at intellectual property, copyright and the protection of children online. In the ‘real’ world, these are all things that are governed by laws, made by governments and enforced by various agencies. On the internet, it’s much less clear cut. Arguments are made for ‘free speech’ over the rights of artists and others to be recognised for their intellectual content. Counterarguments are made that the digital age changes things, that we’re not operating on the same stage as 50, 20, 10 years ago.
It’s not easy to unpick. We’ve written elsewhere about the growing challenges posed by the internet and the minefield of deciding whether or not more regulations are necessary. One thing that does seem increasingly clear, however, is that any solution is going to need to be global or else it just won’t be practical. The internet exists largely outside borders and so to try and contain it within them doesn’t make a huge amount of practical sense.
The eG8 didn’t solve anything. It was more of a talking shop than anything else. It did, however stoke up the never-ending debate about what to do with the internet and all the issues it raises. Generally speaking, Europeans are said to be more in favour of regulating the internet than the Americans, perhaps reflecting the cultural and political traditions of their respective continents. Unless a proposal is generated that everyone can agree on, though, it seems unlikely that the division is going to be resolved any time soon.
Published on March 31, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication
For the last couple of weeks, we have written about improvements to online technology (the Google Farmer update and the Chrome Personal Blocklist) that have the potential to increase the performance of users’ internet experience. This week, however, our attention turns to the issue of outdated technology, which has the potential to have just as big an impact on the internet, but this time for all the wrong reasons.
One of the most obvious examples here is Internet Explorer 6. This is the web browsing system that Microsoft released back in 2001, when Windows XP was just starting to make waves. The IE6 browser was somewhat problematic from the start; it didn’t properly comply with the web standards of the day and it prevented computers using non-Windows operating systems from displaying sites correctly. As this was in the days before Apple became such a big name, Microsoft was the dominant force in desktop computing and so IE6 was the most used web browser, making it almost impossible for other systems to compete.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the flaws of IE6 were one of the issues that led to a restructuring of web standards. This led to increased competition, most notably from Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla Firefox and so Microsoft had to act to make its web browsers more compatible with other’s operating systems. Eventually, IE7, IE8 and now IE9 were created, ironing out many of the compatibility issues from IE6 and helping to make the web browser experience more dynamic and competitive than ever before.
This increase in competition has generally been positive: with more players on the field, they now all compete with each other to produce the fastest loading web pages, the fastest downloads, and the most comprehensive experience. This is great for web designers as it means their creations are much more likely to end up looking exactly as they intended, no matter which operating system or browser is used to display them.
However, IE6 still refuses to die. Even though in Europe, America, Brazil, Russia and New Zealand less than 4% of web users have IE6 as their browser, it still accounts for 12% of users across the world. This causes massive problems for web designers, particularly in Asia where IE6 is still heavily used, as it prevents their designs from displaying properly and affects the quality of the online experience for users. It means that designers not only have to create their sites to make the most of new technology, but they also have to cater for the sizeable number of people using outmoded browser systems. It also means that Microsoft loses advertising revenue whenever people search on IE6, for complicated reasons involving default search engine settings, which are different on IE6 to later browsers.
It isn’t just IE6 and other outdated web browsers that have the potential to cause problems, either. In this age of search engine optimisation, the speed at which a web page loads is also really important. This can involve a delicate balancing act of coding, Flash capabilities and other multimedia in order to accommodate the whole of the market: while many people now have high-speed broadband, others still use dial up connections while others use mobile internet with varying speeds. Web designers always have to be conscious of this as it is important websites reach the maximum number of web users as easily as possible, but there is also a dilemma that unfurls here.
How long should you accommodate slower and older technologies before moving on and leaving them behind? It’s a tricky issue as, even though the web design industry moves fairly quickly, the ordinary web user isn’t always quite so fast for any number of reasons. This could be because of the affordability (or lack thereof) of new technology, outdated laws restricting their access, speed of the internet connection to download newer versions, or any number of other things. If you are a web designer or company and a significant proportion of your online base is still using slow connections or old browsers, you risk alienating them if you move on from that technology too soon.
The flipside of the argument is that unless website designers move on and take up new technology when it arises, people will have less of an incentive to move on with it. They have less of a need to upgrade their systems if the old ones are still being supported. So a line needs to be drawn in order to strike the right balance between old and new, progress and accommodation.
The hard part is deciding where that line needs to be in the first place.
Published on March 3, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication
We wrote last week about new powers being given to the Advertising Standards Agency to monitor online advertising content as well as more traditional means of marketing. Click here to read this article. Now it seems that ASA are even busier than they expected to be, thanks to a report from Ofcom.
It’s long been known that broadband in the UK rarely achieves the maximum speeds advertised by providers, with speed being one of the biggest complaints about broadband. Ofcom have been looking into the matter and they’ve found that the problem is fairly serious. For example, BT offers a service with ‘up to’ 8Mbps in terms of speed. The average speed that customers actually get, however, is between 4.1 and 4.8Mbps. This is by no means an isolated case: some providers fare even worse in the average speed test.
One of the main problems here is the different ways of accessing broadband. For those people who receive their internet through existing phone lines or via mobile networks, the speed tends to be much slower because of the limitations on the line. By contrast, cable and fibre networks such as those used by Virgin Media tend to be much faster and the average speeds are much closer to the advertised maximum speed. Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 50Mbps broadband, for instance, has an average speed of 43.9 to 47.2Mbps.
If nothing else, this shows the importance of upgrading the broadband network with the latest technologies so people can achieve something nearer the download speeds they’re paying for. Of course, people accept that the standard of broadband is different in different areas, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect a certain level of service when you’re paying for a particular broadband speed. There is currently a big project underway, largely carried out by BT and Virgin Media, to install fibre optic broadband across much of the country. It’s hoped that this will increase broadband speeds by 50% within a year of the system going live. The government is also committed by EU law to provide basic broadband coverage to all citizens by 2013 (it’s currently a couple of years behind) and to provide speeds of at least 30Mbps by 2020.
