Broadband, as we know it, is a service that provides fast internet access down either a cable or a telephone line, or in some rare cases, a satellite dish. Now, for most people, that’s all they need to know. As long as it works and someone can show them a page full of pictures loading in less then a couple of seconds, everything is fine and dandy. However, there is a growing problem with broadband. This problem is given the wonderfully under-defined term of “Web 2.0”. In this article, I aim to talk about what Web 2.0 actually is, how it affects your computer, and how it affects, or will affect, the world as a whole. First, we need a working definition. Web 2.0 is a huge umbrella term which covers, it seems, every internet application you can think of that doesn’t just supply text and pictures. Classic examples of this are ebay and youtube, but even the humble comments button at the bottom of this article still counts. As more and more people become connected to the internet, they are starting to realise that the internet has the potential to replace all other methods of moving data. As I frequently put it, “If it’s 2-Dimensional, you don’t have to pay for it!” The Internet need not be restricted to simply replacing all other media, however. It can offer even more on top. Most people already know how to get things like TV, Radio and newspapers off the internet, but the real pull of Web 2.0 is the original ideas, like flickr, facebook and myspace. These are things that, although they easily could have, simply didn’t exist before the internet. Most of these services have come under attack by thousands of half-baked lawsuits (the main purpose of which, it seems, is for the prosecution to make it painfully obvious they have no idea how the internet works.) Thanks to this, it is finally becoming clear to most individuals that for every predatory paedophile on myspace, there are several schools worth of children usually more capable of defending themselves online then their parents are, and that these services are important, not just frequented by stereotypical geeks. People always knew that the internet has vast untold potential, but now some of it is starting to show.
People are rushing to develop new business plans to capitalise on these huge opportunities, and at the same time companies (such as EMI most recently) are having to change their business models to suit a market they can no longer easily control. This is, of course, happening a lot slower then it did before the dot com crash for obvious reasons, but the movement is ultimately unavoidable. Many economic concepts that previously only applied to a scarce few products are now being reconsidered as CEOs everywhere are starting to ask themselves how they can compete with free, and how they can pass off poor quality as good when it’s getting harder and harder to inhibit the customer’s access to information.
The companies most hit by this are currently those whining about copyright piracy, but this status quo will not last for long. Those of you who stream a lot of online video, or use bittorrent on a serious basis, will have noticed that if you add up all the different
download speeds, you can never quite seem to get to the full 2,4 or 8Mb connection you’re supposed to have. There are plenty of technical reasons for this, but the main reason is simply that phone networks (and especially mobile GSM networks)
were never designed with even a thousandth of the data transfer they actually carry out in mind. Phone companies and ISPs are having to upgrade on, in some cases an hourly basis to keep up with the huge number of people that are using bittorrent now. The simple numbers are that for most ISPs, the top 2% of their userbase use about 60-90% of their total capacity. When an ISP sells you an xMb connection, what they’re actually saying is
“in the best possible conceivable conditions, you could possibly manage xMb provided you lived next door to a completely fiberoptic regional telephone exchange.”
Sooner or later, something is going to have to give. My personal opinion is that so called “HDTV” (read: people realising computer screens are sharper then TVs) which is supposed to be the solution to piracy, might actually be the cause of something much worse. The real reason for the push for HDTV is that it can be used to create a next generation of copy protection and in theory at least, cannot be streamed or easily downloaded at broadcast quality, just as TV is now. When Web 2.0 hits hard, streaming HD quality video *will* become the norm, no matter how much bandwidth it takes, and ISPs are going to have to come out and say “look, we simply can’t give you a true broadband line, the wires don’t exist.”
This is a problem that no doubt will be solved eventually, but it’s going to be a turbulent time. My advice to you is to look carefully at the small print of your ISP contract. You may find that they block, filter or “throttle” certain “ports” (these are software objects, not physical ports) under the guise that they apparently “create a security vulnerability”. The Raw truth is that most of these ports are the default ports used by Bittorrent clients, edonkey, kazaa and limewire, as well as certain less well known video streaming applications. The likelihood is, if you ever want true full speed broadband, you’re going to have to pay closer to £60 a month then the attractive offers you see in package adverts.
Despite this potential problem, Web 2.0 is still surging ahead, and with each new site like instructables.com, the internet only gets richer. In 2006, Time Magazine voted the person
of the year to be “you” in acknowledgement of the potential of user-generated content. Whole new technologies are being developed to grant better internet access to the masses, including smart phones that are actually useful, city-wide wireless networks paid for by the taxpayer, roving internet cafes brining the net to the wilderness and methods of sending data down gas pipes, power lines and even traffic jams. If you’re sick and tired of your favourite programme being chopped in half by tissue paper adverts, or you feel that Sky would be a lot better if someone got rid of all the pointless channels, if you suspect your favourite news service is twisting the facts with targeted reporting, or always choose your ipod over Radio 1, then remember; there is hope, and the best is yet to come.