When speed picks up
A quickening spread in the availability of ultra-fast internet connections could change websites as we know them, David Bowen says.
|Broadband Quality Score study||Johnson and Johnson|
|Shell Eureka video||Chevron videos|
From 2015 all Finns will have internet running at 100Mbps, the Helsinki government tells us, and they will not be alone. Very fast broadband is in the air, and we need to start thinking about it. The bad news is that it is yet another complexity to contemplate. The good news is that it should be quite fun – worth stirring the imagination about, anyway.
Broadband penetration or, rather, the lack of it is already, of course, an issue. If you are offering video, make sure you give the narrow-band majority something they can be content with. But now we must push our minds the other way – how to satisfy those lucky internet users with ultra-fast connections?
Quality of experience
Last month, a Cisco-sponsored report, Broadband Quality Score, generated headlines about how this or that country was lagging in the broadband race. What wasn’t made terribly clear is that this is not about penetration but ‘quality’, which combines download speed, upload speed and latency (or lag). Cisco’s Broadband Quality scorecard puts Japan way ahead of anyone else, with a BQS of 62, followed by Sweden, Korea and The Netherlands ranging between 40 and 35.
A useful finding is that central and eastern Europe does much better here than it does on penetration, because its telecoms networks have leapfrogged from the Soviet age to fibre- and cable-driven state of the art. The top 15 countries include Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Russia – which comes just ahead of Finland.
Reasons to quicken the pulse
I can see why Cisco wants everyone to have high speed internet (it is pushing video conferencing hard), but why should the rest of us be so bothered? According to the report, the team has found that “broadband quality is linked to social and economic benefits”. A little more specifically, it says it leads to ICT (information and communication technologies) diffusion, a knowledge economy and web usage.
I’d like to see more evidence before swallowing this line whole, but it doesn’t matter what I think. If governments decided high-speed broadband is essential it will presumably arrive and the question is, what then? Or possibly even: what now? Because if you already have sites covering ‘high BQS’ countries, you could be thinking about a little experimentation.
What to provide? The Cisco report lists the following as “tomorrow’s requirements” that can be satisfied by fast broadband: visual networking, high-definition video streaming, consumer telepresence, large-file sharing, high-definition Internet Protocol television. It also says that upload speeds will become increasingly important as users provide their own content: 5MB will be needed in three to five years to make it all work.
So here are some thoughts on what all this could bring.
User-generated videos will become a more useful source of content. The jerky handheld YouTube films we see now are acceptable because they are low quality. As upload and download speeds increase, there will be a move to make films that are better quality both technically and creatively. Expect amateurs to become more professional (if they’re not being paid, we could even get back to the days of the over-staffed film crew) and to generate videos you may be able to use on your site. Your products in action, your staff helping old ladies, your private shareholders having a meeting… whatever. The bad news, of course, is that unflattering films will get better, too; but you should already be considering this as part of your YouTube response policy.
Made for television
Your site can have its own television channel. Bayer already has a TV Service, with video files in five different sizes: one I looked at ranged from 2MB to 350MB. But this is a download service for television stations. Why not stream them and put them at the core of the site?
This is already happening, patchily. Look at Johnson & Johnson’s home page, with its three sweet video stories. For a while Shell had its Eureka film on its home page. This slick story, about the discovery of a new drilling technology, has had several lives – in the cinema, on television and on the web. It’s no longer on the site but is still on YouTube. Perhaps most interesting, Chevron hired a former CNN anchorman, Gene Randall, to make a video that puts the group’s side in its fierce legal battle over pollution in Ecuador. Although short – 14 minutes – it is much more like a television documentary than a standard corporate video.
Movement for change
The logical extension of this is to rethink the whole concept of the website. At the moment, it’s static with a little movement. Maybe it should be the other way round. Or maybe video, animation and user-generated content should be knitted together to revive true multimedia, a word that was fashionable in the early 90s but disappeared under the steamroller of the web. Of course, branding sites have been having fun with multimedia ever since Mr Flash invented his plug-in; now corporate sites can join in.
Finally, high-speed broadband will give Second Life another chance. Or rather, it will allow web managers to exploit virtual world technology. I doubt many web sites will become entirely 3D, but why not take some of the things we already have in Second Life – press conferences, graduate recruitment fairs – put them on your site, and allow your visitors in? Social media meets virtual reality meets broadband. Why not?
First published on 21 October, 2009