Living with limited bandwidth or an old computer

Digital divide issues are frustrating. Here are our best tips for enjoying Daily Kos in situations with limited resources.

elflng writes:

I live in a community with limited internet access, 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 fast internet, 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 various browser-side techniques 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 our best tips, from someone who has suffered many a day over satellite and dialup and all kinds of cranky connections:

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. Pages are set up so you can do a lot of functions without reloading the whole page, including posting comments and loading new comments from other people. 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, it's going to use a lot of bandwidth - it's just the nature of the beast. Even I do, on a not-quite-broadband connection. Open the page, then maybe go do the laundry or something. Our image library means that everything loaded there is relatively well compressed and efficient, but there's only so much you can do while still making the images clear and crisp and good-looking for everyone.

5. 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. RSS feed readers may be obtained via the usual app sources; many good ones are free or very inexpensive. The platform from which you obtain the feed reader will tell you the system requirements. Once you install it, then you can prompt the reader to find Daily Kos. 

6. Subscribing to remove ads will mean you won't have to load those images or spend processing power to animate them. The $40 annual fee may be worthwhile for the additional speed.

7. You can also try setting your browser to 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.

8. You can configure your preferences in "edit profile" a little bit to help. 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 use the m. version to avoid loading comments altogether.

9. 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 page, to see all recent diaries in a list. Any of these might get you where you want to go faster.

10. If you have a laptop, your public library may have free wi-fi. The ubiquitous Starbucks has free wi-fi, and you may have other local businesses that do as well. Sometimes you can even access the wi-fi just from the parking lot of these places. 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.

11. 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.

12. Our rule is that we stop supporting older browsers when they become less than 5% of our audience. That is, we don't intentionally break them, but if bugs appear, we won't fix them. Time spent fixing them uses up a lot of developer hours for a short timeline for a very few readers, takes away from our ability to add improvements that have more benefit, and also makes our code harder to maintain for newer browsers and systems. In addition, it's just no longer safe to run old software - security exploits are rampant and can undermine your privacy and even make you vulnerable to theft. It's hard to throw away, or abandon, old beloved hardware. But, if your computer will no longer run software that is accepting security patches, it is important to move on. You wouldn't take expired prescription medicine or eat 15 year old canned food, either. New computers can now be had for a few hundred dollars, and once a decade is not too much to ask. A smartphone or tablet may also be a more affordable and very attractive option for browsing the web.

A good story to better understand the kinds of vulnerabilities an older system might have is told by Darknet Diaries, about Microsoft bug MS-067

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.