When J.C.R. Licklider of MIT wrote a series of memos in August of 1962 about his dream for a "Galactic Network" it's unlikely he could have imagined the Internet as it is today. Although he envisioned a worldwide system of interconnecting computers supplying access to data and programs for any who connected to it, he probably didn't dream that it would eventually include hot transsexual chat or streaming dildo cams. Yet, in 1965, when fellow MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts and Thomas Merrill connected a TX-2 computer in Massachusetts to a Q-32 in California via a low-speed dial-up telephone line, they created the first wide-area computer network and changed the future of communications. Their simple (and at the time, largely ignored) experiment would also forever change how the Western World looks at sex.
What began innocently with e-mail transmissions between academics in 1972, and still relies upon many woefully-outdated computers for its backbone, is now a multi-billion dollar industry. An industry that inspires fear and excitement in the stock market, educators, politicians, moralists, technology professionals and a population hungry for more news, more entertainment and more power. An industry with a multitude of innovative thinkers and doers eager to satisfy that hunger.
"The Next Big Thing"
"We started iGallery in early '96, when you still had to download a plug-in just to see any kind of video conferencing," begins Scott Schalin, Chief Operating Officer for content provider iGallery (www.igallery.com). "You had to dial up with the old dial-up software, so there wasn't a lot that you could do creatively. You wanted to do all these special shows but you couldn't."
Schalin's frustration has been shared by millions of smut-loving computer users, many of whom have eagerly embraced each improvement in computing power and speed whether it was a result of hardware, software, or both. Faster connection rates have meant quicker downloads which have, in turn, meant that where once users had to be satisfied with text files, message boards and slow, real-time chat boards, larger and more-refined binaries have become progressively easier to exchange and enjoy.
Although aggressive marketing aimed at families touts the wholesome educational properties of computers and the Internet, many surfers have been online in one manner or another far longer than AOL software has been finding its way into landfills, and they weren't just looking for the Encyclopedia Britannica or a really good recipe for meat loaf. When modems that could be jacked directly into telephones were developed in the 1980s, and personal computer systems became available, the ability of the computer-literate to exchange information leapt forward. Sometimes running on systems made by companies that no longer do business in the United States - or anywhere, in some cases - and connecting at speeds deemed not merely slow but intolerable by today's standards, these pioneering compu-porn hounds swapped primitive text and binary files via local and national BBS networks like FIDOnet and WWIVnet, or by means of the massive system of newsgroup servers affiliated with Usenet. When connection speeds reached the comparatively-blazing rate of 14.4Kbs and Net access began to reach the masses, it became a standard techie joke that the fastest way to bring an ISP to its knees was to host porn off of it. While it's true that Internet users want to stay up-to-date on mainstream topics and technologies, a great many clearly want to take it to a more personal level.
As luck would have it, professionals such as Schalin are happy to oblige. His company's latest venture is Ten.com (www.ten.com), the result of the 1999 merger between iGallery and New Frontier Media, a publicly-traded broadcast satellite corporation. New Frontier Media owns a number of cable and satellite television channels, including The Erotic Network, from which the site derives its name. As a part of the New Frontier Media family, iGallery has exclusive rights to such things as the Metro Video library and the Hustler Barely Legal video series.
"Ten.com is something we just launched in our webmaster program and it's the first site that's truly targeted to DSL-or- better users," Schalin boasts, and with good cause. "The site incorporates full-length video scenes - eleven-minute scenes streaming with the RealPlayer or JPEG Push. The bandwidth has been turned up so the frame rate is more like 20-frames-per-second. Traditional video conferencing shows are, like, three frames per second.
"So, we cranked up the bandwidth on our live and video feeds and created all of these sections that use full-length video scenes and a lot of Shockwave and Flash movies," he says. "Ten.com has a lot greater interactivity than most adult sites. We hope that within the next couple of months this site will actually offer a true Video-on-Demand experience where you can access from over 4000 titles; any scene, full-length, full-screen, with video quality that truly rivals VHS tape. We're pretty excited."
Schalin is not alone in his excitement. It's estimated that as soon as 2002, the number of broadband users will have doubled. Although there are areas of the Unites States that may never be able to offer or support DSL technologies for a variety of reasons, the number of ISPs offering the service has been increasing steadily. Likewise, telecommunications companies and cable providers have entered the arena and are creating packages to appeal to both the hard-core computer fan and those trembling with compu-fear. The market is definitely pushing for DSL lines to be installed in as many American homes as possible. Adult site owners who are on the crest of this high-tech wave and can cater to the more demanding broadband users' needs are learning about both the costs of doings so, and the joys. Webmasters interested in offering content to broadband users will need to prepare not only for creating the more demanding media, but also for the added storage space and greater bandwidth these greedy high-speed transfers will require.
