micz flor on Wed, 16 Jul 1997 12:49:04 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Bandwidth and the Deceiving Beauty of the Interface

Bandwidth and the Deceiving Beauty of the Interface

1997, Micz Flor
[contrib. for bandwidth @ workspace@documenta.de]

Where bandwidth defines the ground to build on the interface 
becomes the architecture (and compression the construction 

With the problem of the global pipelines being the limitation 
of bandwidth comes a new problem to the browser near you... 
To deal with limited bandwidth means to rely on compression. 
WYSIWYG is what the screen displays. The product on the end 
of the line is what the machine (i.e. computer) constructs 
for you.

Broadcasting on the net means to think of effective ways to 
reduce the amount of information. Spot the paradox: the more 
redundancy you find in the original information the more of 
the information can be sent at a given period of. This is one 
way of dealing with information. Jpeg comes to mind, real 
audio, or the trend to use black and white gifs instead of 
full colour. Compression on that level is always a 
compromise. How close can you get to the 'real thing'? 

The other way is trying to explain to the machine what the 
'real thing' is - without sending any particular or specific 
information about it. HTML works along these lines (version 
1.0 - in the land of no tables and noframes). VRML does the 
same thing. The information which needs to be brought across 
is reduced to the idea behind the 'thing'. Instead of 
transporting the complete information of a cube one only 
needs to transmit the command to built a cube. Control files 
of that kind can get away with low bandwidth and maximum 
consumer pleasure at the other end - given the fact the plug 
in works... The solution becomes a philosophical challenge. 
How many 'things' is the 'real thing'? (cross-platform 
compatibility is the key word - the relation between the 
world, perception, cognition and cross-platform applications 
goes beyond evolutionary philosophy...). What we rely on is 
the appropriate reconstruction of information.

On-line: compression is the aesthetic prosthesis of 
information. In the context of mutual influence between the 
application and the compression it establishes an aesthetic 
on its own. 

Beauty is in the control files of the beholder and vectors 
become the personal style of the producer. Following the 
observation that computer based text editing is a writing 
tool which does not produce 'one' text but many texts (of 
which at any time one is the most recent 'one'), we might 
think that this multi-version chaos is over once we decide to 
call it a day and publish the latest version. ...only to find 
that we are facing another chaos. 

The act of distribution relies on compression and creates a 
situation in which the so called final and distributed 
version again becomes 'many texts'. What is being broadcasted 
is a file with instructions of how to create the display of 
information at the other end. And there is only limited 
control over that process. There an amount of trust on either 
side of the line. The sender transfers his/her product in a 
form which can be expanded, extracted or constructed at the 
other end. The receiver relies on the capacity of it's tool 
(i.e. computer) to expand, extract or construct the 
information without losing any of the content. 

At first sight this seems to be a 'design' problem but in fact 
it is a content problem. The Hybrid WorkSpace page itself 
with it's Java applets and frames is only one example of a 
content based project which relies on the process of coding 
and decoding. (It has been tested for many browsers, but how 
can one be sure? There is as many uncertainties as there is 
browsers.) Many times this effect is consciously used by 
projects dealing with disinformation or negative interaction. 
Check the source files.

The browser is a device constructed to make the problems and 
limitations of bandwidth invisible. And by being such an 
'active' device it also blanks out parts which it either does 
not understand or does not want to understand or is not 
allowed to show. The control of the control file has an 
impact on the information. At that stage the surface reveals 
the interface. Just like the sudden pause in the real audio 
transmission the lack of information is the emergence of the 
interface. Is the nature of the medium?

The problem: WYSIWYG is an idealised axiom which might even 
derive from the intention of the French or American 
revolution. The browser is an application which tries to make 
us believe to be the same. But: what you see is what your 
operating system, your browser and your plug ins understand - 
and if you are lucky that is what you were intended to get. 

Compression is the content prosthesis of information on the 
net. In the context of mutual influence between the 
application and the compression it establishes a content on 
its own. 

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