November 26, 2001-- Newsletter #158

By Joe Burns

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Goodies to Go (tm)
November 26, 2001--Newsletter #158

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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

Hooray for the U.S. congress. The tax moratorium that died a few weeks ago has been given new life. It's two more years, as I understand it. President Bush said he'd sign the bill into law.

The Federal Trade Commission has sent out around 40 email warnings to Web sites selling unproven Anthrax cures and test kits. The basic warning is, "shut down or face legislation."

USA Today ran a story about how high-tech methods of spying on terrorist's financial dealing failed because the terrorists aren't using high-tech methods. It seems the sneaks came in under the radar by using pencil and paper. We were looking for encrypted wire transfers and the terrorists were filling out deposit slips. Maybe we should try the military tactic, "Hey, you're shoe's untied."

Now on to today's topic...

What's more important? Is it the news or the advertisers?

I am teaching a news writing class this semester. The terrorist attacks have been both awful and helpful for the class. Students seem much more interested in the news going on around them.

One notion that came up again and again was the fact that, right after the attacks on 9/11, the major networks eschewed commercials for coverage. The students pointed it out pretty quickly. Almost 72 hours went by before any regular commercial schedule was being followed. The loss of money must have been staggering.

I never thought of it before, but that same commercial for coverage element must have also hit the Web. The hit, however, must have been even more devastating for news servers. Let me explain what I mean.

When September 11th hit, news sites saw an unprecedented spike in visitor-ship. That meant more people attempting to get more pages. Common sense says that people will need to wait longer to see a page because so many other people also want to see that page. The server is serving more requests. Things slow down.

If you're the Webmaster of a site, you want to accommodate as many of these requests as possible. So, what do you do? Yes, you could buy a bigger server and get more bandwidth and a few other suggestions that would take a great deal of time and money, but think short term...very short term. What would you do right off the bat?

Make the pages smaller in terms of bytes.

That makes sense, yes? If the page is normally 50K, somehow knock it down to 20K and things will speed up. In the time it took the server to serve one customer a 50K page, theoretically now two and a half users could be served.

I know a few half users...they're weird people.

Now, since we all agree that smaller pages will make for faster delivery, how can one greatly lighten the byte load and not kill any of the content the users so desperately want to get their eyes on?

Kill the advertising.

There's your short-and-sweet answer. Kill the advertising and the page most likely drops to half its original size. If you kill some of the additional graphic support like a background or a secondary logo, you cut the bytes even further.

"That'll never happen," many of you are now saying.

On the contrary, it did. News-based Websites learned from 9/11 and when Flight 578 crashed into Rockaway, Queens the sites knew the news spike would be tremendous.

The spike caused a slowdown on all major news Web sites. The New York Times reported that page delivery went from an average of 3 seconds to over 23 seconds immediately following the news story breaking. MSNBC claimed service slowed to over 26 seconds per page.

CNN dropped it advertising and graphic support dramatically right after the crash. Newsday dropped all advertising and still crashed due to over-use.

In these times of news uncertainty, Web sites are incorporating new hardware and writing new policies regarding what to do when the spike hits, and it will hit again and again.

It just goes to show that even when the Internet is having trouble making financial ends meet, when in all comes down to brass tacks, content is more important than graphical support or advertising.

I try to bang that point home every week in my Web design classes. Content is king. Get it right and almost everything else can go away. Get it right and you will succeed.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

That's that. Thanks for reading.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And remember: I love facts like the one I'll use today. I guarantee I'll get a bunch of letters telling me I'm wrong, so here goes. In Great Britain, giving the "V" sign with the first and middle finger while the palm is turned towards you and raising your hand is a rather rude gesture. It's akin to the middle finger here in the states, among other areas. The British "V" gesture has its roots in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. The story goes that the French threatened to chop off British archer's bow fingers during battle. When all was said and done, the French lost and British archers gave the now famous "V" signal to mock their defeated foes.

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