The Conservative Impulse

I find all the angst over evolution of the Internet in articles like this one in Wired to be pretty funny.  It used to be that nostalgic conservatism longed for days 40,50, even 100 years ago.  Now apparently in high tech, nostalgia is for the good old days five years ago, in this case before iPhones, YouTube, and Facebook.   Yawn.

We all know Conservatives are supposed to be conservative, but I have written a number of times about the enormous conservatism of self-styled progressives.   I suppose its a human trait that at some point in time, say in their teens or twenties, people psychologically define the world to be "normal," after which change is disconcerting.  I am not sure I have ever felt that way, so I am only guessing and trying to read between the lines of others' comments.

The only reason I followed the link to the Wired article at all is that I saw this terrible graph reproduced:

I mean, its pretty, but implies that email and web browsing are going to zero, which is absurd.  In fact, my guess is that they continue to grow, but shrink as a percentage because of the growth of new uses, which are disproportionately bandwidth-heavy so skew the chart.  And by the way, is anyone but a few hardcore geeks sitting around lamenting the decline of FTP and newsgroups, which died about 5 seconds after there was a more efficient way to download porn.  Is Facebook really anything but a much more capable substitute for newsgroups and chat rooms?


  1. Jeff:

    I'd be curious to see this graph in absolute, rather than proportional, form.

  2. nicole:

    Well, I'd say the main draw of newsgroups over Facebook is that they weren't full of all the jackasses you went to high school with who were barely literate, let alone capable of operating computers (at that time). ;)

  3. Jason:

    The graph is pretty silly. DNS has probably been at a steady or growing level since the internets inception, but the requests are tiny and heavily cached etc. You are right, it is just that some bandwidth heavy items are getting much much larger.

    Not to mention, how much of the "web" traffic is actually email to sites like gmail.


  4. TomB:

    There should be a "Porn" category. My guess is that it held steady at something like 40%.

  5. LoneSnark:

    I don't understand. Yes, newsgroups used to be a competitor for chatrooms and forums. But nowadays they are a major competitor with FTP, Video, and peer-to-peer file sharing. Yet, they appear to no longer even show on the map? I refuse to believe this. newsgroups must have been filtered out incorrectly.

  6. Jonathan:

    As Jeff and Jason mentioned, the graph is ridiculous accounting for total interet bandwidth. The fact that DNS even registers as an appreciable part of the internet in 1990 is the most amazing part of the graph IMO.

  7. Hasdrubal:

    LoneSnark: That's why this is a bad graph, it's listing different services as a proportion of the total traffic generated, the total number of megabytes, not the number of hits or time spent browsing. And it's proportional to everything else, it isn't not looking at the total traffic or even trends in use over time for each type of service relative itself. (i.e. while newsgroup traffic has plummeted compared to everything else, you cannot draw any conclusions about how much newsgroup traffic there is now compared to 1990. And while it looks like web traffic has declined since its peak around 2000, I guarantee there is more web traffic now than there was then.)

    Because newsgroups are pure text, they generate a tiny amount of traffic, but video is images so it generates a tremendous amount. For comparison, all the text on this page comes up to about 3KB of data and is a reasonable estimate for a newsgroup post. The small image of the graph takes up about 41KB of data, and a video is composed of at least 24 images a second. So a newsgroup post is balanced out by 1/328th of a second of a youtube video.

    There could be a hundred times as many newsgroup posts now than there were in 1990 and they still wouldn't show up on that graph. (Also note that forums as they commonly exist now are probably considered web traffic, not newsgroups in the graph.)

    What seems silly to me is the story's highly restrictive definition of "the Web." I'm not sure even what qualifies for them, since they define email on an iPad, Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times online, RSS feeds and podcasts as "apps" in the first paragraph alone. Isn't reading a newspaper's website sort of an iconic web related activity?

    Then their graph seems to ignore all business traffic, including voice over IP which certainly accounts for a large volume of Internet traffic over the same circuits that your web and video traffic go over, you just never realize it.

  8. dullgeek:

    I agree w/Jeff. I'd like to see it produced in absolute, because I suspect it masks how much more bandwidth is available now compared to 1990. Who cares if video is taking up more proportionally if the amount of available bandwidth is increasing to match?

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  11. IgotBupkis:

    > Is Facebook really anything but a much more capable substitute for newsgroups and chat rooms?

    I concur with most of your treatise, excepting the above. FB is its own "new" premise, and only subsumes some elements of the NGs and IRC.

    Newsgroups and Chat rooms are inherently more subject-oriented.

    Facebook is all about "ME", much as the name implies. And it winds up with a lot of absolute crap -- I'm interested in what my cousin's daughters are doing, sure, but their friends' pet pictures? And as your list of friends increases, the amount of that tertiary crap that gets onto your page overwhelms the relevant stuff

    I think there's an app still waiting to meld the two concepts together into something more unified, where one can be subject oriented in your discussions. What that entails is far more AI than we are currently able to mount (see below for more). In the meantime, I think blogs are still one of the best things for that.

    Also, there are still a lot of web-based, subject-specific forums out there that are defacto chat rooms and newsgroups. They just are using web techs rather than the older specialized protocols. Consider Fat Wallet, The Daily WtF, and the forums at Randall's xkcd page as prime examples.

    The other issue is one of scale. Conversations -- even text-based ones -- get unwieldy when you get more than about 50-100 respondents -- the comments expand faster than one can read them.

    As a result, one could argue against any sort of unified discussion platform, as it serves limited purpose. Though there's some potential benefits to having all the discussions of the planet at your fingertips, there's no way to sift through it all for the info you want, or the person who can answer your question intelligently and accurately. Until that time, you need to keep the mass of conversation down to something manageable.

  12. IgotBupkis:

    P.S., guys, this is Wired.

    Wired stopped being an entity worthy of any attention as of the day, ca. 1998, when Conde Nast, bought them.

    They are now nothing but a tech-oriented version of Time magazine, with the same "high" accuracy and quality associated thereof.

    That is, approaching zero as a limit.

    As with Time, I've glanced at several articles, having seen a link or a cover blurb, and immediately noted "unasked questions" that would have taken the article's headline and made it blatantly wrong.

    I'm not saying it's always wrong, but, if I had to bet "right" or "wrong" on any unspecified topic, I'd say "wrong" is the way to bet.

  13. Hasdrubal:

    Found a nice commentary on the graph:

    From the article:

    "In fact, between 1995 and 2006, the total amount of web traffic went from about 10 terabytes a month to 1,000,000 terabytes (or 1 exabyte). According to Cisco, the same source Wired used for its projections, total internet traffic rose then from about 1 exabyte to 7 exabytes between 2005 and 2010."

    That's a much more reasonable picture.

  14. epobirs:

    Newsgroups are pretty much dying, separate from their proportionate bandwidth consumption. A number of major ISPs, such as AT&T, have discontinued their NNTP services and users must find their own servers. A large portion of the users these days never knew that entire part of the net ever existed or believe it is something that predated the web.

    The number of people doing pretty much the same thing newsgroup participants were doing fifteen years ago has grown. If anything, it is far easier now to find a good web forum on a subject of interest than plowing through a listing of thousands of newsgroups.

    Funny thing is, the last few people I heard mention using newsgroups were doing so in reference to it as an alternative to torrents.