But what about the current situation? The point made in Ofcom’s research is that it could be considered misleading advertising to say that broadband operates at ‘up to’ a certain speed if it then reaches nowhere near that speed. The ASA is looking into the matter but many broadband providers are unhappy about it. Ofcom thinks that providers should instead advertise ‘Typical Speed Rates’ (TSR) rather than ‘up to’ speeds as this is less likely to lead to confusion and false expectations.
BT, for instance, thinks that this would not be a good development as broadband speeds currently vary so much it wouldn’t be wise to advertise only one average speed – this is their justification for using the ‘up to’ speed proclamations. Another point raised is that to enforce TSR advertising would encourage internet service providers to carefully pick their customers in order to boost their average speed rating.
The impact of this could be that customers already annoyed at their slow connection speeds could have their situations made worse with fewer providers willing to take them on. It’s also hard to determine an average speed because broadband speed depends on so much other than just the means used to deliver it – household wiring, applications and where people live. By contrast, Virgin Media – who fared pretty well in Ofcom’s research – have said they would welcome TSR advertising as currently, they say, internet service providers are not giving their customers the credit they deserve and can’t deliver on the speeds they claim to offer.
As with so many other things, much of this debate is over advertising. Perhaps, though, more of the debate and energy should be spent on upgrading broadband systems in order to give people across the UK better internet coverage no matter which provider they use. After all, with the planned upgrades currently getting underway, the whole forum for debate will shift again in a couple of years anyway. Of course, truthful advertising is important and the ASA should investigate if there are concerns over misleading advertising, especially when so many people use these services. There is, though, also something to be said for actively doing something to improve broadband speeds rather than just worrying about how best to advertise them.
If you want to test your personal broadband speed to see whether you’re getting the service you’re paying for, you can do so here.
Published on February 14, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication
Whatever your views on the internet, there is no doubt that its influence is ever-growing and that more and more people are using it as time goes by – there are currently over 1.6 billion users of the World Wide Web. As internet use increases, there is a growing debate about whether or not it actually helps to bring people closer together. Certainly when web designers create websites, it is often for companies who are looking to reach out to their customers and keep them up to date with what their business is working on, suggesting the intention to bring people closer together is there in theory. So does this actually work, or does the internet only serve to isolate us?
The Internet brings us closer together
Probably the best argument in favour of the internet bringing people closer together is the fact it is a global phenomenon. People from all over the world are online, sharing content and using the same websites. This gives both individuals and businesses more opportunities than ever before to extend their networks and reach out to people they may otherwise never meet.
This is best seen in the growth of social networks, which are massively popular. Facebook is probably the best example of this, which has over 500 million active users and is still growing. People often use the website to connect with friends and contacts, such as people they knew at school but have since lost touch with. Seen in this manner, the internet does bring us closer together as it offers a platform through which people can interact not just with people they know, but with people in other countries.
Businesses and web designers have obviously noticed this trend, too. Facebook’s own statistics suggest that over 10,000 new websites integrate with the Facebook site every day. This suggests that there is massive potential for interaction on an online platform and for smaller websites to benefit from the success of larger ones, thereby connecting different groups from different industries through a central hub.
This can also be seen in the recent predilection for organising grassroots campaigns through the internet. It is widely thought, for example, that without planning through the social media and the wider internet, Barack Obama would have found it much harder to mobilise the grassroots voters in the US who ultimately helped him reach the White House. We can also see it in the UK, where mass campaigns have been organised online by a variety of groups. For example, UK Uncut have arranged tax avoidance protests, 38 Degrees and others are campaigning to save the forests and UKpling are working to organise an online campaign to save the libraries. We can easily argue that, without the internet, all the people involved in these campaigns would not have been bought together.
The Internet doesn’t bring us closer together
Of course, every argument has a counter argument and this debate is no different. Many people have argued that even though there has been tremendous growth in communicative technology – most notably those platforms operated through the World Wide Web – it has actually had the effect of driving people further apart.
This can perhaps be best seen through the idea that although people are now more able to get in touch with others than ever before, the quality of communication you experience with someone through a social networking site will never be of the same standard as if you were talking face to face.
There is some merit in this – when you consider that many people who work in the same office now frequently email each other instead of going to speak to each other directly, you can see how the internet can end up isolating people.
There are also arguments to be made about internet governance; as a global entity outside of effective international legislative control, there are very few laws to regulate the internet and its operations. Of course, there is an argument to be made that this is a good thing, as it means people have a space in which to interact away from their everyday lives. However, when you consider that some websites are blocked in countries such as China, North Korea massively restricts internet use and the Egyptian government recently switched off the internet in an attempt to control protestors, it can also be argued that there is a power to be found in controlling the internet and that those who are not online are isolated from those who are through the denial of communication. Therefore, even if the internet works to bring its users closer together, it pushes those who aren’t online further towards the margins.
Both sides of this debate have merit and they are, of course, much more complex once you get further into them. Perhaps, though, this is the point – on the surface of it, the online world is a brilliant opportunity for global connections to be made and it offers users the chance to experience different lives and cultures by proxy. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Google and many more provide portals of communication that are unrivalled in human history.
However, as the internet grows and becomes more influential, as governments move many public services online and campaigns are organised through social networking sites rather than the town hall, it suggests that those who aren’t part of the phenomena are indeed more isolated than others. This suggests that there is still work to be done to make the internet a truly connective, interactive platform and that the debate isn’t over, not by a long way.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Why not complete the comments box below to let us know and we'll publish your thoughts here.
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