Untangling The Web – My Mac Magazine #22, Feb. ’97

Bells and Whistles…

You may want to add audio and video to your Web site. Many people do. But before you add all those bells and whistles, you might want to consider this.

The network or “backbone” of the Internet wasn’t designed to handle all of this noise. It was put in place to handle a limited number of users and very simple text-based information streams. The growth of this “World Wide” Web was unexpected and unprecedented–and is really causing some problems. Internet usage is disrupting phone service in some cities. Because areas with heavy concentrations of dial-up netizens are experiencing longer average call times, phone company circuitry is being maxed out! One of the main reasons that the Internet bandwidth is getting used up so fast is that people are putting jazzy little extras into their sites. People have to wait for the video and the sound to download and this keeps them online longer.

So that postage sized video player or those sound clips that you’re thinking about adding in may just do more harm than good.

But you still want ’em… don’t you? Thought so.

There might be a way to make everyone happy, though. A way that people can get around online without the major pain of waiting for everything.

Multimedia Today

First, let’s take a look at the way we receive information now, called “streaming.” Streaming technology allows people to play files as they are downloaded, rather than waiting for the whole file to be completely retrieved before playback can begin. Think of it as playing a VCR tape.

There are two types of streaming providers. Companies such as Real Audio and VDOnet require you to buy their server technology. The cost goes up with the amount of information streams you plan to provide. Other companies use serverless technology. A good example of this type of technology is Shockwave. The Webmaster embeds the shockwave movie into the page on his/her server and the user clicks and downloads. That’s it.

This sounds pretty easy. Setting up the links and the hardware isn’t the problem, though. The problem is sending this volume of information out over the ‘Net and effectively “tying up the lines” for other users.

Streaming technology is currently conducted point-to-point, meaning each user is sent out an individual information stream. So the big sites that offer 100 stream Real Audio servers can really suck up some bandwidth!

Where do we go from here?

A new technique called multicasting is being developed. In this idea, servers would send out one stream. The stream would be broken off at other computers called routers and sent (served) to multiple users–reducing the bandwidth needed considerably. You can think of multicasting as the Internet’s version of broadcasting. A site that multicasts is very similar to a TV or radio station. The signal starts in one place, but it can (potentially) reach everyone. The information gets to those who are tuned in, but it passes over those who don’t want it without disrupting them. One way that an Internet multicast is different than a TV program is that you can find out who is receiving the multicast. I bet NBC is really jealous!


One of the first sites on the Net that will use multicasting technology is Netcast Communications Corp. It’s currently still in beta test, but Netcast’s idea is simple–why just be a radio station and broadcast to a limited number of people when you can be an Internet multicaster and reach the whole world! That, in a nutshell, is what I think Netcast is aiming to do–be the first “real” Internet station. Instead of using streaming technologies to send out programming, Netcast will program in a “whole new medium in and of itself… to provide an experience heretofore unseen.” It will launch with twelve channels of music, political talk shows, news, and sports shows. For more information on this, please point your browsers to Netcast’s Communication Corp.’s homepage at http://www.netcast.com.

So you might want to wait a bit longer before adding anything bigger than a button to your web sites. Who knows, the next big thing might just be multicasting to a computer screen near you.

Brian Harniman (harnie@hotmail.com)

Leave a Reply