Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Tuesday, March 04, 2008

  The Cache Economy

For the last year I have been bumming around the world and observing how the internet functioned, and how it was being used. I gave a long talk on the subject recently and while I wait for it to get edited down, I thought I'd post some observations one blog at a time.

1) The future is here, but it isn't evenly distributed yet. Further, it is unlikely to EVER get evenly distributed due to the concentration of IPv4 space in the US and the apparent cost savings of centralizing major services like search, etc, there, rather than closer to the user.

(lots more to the above statement, but that will do for now)

2) Devices are getting ever more capable, with ever more storage, and you don't have to use it all up for movies and mp3s. You CAN take your pages with you. I increased my firefox settings to cache 2GB of stuff (up from the paltry 50MB default), and to not expire items for 90 days (up from 9) Result: surfing a number of the sites I do regularly has had a noticeable speedup in throughput, and finding things that I searched for once, and not again, in my local cache, has been a delight. Given that I have a 120GB hard disk, using up 2GB to save me time was a no brainer.

3) Caching the internet is broken. So many sites assume very dynamic content when in reality, the content is fixed and stable for years after the initial post. Take blogs for example. Most blogs do not specify an expiry time, and thus, aren't cached. Even permalinks don't specify an expiry time, and thus, aren't cached. I'd argue that the front page of a most blogs should expire in 5-20 minutes - or so - minimum, more if you only post once a day - and that the permalinks should gradually increase their expiry time - say every 5 minutes for the first day they are up, to 20 minutes the second, and gradually out to a couple weeks or more after that, dropping the expiries time down back to 5 minutes after a new comment is posted.

Too much of the web and blogosphere are being built on an "easy bandwidth credit" basis. A cache economy, like a cash economy, has lower transaction costs for everyone involved, at very little cost in immediacy of content.

Take a look at the expires data for your blog (it's easy in firefox - click on tools->page info) and especially - the images you use (bring up the image - look at the expires information) - and even more especially the css, which rarely changes - and figure out if you could do more to save on internet traffic. The bandwidth you save may be your own.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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