Even Ten.com, a site owned by a well-financed and hardware-healthy company, found itself shopping for storage space. Preparing a site exclusively designed for high-speed surfers, "required a greater server capacity and required us to increase our storage capabilities," Schalin explains. "In the past we would store a number of 30-second clips. It's much easier to store these small clips than ten- or 11-minute clips. It's required us to definitely purchase more bandwidth. Our bandwidth costs have gone up because we've turned up the frame rate, because there's so much more information that the end user is downloading and downloading at a faster speed."
Anyone who has shopped for additional bandwidth knows it isn't inexpensive. The minds behind Ten.com are gambling that a unique form of Internet surfer loyalty will emerge to embrace the site in much the same way that readers often remain loyal to print magazines for extended periods of time. "That's sort of the concept of this, as opposed to most adult sites that know they're only going to keep a guy for a week or a month, so they give him a[n] inferior experience. We're hoping this will be the last solution, the last stop for people with a high speed connection," Schalin says.
Not So Fast
Does the advent of DSL and other high-connection speed technologies spell content death for lower-speed users? Not at all. Nor should it. Amidst the increasingly loud buzz of excitement surrounding the fun new Internet toys available to the high-speed surfer, a few cautionary voices are being heard.
"A lot of people consider bandwidth to be an unlimited resource. And I suppose that I can understand that. But there is a limit to everything, and people are starting to bump into those limits," warns Dokk, webmaster and owner of TV-X.com (www.tv-x.com) a webmaster resource and test-bed for the latest video, audio, robotics, and camera technologies that can be used as part of online streaming media.
For instance, on any given day an investigation of the root name server list that supplies the Internet will reveal scattered hardware breakdowns, each affecting the next machine in line. That's hardly surprising when you realize that the rate at which users are being added to the system far exceeds the rate at which new systems and lines are being added to support them. This ever-increasing weight of network traffic combined with higher-speed lines grabbing for more network resources, explains why sometimes the Net lags even for those who long ago left their dial-up installation discs in the dustbin. Without refinements in how information is transmitted along the lines, this trend will only continue.
One way to lighten the load is a technique called "multicasting," a form of Net broadcasting that allows a single packet of information to be sent to multiple users, rather than sending the same information multiple times to multiple users. According to Dokk, "Multicasting allows you to conserve your bandwidth and to stretch your broadcast. But most of the people are still using unicast transmissions, which are not environmentally friendly to the Internet. A lot of them use a UDP Transport Protocol, which pushes other packets out of the way in order to get their video through, and it's causing a burden on their local systems and to the people who are trying to watch." One solution, as Dokk sees it, is to expand the use of full-duplex network technology, thus allowing use of multicasting-capable routers and hardware that can handle software that supports multicasting. The Linux operating system supports the (as yet) unimplemented IPv6 Internet protocol that supports multicasting. The Windows Media system also supports multicasting, thereby allowing coders to take a small amount of bandwidth and stretch it to its limits.
But even with these rather amazing advances, not everyone will be able to share in the bounty of speed and storage space. Many people connecting to the Internet simply can not, and will not be able to, increase their connection rates. As Dokk explains it, "With DSL there can be only one conversion to digital and that does mean that you need copper wires. Also, many telephone companies use what's called a 'slick'" which hooks a collection of telephones in a given area up centrally within a steel box. Inside that box a digital conversion must take place. Another digital conversion occurs at the phone company. Because DSL will not work with more than one digital conversion on a phone line, subscribers whose phone systems make use of a 'slick' are simply unable to make use of the technology. That converts into millions of online visitors continuing to seek dial-up friendly content.
It's tempting for webmasters to want to charge ahead, embracing the latest technology and the multitude of creative new ways it allows them to present content. And with the mass of new DSL subscribers using programs such as the controversial binary suckers Napster and Gnutella, site owners know there's an interest. But to focus exclusively on high demand users is likely to be a short-sighted business decision.
Sponsored by CyberErotica (www.cybererotica.com), Dokk formerly hosted Sharky Live (www.sharkys.com), the longest-running online webmaster talk-radio show; he understands the temptation to boost speed. But when he learned that one of his advertisers was not able to connect at a speed fast enough for him to hear the program, he gained some new perspective.
"I think that once people get the big pipe they're so anxious to leave the little one behind that they never look back," says Dokk. "But you can only squeeze so much down a pipe at one time. And the further out that you get from the point of reception, the more difficult it is. It's easy to say, 'Yeah, I'm going to send out a 100Kbs stream and 512, and we're going to try to get 30 frames per minute in video. But that's just ridiculous. You can't even talk in those kinds of terms if you're going to supply programming to someone who's on a dial-up.
