Librarians, Rocket Scientists & Adult Film Fans –
Ever since the World Wide Web layer brought the Internet out of the shadows of government and academia, the focus of the technology companies that make it possible has been on speed and “bandwidth,” the amount of data moved per second. Even when the envelope pushing was about looks, not downloads, it tended to max Filmes Netflix out the existing bandwidth. Both the ever-improving window dressing – images, graphics and logos that are part of the site design and not intended for downloading – and the underlying page structures continued to add weight to the digital freight, so to speak.
Although modem technology kept making incremental advances through the 1990s, with the first 56k modem (from U.S. Robotics) hitting the market in 1997, in 2001 a majority of residential Internet accounts still used the older 33.6k units. For much of the 1990s, the most popular Web content primarily comprised downloadable still images and tinny-sounding, super-compressed music files, but since customers wanted more, bigger, better and (eventually) moving pictures and CD-quality tunes, various entrepreneurs stayed abreast of the technology and used it to the max every step of the way. In fact, some of the first “computer porn pioneers” were the earliest of early adopters, the better to serve their growing customer base, and rode the tech wave of the 1990s into what is now a new millennium of increasingly accelerated broadband development.
Dialup has now evolved into broadband because that’s what technology does – it evolves. A “demand” for various Internet products and services helped create a “supply” of bandwidth, but this is a value-neutral process; librarians and rocket scientists have just as much of a “need for speed” as adult film fans. But consumers of music and adult content were the squeakiest wheels, so online entrepreneurs in those industries had the biggest stake in developing new, more effective kinds of grease.
Jumping the gun on the “digital convergence”
One of the dangers of being ahead of the curve is that you can lose sight of things behind you. When webmasters first began adding motion and pizzazz to their sites with Flash animation and small QuickTime clips, it required end users to download and install plug-ins for their browser software. Even among early adopter cultures, like adult entertainment fandom, this left some people behind – and these people were quick to leave sites behind because of frustration over error messages or slow screen redraws caused by missing plug-ins. Zona Research, one of the premier Internet metrics firms during the Internet boom years, came up with what was called “the 8-second download rule” in the mid-1990s. At that time, the median size of a Web page, which Zona called “weight,” was 89KB; larger pages would not load within the 8 seconds that the firm’s research indicated was the limit of a Web surfer’s patience. “More weight means more waiting to download,” Zona reported, estimating that businesses worldwide lost about $362 million per month in 1999 and 2000 because customers wouldn’t wait. It’s difficult to determine what these figures are now. Not only have the variables changed – a shrinking fraction of connections are dial-up, other technological issues have come to the fore, “net neutrality” is now a political hot potato – but the variable watchers have, too: Zona Reseach went out of business in 2002. Byte Level Research continues to issue reports on Website “page weight” – they divide winners and losers into “the best and the bloated” – but no one is talking much any more about revenue losses due to wait times. It was during the post-net-boom transition to broadband that the issue had the most urgency. Adult entrepreneurs have, in the main, stopped worrying about revenue lost to dial-up modems, and have moved on to find other envelopes to push.
Technology marches on
Today, media-rich sites for adult content, music and movies continue to max out existing technology. The speeds of some residential broadband services still do not allow for the best quality video on demand (VOD). The more robust MPEG-2 compression scheme requires about 6 Mbps for good results. The newer, more highly compressed MPEG-4 format delivers what some claim is equivalent quality video (a few even say it’s better) at 2 Mbps, which is still at the high end of current cable-modem and DSL performance. So, as broadband market share in the U.S. continues its growth spurt, and technology marches on to provide ever-greater bandwidth and speed for end users, Internet media businesses will continue to reap the benefits of what they’ve been sowing since the first days of the World Wide Web. Adult film producers, along with music distributors and entertainment-media sites (iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, etc.), should look forward to the day when the download speeds are so stable and speedy that VOD means watching DVD-quality streams and download-to-DVD (or the next-generation mass storage) gets you a movie in mere minutes. The way things are going, it won’t be long (not centuries, anyway) before the onrushing “digital convergence” brings true virtual reality into the home with three-dimensional, holographic form, and perhaps even substance. We can’t know exactly what the technology will be, how the projection will work or how big the images will be – two feet, three feet or ten. But all of our favorite music and images will be brought up close and personal, at “instant-on” speeds, for the next generation of new, hyper-realistic digital delights.