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   Jan/Feb 2002


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TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE

nothing.but.net With Erik J. Heels

Unplugging Redundancies

The start of a new year is always a good time to reevaluate how you’re spending your time and money on the Internet.

When I was in college, I decided to learn to drink my coffee black. Not because I preferred it black, but because a friend of mine convinced me that if there was ever an occasion when I wanted coffee but no cream or sugar was available, I’d be out of luck. But much to my chagrin, since I made that decision 17 years ago, cream and sugar have always been available. I have also made concrete decisions about the Internet over the years. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider some of those decisions, too.

Pager or Cell Phone?

Since 1997, I have carried both a pager and a cell phone. Why? Well, there was an incident back in 1997 when I was out of state on business with just my cell phone and my boss was trying to contact me. As it turns out, there was no cell phone reception where I was, and I ended up missing an important meeting. But pager service was available. My boss informed me that cell phone coverage was generally worse than pager coverage nationwide, and that if I’d had a pager, he could have sent me a text page via the Internet. So I got a pager.

However, in the past several years, cell phone providers have added pager and e-mail services to many of their service offerings, and both cell phone coverage and batteries have improved. I use my cell phone every day, but I don’t remember the last time anyone paged me. So when I recently received a page from my account manager, I called her to cancel my pager service.

DSL or Dial-Up?

For Internet access at work, my primary connection is a T1 (1.5 Mbps) from WorldCom. My secondary connection is dial-up from Earthlink. Because my T1 is extremely reliable, I can’t recall the last time I had to use my dial-up connection at work. I still, though, keep the dial-up connection for accessing the Internet at home and on the road.

For the past two years, I’ve enjoyed high-speed DSL service (about 500 Kbps) at home. I’ve used my dial-up account when the DSL connection was down. I justified the expense of DSL at home (about $50 per month) by conjuring up scenarios in which I would need to be Web surfing and downloading graphics, audio and video. But the truth is that I use the Internet primarily for e-mail. And though it’s nice to be able to download multimedia files quickly at home, I have little practical need to do so. I decided to pull the plug on the DSL connection. I am now getting much more use out of my dial-up account, and it is much more reliable than DSL. Graphics-heavy Web sites do take a while to load, but perhaps the problem there is the site, not the connection.

Graphics-Heavy or Text-Only Site?

In many cases, Web site graphics are redundant. They are merely pictures of words and could be replaced with formatted text. Should you have huge graphics on a Web site, a text-only site or something in between? Obviously, graphics have many advantages. They provide for a unique look and feel to your site; they allow you to present information, such as maps and photographs, that cannot be presented in text-only format; and they can improve users’ experience at your site. The disadvantages include slow downloads and increased creation and maintenance expenses. For example, if your firm’s site has unique graphics for each of its practice areas, you have to create new matching graphic elements whenever the firm adds a new practice area.

Several years ago, I was involved in selecting an advertising agency for the launch of a national ad campaign. We reasoned that it takes more creativity to get the audience’s attention with just one sense (audio with radio) than with two senses (audio and video with television). Therefore, we chose an agency that was adept at creating compelling radio ads, and then used that agency to create both radio and television ads.

Similarly, there are many site designers, but relatively few who can create compelling text-only sites by making use of elements such as page layout, font selection and white space. So if you had to design a site without any graphics, how would you do it?

I recently redesigned my Web site, which now contains only three images that take up a total of 42 Kbytes of space. The header graphic appears on every page, but it only has to load once because it will be loaded from the browser’s cache when users view subsequent pages. As an added bonus, my Web pages mimic the look and feel of my letterhead, and all pages print out nicely on 8.5-by-11-inch paper.

How Sweet It Is

Perhaps I’ll go back to my pager, my DSL service and my site graphics. But for now, I’m enjoying a more streamlined daily Internet experience. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll go buy some cream and sugar with the money I’ve saved. You never know.

ERIK J. HEELS (info@heels.com) is a patent attorney and co-author of the ABA book Law Law Law on the Internet: The Best Legal Web Sites and More.