Living with dialup or an old computer

Below are elfling's best tips for those of you with digital divide issues:

I live in a community with a lot of dial-up, so I'm not unaware of your pain. I have many times needed to exist for a week on dial-up plus an occasional Starbucks run while I was helping my mom pack up her house. (Shockingly, my mother did not have DSL, even though she lived in the city.) Many homes in my area are not able to access any form of broadband, not even satellite.

We have done our best to keep the material downloaded to the browser as light as possible. Modern coding styles make this both better and worse. We can and do use Ajax to allow you to get content without reloading a whole page. But, style sheets and javascript files can be pretty large. Unfortunately, older computers and browsers have more difficulty with complex, standard-compliant css and javascript. So, the strategies we use to lessen data throughput slow or cripple systems on older operating systems.

Daily Kos is now using more images on the front page. Everyone loves looking at images, but they do naturally increase download times.

Meanwhile, here are my best tips, from someone who has suffered many a day over satellite and dialup:

  1. A fast computer does help. It's not just your modem speed: browsers are much more memory intensive and processor intensive than they used to be. Whatever computer you do have, stuff it to the gills with memory.

  2. The largest files, which contain the css and javascript, and the main images, should load once and then not bother you too much. So, you might find that the initial load is a good time for coffee (or moving socks from the washer to the dryer), and then after that find your experience tolerable.

  3. We've got more ajax in this version (which for example is the process that can post a comment without reloading the page), so you can do a lot of functions without reloading the whole page. These new strategies allow the browser to just get the new text it needs, which is more efficient.

  4. If you open a photo diary, you're just gonna die. Even I do, on a not-quite-broadband connection. Open the page, then maybe go do the laundry or something. We don't control the images that diarists link to, and if they do not resize and compress their pictures, each photo could be several hundred K or worse.

  5. The rise of mobile phones and iPads and the like as browsers means that low bandwidth pages will rise again. :-) http://m.dailykos.com can be accessed by any browser, and is a lighter version of the site with limited functionality (you can recommend diaries or comments and write text-only comments).

  6. RSS is available for the major diary lists (front page, recent diaries, recommended diaries, etc), for every group blog, and every user blog, which will allow you to at least navigate to find the content you want in a lighter format. It's a text-only format, so compatible with every device.

  7. Subscribing to remove ads will mean you won't have to load those images or spend processing power to animate them. It may be worthwhile for the additional speed.

  8. You can also try turning off loading of new images altogether, so that when a diary with an image comes up, you have to affirmatively click to load it.

  9. You can configure your preferences in "edit profile" a little bit to help. You can alter how many stories are loaded on the front page to be a fairly low number, like 5, if you want a fast load, or to make it higher, if you prefer a single load while you get coffee. You can play with the comment preferences - autorefresh will bring in comments without you reloading the page, but it also creates overhead in the browser. You can hide comments altogether.

  10. Just because we picked our home page to be our home page doesn't mean it has to be yours. You can start your Daily Kos day at your stream page (My Page at the top), showing the items you're following by author, tag, or group. You can start it at a particular group page, even the Community Spotlight or Recommended groups. You can bookmark the http://www.dailykos.com/diaries page, to see all recent diaries in a list. Any of these might get you where you want to go faster.

  11. If you have a laptop, your public library may have free wi-fi. The ubiquitous Starbucks has free wi-fi now, and you may have other local businesses that do as well. It's not a solution for everyday browsing, but it's a good strategy for downloading new software or for working on a day when the faster speed is especially paramount.
    Meanwhile, keep advocating for more broadband access for everyone.

  12. Older computers may benefit from alternative browsers (try FIrefox first). It's a sad fact that no one is writing standard-compliant browsers for those perfectly useable older computers that can't run a modern OS. In some cases, if you're up for the technical challenge, changing it to some flavor of linux may help if you're on an orphaned platform.

As developers, we are thinking of you, but we face the overconstrained problem of trying to support the people with 10 year old technology and the people who want the latest and greatest power at their fingertips and the people who have powerful and new computers but minimal data transfer. We thread this needle as thoughtfully as we can.