Broadband, digitisation, digital transformation, big data, it has been a long process, mainly driven by technical innovation. Still. Back in the day, in 2001 working for The Fantastic Corporation, I wrote this Spoof article on digital fascination and how it is driving business descisions. Well, in all honesty, I did not know it then, my focus was on using the scientific method as a tool (which it just is), so the article was meant to illustrate how a fool with a tool remains a fool (you can freely exchange tool for ‘new technology’ or ‘technology focus’, or….). Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy.
Broadband: how wide should the pipe be?
Investigating end-user constraints on big-data accessibility
Broadband, the next generation Internet is at our doorstep. Technical advances have created fast connections, so called pipes, with even the most remote location possible. Anywhere, you will have the information highway at your fingertips. But what will this new technology bring us? Will it improve the end-user experience? This paper describes an experiment investigating the influence technical aspects of broadband such as pipe dimensions on the end-user experience.
Broadband is maturing from an experimental stage and becoming within reach of every consumer. Fibre technology is dominating the market, allowing for data delivery with near speed of light. Over the last years network operators have invested a lot in high- speed glass-fibre technology, even more than there is demand for. As a consequence the prices for high-speed connections have dropped and have become affordable for every consumer . Broadband is truly getting out of the labs and into the market place. The type of connection determines the speed in which you can send and receive data. The connection is commonly referred to as ‘pipe’. In particular, the dimension of the pipe determines the amount of data you have access to per time interval. There are two factors of the pipe influencing the transmission rate (see Figure 1), its lengths and its diameter.
Figure 1: an illustration of the factors pipe length and pipe width. Either a shorter pipe or a large diameter reduces transmission time. Length T results in larger transmission times. Pipe width D, due to the possibility of parallel transmission, results in reduced transmission times.
The length of the pipe influences the access speed. The longer the distance, the more time it takes to receive or distribute data. Already running at the speed of light, the distance may be the least important factor. The diameter of the pipe also influences the access speed. A large diameter allows for parallel transmission of data, increasing the amounts of data per time unit received, whereas a small diameter allows for mostly sequential data transmission. Obviously, compared to parallel transmission the sequential data transmission results in a lower connection.
The end-user experience
The influence of the pipe dimensions on the end-user experience is still unknown. Not surprisingly, technical advances are driving the broadband market, ignoring the importance of information about the end-user experience. Contrary to technical aspects, the consequence for the end-user experience of these parameters never has been investigated. However, unless end-users experience benefits from technical advantages, all investments in these systems may be in vain. Reports from the market, such as , suggests the need for an alternative approach: using the end-user needs as basis for broadband rollout and development. This means answering questions like ‘What is the influence of the width?’, and ‘What is the effect of pipe length on the consumption of a so- called ‘compelling’ site?’ ‘Does the amount of joy the end-user experiences depend on the speed with which the data is consumed?’ This paper aims to systematically investigate and by doing so give insight into the effect of pipe dimensions on the end-user experience.
This paragraph describes the prototypes used and the experimental set-up and the task the users had to perform.
Figure 2: The largest (left, 80% percentile) and smallest (right, 20% percentile) of pipes normally available in the environment of consumers. These dimensions were used for the prototypes.
As the focus for broadband is the consumer market, the sizes of pipes used for the experiment reflect those that commonly are available for house appliances. Figure 2 shows the two extremes (taken are the 20 percentile and 80 percentile of dimensions found). A prototype to control the information pick-up by end users was constructed. This prototype will be referred to as ‘GLobal Information SenSitive Experience transducerS (from here on referred to as GLASSES-TM). Figure 3 shows the prototypes used during the experiment. Various versions of the GLASSES-TM were created, to match the experimental conditions.
Figure 3: The four prototypes of the GLASSESTM, developed for the conditions of the experiment. Each prototype matches a specific combination of pipe width and pipe length.
Table 1 shows the prototypes and the experimental condition for which it was used.
Subjects were presented twelve different tasks, and asked to grade the page on a seven point scale running from highly interesting to extremely dull. Subjects were given as much time as they considered required.
Dependent and independent parameters
As stimuli a twelve web pages were selected ranging from full multi-media experience to a page with text only. The stimuli were presented in random order. Six subjects participated in the experiment. All subjects were member of the Fantastic Corporation R&D department. After making participation to the experiment part of their MBO1, subjects were found to participate willingly and voluntarily. An aside, using the MBO to motivate the participation in such experiments might be the only useful application for the still controversial MBO . Stimuli and conditions were randomised for each subject. Measured were the grading of the web pages and the amount of time used viewing the page.
Table 1: An overview of the experimental conditions and the GLASSES-TM’s used for each of the four conditions.
This section gives the results of the experiment. Given the novelty of the broadband media, the data was recorded using Reverse Engineering techniques2 and analysed using Bistromatcis3 [3, 4].
Interaction: grading and pipe dimensions
Figure 4: results of the grading of web pages for the pages with multimedia content (left) and for the text only pages (right)
Pipe dimensions were found to have most effect with multimedia content (see Figure 4). For text only pages only a small effect was found if the differences between conditions are extreme (a small and long pipe verses a short and wide one). For the grading of the pages, the best condition was found to be a short and wide pipe.
Conclusions and further research
For multimedia applications the dimensions of the pipe preferably is short and wide. For non-multimedia applications the benefits of a short but wide pipe are less clear.
During the experiment it was noticed that with narrow pipes end-users start to compensate the reduced information flow by active exploration, by making head- movements. It is known that information pick-up closely relates to possibilities of action . Based on our observation it is believed that there is room for improving network and web technology by linking the behaviour of the user to the data transport. Further research will focus on how active exploration of the end-user can compensate for the dimensions of the pipe.
Also, additional applications of GLASSESTM are being developed. Especially promising are preliminary experiments conducted with additional filters GLASSESTM with a short but wide pipe. Depending on the end-user, the same information has to be presented in a different format to enhance it application and consumption. For the creation of these filters an Extremely clear yet Motionless Liquid (referred to as XML) was found, and successfully applied. Figure 5 – left shows a first prototype using a short and wide pipe encapsulating such a filter.
Further investigations will also focus on data filtering by using semi transparent reception, the so-called Partially OccLuding trAnsmission pROtocolair Information Device (also known as POLAROIDTM, see Figure 5 – right). However, as the results of the experiment show, to reduce data access, one could also use a longer and/or narrower pipe.
Figure 5: Two examples of possible applications of GLASSESTM. Left, a subject wearing a preliminary prototype incorporating a personalized XML filter for optimal information pick-up and right, subject wearing a prototype incorporating POLAROIDTM based semi transparent filtering techniques.
In sum, despite its slow roll-out [e.g. 1] broadband shows potential, and may have an extremely interesting and promising future, provided technical constraints are investigated and developed taking into consideration end- user needs and constraints.
 Karlin Lillington (2001) A ninety billion dollar mistake In: The Guardian. August 23, 2001
 Milkovich, G.T. & Wigdor, A.K. (1992) Pay for performance, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC.
 D. N. Adams. (1982) Life, the Universe and Everything. Pan Books
 D. N. Adams (1986) Mostly harmless (the fifth part of the hitch hiker’s guide trilogy). Pan Books
 Gibson, J.J. (1979) An ecological approach to visual perception. Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, London. [Reprinted in 1986].
You can download the original paper here