The start of a new year is always a good time to reevaluate how you are spending your time and your money on the Internet.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 1/1/2002; Law Practice Management magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; American Bar Association
When I was in college, I learned to drink my coffee black. Not because I preferred black coffee, but because of 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. Thus I decided to start drinking my coffee black. But was it the right decision? Much to my chagrin, every time 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, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider some of those decisions as well.
Pager or Cell Phone?
Since 1997, I have carried both a pager and a cell phone. Why? Well, there was one incident back in 1997 when I was out of state on a business trip 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 is generally worse than pager coverage nationwide, and that if I had a pager, he could have sent me a text page via the Internet. So I got a pager.
However, in the last several years, cell phone providers have added pager and e-mail services to many of their service offerings, cell phone coverage has improved, and cell phone batteries have improved. I now 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, and my secondary connection is dial-up from Earthlink. My T1 is extremely reliable, and I don’t remember the last time I’ve had to use my dial-up connection at work. I also keep the dial-up connection for connecting to the Internet at home and on the road.
For the last two years, I’ve enjoyed high-speed DSL service (about 500 Kbps) at home. I use my dial-up account when the DSL connection is down. I justified the added expense (about $50/month) of DSL at home by conjuring up scenarios where I would need to be surfing the web and downloading graphics, audio, and video. But the truth is that I use the Internet primarily for e-mail. And although it’s nice to be able to download multimedia files quickly at home, I have little practical need to do so. My DSL connection was also frequently unavailable. So I decided to pull the plug on my DSL connection at home. 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 web site, not the Internet connection.
Graphics-Heavy or Text-Only Web 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 your web site, a text-only web site, or something in between? Obviously graphics have many advantages. They allow for your web site to have a unique look-and-feel, they allow you to present information (such as maps and attorney photographs) that cannot be presented in text-only format, and they can improve users’ experience at your web site. The disadvantages of graphics include slow downloads and increased creation and maintenance expenses. For example, consider what happens if your firm adds a practice area. If your web site has unique graphics for each of its practice areas, you have to create new matching graphic elements for the new practice area.
Several years ago, I was involved in selecting an advertising agency for the launch of a national advertising campaign. We reasoned that it takes more creativity to get the audience’s attention with just one sense (i.e. audio with radio) than with two (i.e. audio and video with television). Therefore, we ended up choosing an agency that was adept at creating compelling radio ads, and then we used that agency to create radio and television ads.
Similarly, there are many web site designers, but there are relatively few who can create compelling text-only sites by making use of text elements such as page layout, font selection, and white space. So if you had to design your website without any graphics at all, 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 web pages print out nicely on 8.5 x 11 paper.
Less is More?
Perhaps I’ll go back to my pager, my DSL service, and my web 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!