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Developing sites for broadband users? - beware!

2002 doesn't bring good news for web developers speculating on residential and small business broadband services becoming popular. While broadband Internet access is experiencing growth, it's not anywhere near the rates of a year ago. In fact, in the United States, statistics show new broadband subscriptions have decreased consistently for the past two years.

The reason for sluggish growth in broadband usage?

Price - using the United States as an example, broadband access prices rose on average 12%! In Australia, things aren't looking much better with a number of companies recently changing their "all you can eat accounts" to miserable levels of data capping, followed by paying through the nose for excess data transfer.

Availability - many countries still do not have the infrastructure to support public release broadband. Even in countries that do, in the case of ADSL, the further you are away from the telephone exchange the less the quality of service. The service can degrade so much that you'll get better speeds from a traditional dial-up connection. From what I understand, to benefit from ADSL a subscriber must be within approximately 3 miles of an exchange.

Jupiter Media Metrix statistics forecasts that 40% of American households will be using broadband by 2006 - 4 years away. 4 years is an eternity on the Internet. If the U.S. is slow on the uptake, how much further behind will the rest of the world be?

According to a recent article on CyberAtlas.com: 

"Nearly three-quarters of the dial-up Internet subscribers in the United States are content with the quality of their Internet service, which is bad news for high-speed providers trying to convince consumers to switch to broadband."

Considerations for Web Developers.

Given this scenario, it's probably still wise to design sites for standard Internet connections. The old rule of 20-25 seconds download for a 28.8k connection still remains a good benchmark - although this is becoming increasingly harder to achieve as we are pushed to the limits of creating "sticky" and aesthetically pleasing, dynamic pages.

Time and again, I come across amazing web sites - but it takes over 60 seconds to fully download the pages. Yes, the pages are nice and show a great deal of artistic skill, but after the initial oooh!-ing and ahhh!-ing, visiting these web sites is a pain in the butt.

Some exceptions to this web design scenario would be the hard-core gaming sites. The users of these online destinations tend to have high-speed connections to the Internet - their craft demands this kind of access. I know of one person who took on a part-time job just to cover his broadband connection - now that's dedication!

Gamers are traditionally the section of the market who are prepared to pay big bucks for their equipment, and to regularly change over to new, faster, fuel injected components (with all the options, of course).

Many articles I have read over the last couple of months point towards Internet users becoming jaded by excess eye-candy - the savvy Internet user of 2002 is looking more for content - real information regarding the subject of their search - not elements that go whizz and bang.

So, if you're designing sites with Flash as your prime development tool, research your client's visitor demographics and target market carefully. If you intend on using Flash heavily for mainstream commercial sites, think on this:

These constants remain tried and tested -

  • Content is still king

  • Search engine spiders can't read Flash animations

  • Fast download times mean more page views per visitor (and increased chances of closing sales)

  • Broadband access has not matured, and won't for some time.

The balance between art and delivery of quality information is the key; discover it and clients will beat a pathway to your office door.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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