Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Plain Text/Information Density

8x8 pixel subimage used as an example for JPEG.
I've been hearing a lot of talk recently about how Video will take up the vast majority of the network bandwidth soon. This is great if you are a network technology vendor but I wonder how much value is being gained in relation to the increased cost?

Prose text is an incredibly information dense way of sharing ideas and concepts. Tolstoy's "War and Peace" had 560,000 words. Although it was originally written in Russian and French lets multiply that by the average number of letters in an English word which is 4.5. We end up with 2.5 million characters, or approximately 2.5 megabytes. That's not enough to store a single twelve megapixel JPG image of good quality. The dichotomy becomes more pronounced as we move to less verbose classics such as "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "The Great Gatsby".

I'm assuming 8 bit ASCII encoding here but even uni code only doubles the size so for the sake of simplicity I went with ASCII.

Audio is better than video or images from an information density perspective but you'll still only get a minute or so of good quality MP3 stereo audio for that 2.5 megabytes.

I'm not arguing against the use of audio or Video on the Internet. When done well either medium can be a great means of communication. The costs associated with poorly done video in particular though are gargantuan when compared with text. Plain old text allows us to render ideas and concepts in a form that is phenomenally efficient space wise. As an added bonus text can be compressed without loss quickly and easily to 20% or less of its size.

From a business perspective there is no greater bang for the buck than prose text when we're talking about the network.

The incredible increases in data being generated each year are often cited by industry leaders as some sort of wonderful magical thing with the implication that the amount of information being created has some sort of huge positive impact on the pace of innovation. The truth of the matter is that while we're creating vastly larger volumes of information each year the actual information density is dropping nearly as quickly so the net result isn't as impressive it appears at first glance.

All that hype does help sell a lot of hardware though.

Image via Wikipedia
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