CEO at Econsultancy
14 November 2000 07:26am
Consumer, at home, 'broadband' is slowly becoming a reality as NTL finally roll out a cable modem service, BT finally begins to install ADSL services (most of which work...) and other service providers (such as Homechoice) also use the BT infrastructure to offer ADSL high speed internet connectivity.
Let us not forget that these bands are variously broad, however. Homechoice's ADSL offering is limited to 115kbps in terms of internet connectivity as it is hardware limited by using a parallel port connection to the PC, using the rest of the bandwidth for its Video on Demand service. BT's initial ADSL roll out is limited to 512kbps with promises of more speed to come. And both cable and ADSL will suffer from increasing 'contention ratios' as more users share your bandwidth, effectively reducing your connection speed. Whether the ISPs and other service providers will honour stated maximum contention ratios (BT say 50:1 for consumers and 20:1 for business users as I remember) remains to be seen.
Either way, the temptation is to think that the mythical broadband finally means you can design pages the way you always wanted them to be and worry much less about file sizes. I would argue that this would be a big mistake.
There is strong evidence to suggest that broadband increases consumers online shopping spend (see, for example, a recent whitepaper 'How superfast internet access changes media habits in American Households at http://www.arbitron.com/nycu_archive/10_2_00_1226.htm ). This isn't because the sites are designed differently i.e. for broadband it is becuase finally the sites perform at a speed which is acceptable to the impatient consumer.
Broadband is less about a step change forwards in the eyes of the consumer, it is about finally using the internet in a way which they have always wanted to. Usability experts like Jakob Nielsen will tell you that people have a maximum attention span before their mind wonders elsewhere (around 10 secs). Broadband helps ensure that users' minds do not wonder elsewhere but are able to quickly complete the task they came to complete in the first place.
Of course, the design should be targeted at the customer base and many customers will now want more video and audio and many will actively seek out such 'broadband' content. But there is a danger that we will end up in the software / hardware vicious circle such that as soon as we have more bandwidth to play with we will fill it up with ever bigger graphics so the speed of the service will never increase. Particularly for task-oriented sites (such as e-tailers) broadband represents a great opportunity to close more sales with site users, so let's not waste that opportunity with a broadband overhaul of the design of that transactional experience.
Creative Director at Agenda Solutions
21 November 2000 09:48am
Current report on business 2.0 addresses the same bloated graphic issues, http://www.business20.com/content/magazine/breakthrough/2000/11/20/22110 and includes the following nugget:
"On nine financial services sites tested by Portland, Ore.-based WebCriteria, office broadband connections only helped the company's automated "users" follow links on an average of 25.4 percent (37.1 seconds) faster than home "users" with dial-up modems. Sure, the pages downloaded faster, but server delays, page design ("Where is that search box?") and a user's normal pace will always limit broadband's contribution. Now consider this: If the Web designers of the tested sites had posted a glitzy 30-second video for users to see, that bit of flash would have eaten nearly all of the extra time the users thought they were buying with broadband. "
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