Does size matter?
Probably the most anxiety provoking issue for any webmaster - and a bone of contention among web mistresses too I hear.
Sadly I am here to argue that the answer is yes - it still matters and is likely to matter for quite some time to come.
Once upon a time, we all had analogue phone lines and the internet squawked, burbled and hissed into our 56k modems at speeds of 20 or 30 Kb a second. Every image and animation had to be paid for in time and irritation - download time and the viewer's irritation when we got it wrong - and either the images took too long, or they were optimised into a hideously blotched and bubbly mess that is the curse of the over-shrunk JPEG.
Happily that is all over and now, in these broadband days. With vast quantities of bandwidth sloshing around the internet like monsoon rain down a storm drain, the now forgotten art of image and page optimisation for download time can be consigned to the same internet pit of oblivion as the animated gif and page counters shaped like a cat saying "You are visitor number 900139 since 11/5/1997".
Broadband is a wonderful thing but nothing is limitless. This turbocharged short-cut onto the information superhighway is not the route by which the webmaster of today can go cruising past his responsibilities in terms of the technical aspects of site design. If a one megabyte file can now be downloaded in twenty seconds rather than ten minutes, does that now permit you to use that really cool animation on your front page?
The eight second rule has yet to be disproved as far as I am concerned - and as the user becomes more accustomed to higher connection speeds and well-optimised pages loading in an instant, I would argue he is likely to become less patient with your "Now Loading" screen rather than more tolerant with this delay in the otherwise brisk tempo of the broadband surfing experience.
Likewise the "always on" connection requires a degree of security awareness that the dial-up connections infrequent or at least irregular forays into the internet could get away without.
With this in mind, if that scrap of eye candy requires a plug-in - consider the trepidation it will cause in Joe Public when they hear that nasty bleeping noise and with that anxiety provoking "This website wants to download..." warning at the top of your web page in Internet Explorer.
Another issue is shared connectivity. If your broadband connection at home is brisk, your connection at work may be less so, especially if it is shared between any number of users. Seldom will a computer in the offices of a company be lucky enough to have its own dedicated internet access - it will be connected via a router with a number of other workstations and - if the I.T. guy is not an idiot - a bullet-proof firewall.
So there is a fluctuating percentage available for you to use based on how many people logged on at any given time and what they are actually doing on-line.
And how will this impact on surfing performance?
Certain variables are beyond our control - so let's just accept the fact that broadband and totallyunrestrictedband are two different concepts - and sadly only one of them exists.
Noting that even broadband has its limitations - we can ask ourselves how many people actually have access to it.
Connectivity packages come in different flavours - based on the speed the customer is offered for their investment by their internet service provider.
Rather than getting bogged down in fine detail here I am just going to assume that one size fits all and then ask who is actually wearing it.
Point Topic (www.point-topic.com) tells us - or at least told us depending on when you are reading this - that US broadband penetration, whilst it is slowing down, grew 0.65 percentage points to 80.81% among active Internet users in March 2007.
Slowdown or otherwise - the average US surfer is doing it on broadband.
According to the UK Online report from eMarketer, at this time some 43% of British users have taken the plunge. So our dial-up audience is still in the very significant majority.
More so when we note that the European average in 2006 was only 14% based on reports from ECTA - the European Competitive Telecommunications Association.
So - where does this leave is all?
Pretty much where we were I'm afraid, optimising our images carefully to ensure good and/or consistent download speeds regardless of where our target audience is, but more so if they are non-US or on a shared connection like at work or if junior is downloading movies upstairs.
There you have it - sorry guys, size matters.
On-line at least......