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Text-only Mondays: A Modest Proposal

Will the Internet ever get faster? Can the Internet backbone capacity ever catch up with the increase in demand, let alone get ahead? Each new Internet development – streaming audio, Internet telephony, video conferencing – increases the traffic. Even users with ISDN or T1 connections to the Internet have to wait for many Web pages, because the fast connection only helps with the final mile, the connection from your Internet provider to you.

Some Internet services may start caching specific Web sites ahead of time, so subscribers can get fast access from a local server. That fast access may cost extra and how the money might be divided between the Web site owner and the cache owner remains to be seen (not to mention the copyright issues when copying a Web site). But, such caching increases the overall traffic because entire sites must usually be transferred to the cache, rather than simply the pages that the subscribers want to look at; there’s no way to predict which pages will be of interest.

All these developments have led to predictions of severe traffic jams, even of Internet meltdowns.

I have a modest proposal. Within our present Web servers and browsers, we already have the tools to overcome the traffic jam. I propose that one day a month – say from midnight on the first Sunday of each month to midnight Monday, Greenwich Mean Time – everybody using the Web should agree to turn off graphics and limit their serving and browsing to text-only. Real-time audio, Internet telephone conversations, video conferencing, and other bandwidth hogs can wait for a day. With only text traffic, the speed of the Internet should increase spectacularly.

Of course graphics serve an important function, so graphics that the user specifically asks for will be served. What will be banned are the gratuitous graphics that the user does not specifically request. Why does any Web page have a background pattern, anyway? The backgrounds simply clog up the works without adding any information. No one would put up with a book that had intrusive patterns on the page. Many Web page have large, useless graphics that serve no function except to take up time. How many times have you waited out the endless download of some stylized logo for a company whose name you already know? After all, you selected their Web page.

With my proposal, for at least for one day a month we can get some work done on the Internet. For the rest of the month, it’s molasses as usual.

Some simpler steps might be taken by browsing software. Browsers should have settings so that they automatically won’t download graphics over an adjustable size. HTML tags should separate essential from optional graphics, although this would require some discipline on the part of Web page designers, the very group responsible for many of the interminable waits.

Some people will argue that my proposal is impossible; Internet users as a group will never agree to text-only Mondays. Maybe. But think about this the next time you need to find some information on the Web.

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