"That's why we still take extra special time and test and test and re-test the slowest speed codex that we can possibly squeeze. We'll take 10Kb per second and just squeeze it for all its worth and try to get a signal out to those folks. Conserving on both ends is important here to make sure you can service all of your audience. Whatever people are going to do, I think one thing that they really need to remember is not to leave be-hind the vast majority of people who are still on dial-up modems."
iGallery's Scott Schalin agrees. "I would never discount the narrow bandwidth user," he says. "We still create all of our products and sites so that the guy using Netscape 3 can still see them. We always test all of our products for every aspect of users - 14.4 with IE 2 - we want to make sure that everyone can see our stuff and have a decent experience." That doesn't mean iGallery.com and Ten.com don't hope to lure new converts to the DSL experience. "I think we will start to introduce the broadband functionalities into the narrowband site because, beyond just giving broadband or DSL users a great experience which is designed for them, we want the other people to know that there's a way to take your Internet to the next level and in essence show them, 'Hey, do you know what you're missing? If you did, you'd certainly upgrade yourself.' And we want to help spread that word."
Alternatives and Aspirations
If the Internet is good at anything, it's good at spreading the word - whatever that word may be. And even without the high-speed connections, webmasters continue to seek creative ways to make their words and images appealing and accessible.
Late of Chicago and now one of Cape Cod's popular alternative artists and graphic designers, King VelVeeda (www.cheesygraphics.com) is similar to many small, independent businessmen who use the inexpensive electronic medium to promote their work. After coming online in 1996 via what is now considered an achingly slow 2400 baud modem, "I immediately saw the potential to send full-color artwork to hundreds of people and began my world famous Picture-of-the Day," he says. "As an illustrator, I was expected to do quarterly postcard mailings to stir up business, but that's costly and very time consuming, so I correctly wagered that the same ends could be achieved with JPEG files and a CC list. Reaching the folks and fans directly has been the real boon of the Internet."
Unable to make use of DSL due to his location, VelVeeda is both aware of the medium's shortcomings and hopeful that things will improve. "I'm just hoping that most people will have instant access - and lickety-split download times so that I can really pump my site up with loads of high quality pictures. Streaming animations and TV clips are where I'd like to take my site in the next five to ten years, but I endeavor to keep my page as simple as possible so that even the poor schmucks with the least technology can enjoy it. I am, after all, a king of the people!"
For webmasters and businesses that don't focus on offering intangible products such as streaming video or high-end images, bandwidth concerns are less urgent. Brick-and-mortars that expand sale of their products as dot-coms can keep their page-loading time down with sleek, clean-looking page design using low-k graphics.
They can also appeal to users connecting at a variety of speeds with mailing lists, message boards and chat rooms. Joel Tucker, president of J.T.'s Stockroom (www.stockroom.com) brought his kinky adult toy business online early, publishing the company's first e-catalog via e-mail, BBSes and ftp sites in 1990, when the Internet was still a novelty and commercial sites were not only unusual but, in some schools of thought, not entirely welcome in the largely government-funded medium. In 1995, the company launched its first website after purchasing computers capable of running Windows and which were capable of viewing websites. Today, the company has its own warehouse, a 50,000-customer database, and 15 powerful computers.
"I love the Net and my high speed access," says Tucker. "Of course, speeds will only increase until high quality, interactive video/audio becomes widely available. The channels that are opening for social and commercial communications are just beginning to make themselves known. We are in the early stages of a revolution in the way people communicate. I think the potential to do more personalized, human business using inexpensive, high-bandwidth videoconferencing will be a very interesting and significant development, and we are planning for that now. I think the Internet will eventually outpace and then dwarf television in terms of the social and economic impact."
And that is possibly one of the few things that Internet professionals agree on. Television is the inspiration for consumers and producers of online content and, as newer and more exotic technologies are introduced to businesses and individuals, the distinction between the two appears likely to diminish - or even vanish.
With wireless networks being explored and heralded by some as the next big thing, and both cable and cellular phone companies entering the online landscape, it's likely that the Internet as we know it today will bear little resemblance to the Internet several years from now. Adventurous thinkers discuss exotic technologies like quantum communications, where transfers would be nearly instantaneous (with no lightspeed lag); the possibility of the Internet developing into a neural net; molecular computing, and distributed/parallel processing via the Net.
What It's All About
Ultimately, this rush for more speed, more storage and more power isn't just about the Internet. It's about what TV-X.com's Dokk calls "personal bandwidth."
As greater and more system-intensive content becomes available both online and via software applications, users will continue to need to upgrade their personal computing processors, video cards, monitors and other bits of hardware in order to keep up.
This is a lot of information for webmasters, site owners and subscribers to process. It's easy to become overwhelmed. Fortunately, John Boy of the Wetlands speaks truth on Sharky Live when he reminds webmasters that, "the most important thing when you're trying to make a sale is getting that site to load fast. It can look like hell, but if it loads fast, they'll subscribe."
Fortunately, the tools exist so that consumers don't have to choose. Whether they connect to the Web through a dial-up or a broadband connection, there's no reason for content to look bad or load slowly. Scott Schalin speaks for all those who love Internet technology when he proclaims this, "a really exciting time. And it will become more exciting as time goes along."