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The Jedi Master Speaks

Principle Number 4

Asynchronicity

em PortuguÍs nell'Italiano

The Internet is asynchronous. This big word simply means that those with whom you are communicating are not necessarily online at the time of the message posting. This characteristic is also true of all the print media. However, it is a significant deviation from the other principal media of our time; telephones, radio, TV, movies, live theater. Each of these requires that the intended recipient of the transmission be "online," present in body and mind at the time of the transmission. Even very flexible media, like VCR's, require you to be there when the on switch is toggled.

Anybody who has ever played "phone tag"...where your messages to another are first recorded on his/her answering machine, while the answers may find you absent from the vicinity of your phone...anybody who has participated in this frustrating game knows the problems with synchronous media. Similarly, if you miss a live performance or a movie feature because of conflicting schedule or illness, you will often have missed your only opportunity to experience that event, or at least the only convenient opportunity. Even recorded media, like videotapes, do not completely eliminate this problem. Having missed one "playing," the recorded event might be overwritten or lost before your next opportunity to view it.

The asynchronicity of the Internet is an instant cure. When you send someone email, it matters not whether the recipient is present at his terminal when the email arrives. It goes into a queue and can be read at a later time. If you, like most people, keep an archive of past emails, you also have a readily retrievable record of the communication.

Similarly, any presentations on the Web, whether text, image, audio or video, is available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, the availability is affected by the status of the server, the traffic on the Net and the permanence of the placement by the publisher. The former can be remedied by "try again later." The latter by copying the page and storing it locally, for viewing at any time.

Of course, there have been attempts to introduce synchronous applications into the Internet. Net telephony, Net radio and instant messaging are good examples. Instant messaging has even achieved respectability as millions of users have already signed up to use it. However, it is easy to see that, should it achieve universal acceptance, it will have the same problems as ordinary offline telephony...answering machine programs and a version of IM-tag. As for telephony and radio, they suffer, especially during prime time, with the problems of packet switching. As traffic increases, more and more packets are dropped. Nor can these packets simply be re-retrieved as with asynchronous media, so they are lost causing annoying gaps and pauses in the transmission. It is doubtful that bandwidth increases will solve this problem, except initially, before the traffic expands to fill the bandwidth allocated for it...a variation of an old axiom about spending in organizations which allocate budgeted funds.

So, although there will certainly be more and more attempts to move applications from other media to the Internet, you can confidently predict that the most successful will be those that remain asynchronous. For example, instant messaging will probably evolve into an email-like application, where messages that are missed or ignored will be recorded for later viewing. The alternative, simply turning the IM service off, completely destroys its utility. Similarly, bigger bandwidth pipes will probably...finally...allow video-on-demand. But, it is unlikely in the extreme, that direct broadcasts of video or other recordable events will ever SUCCESSFULLY move to the Net.


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If you have comments or suggestions for Willy, you can contact him at:
willy@dreamagic.com


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