Back to the future with TalkTalk Business

At the present time my internet connection through TalkTalk Business has ground to a virtual halt. I am instead typing this blog post on a 3G-connected Apple iPad.

I couldn’t connect properly prior to a trip to Glasgow in the middle of this week, and when I got back on Thursday night I was only getting an unusable intermittent connection.

I contacted them on Friday morning and they altered my ‘profile’ and marked my ticket as resolved. Friday evening rolled through with a non-existent internet service so after redoing all the sensible things at home to try and sort it out I have contacted them again on Saturday, when I briefly had a connection that measured as 99kbps download and no describable upload speed. I hope that my service will be back up and running by Tuesday, given their 48-hour response time.

At the moment I have an involuntary version of Jon Silk’s 1998 experiment going on, so have a big beat playlist on iTunes as I write this post on a 3G dongle. The first thing that I found was that a lot of the web that I used was pretty much unusable at dial-up speeds. This wasn’t just the obvious things like BBC iPlayer which you would rightly expect not to work, but stories on newspaper sites filled with unoptimised Flash banner adverts and video modules that lie in weight for the unwary.

My RSS reader Fastdoor was about the best experience that I got in this enfeebled online state. It is as though the web has turned into the bandwidth equivalent of some gas guzzling American car like a ’73 Cadillac Eldorado; greedy transportation, but without a corresponding improvement in useability or user experience.

There were two strands of thought that went through my head when I saw this:

  • It put a new nuance on the digital divide. It used to be that the digital divide was between the wired and the disconnected citizens. Now there maybe more of a nuanced digital caste system coming into place, with wireless-only users (think many ethnic minority groups in the US and young people from poorer backgrounds) and dial-up speed users (rural communities, older people, technophobes and the developing world) having different strata of access to information
  • Like the fate of the Detroit-based motor companies before it, it implied a laziness of design that had inspired the lean clean focused approach to design by  web 2.0 pioneer companies like Flickr, Delicious and 37 Signals. This laziness increases cost, as more processor cycles and storage are required to service the audience. Whilst Moore’s Law has been reducing these costs, a more disciplined approach controls costs, improves margins and would allow more money to go into the development of new services for additional revenue. It was quality and efficiency that allowed Volkswagen to get a toe-hold in the US market and show the way for Japanese companies like Honda and Toyota to overrun the incumbent motor manufacturers