Less is More

It’s easy to associate something big as being more relevant than something small. My daily commute to Jamaica, Queens has taught me otherwise. Every morning I find myself in agony wishing I had a Smart car to fit into the tightest of spots.

In many aspects of life, we find ourselves constantly making the most of the space we have at our disposal. Of course the idea of a bigger house will always be appealing. It’s important to realize though that the efficiency and quality of that house becomes more dependent on the hands maintaining it. This concept also translates well into web development. Big websites are great when they’re Twitter and Facebook. Usually not so great otherwise. As web developers we hold the responsibility of making something appealing and efficient. We learn to make the most of what we have and hopefully have room to spare.

The reality is that the days of ‘real’ unlimited data plans are reaching an end. Companies like Verzion and T-mobile both offer what they claim to be unlimited data plans. Although what they really do is throttle your network when hitting a certain cap. With a majority of users today using their mobile to surf the web we must take into greater consideration how we can maintain the same levels of content quantity without damaging the user experience. One of the many things we can focus on to alleviate the problem is compression technology.

Sure, it’s great to design a website filled with content but at what cost? If I fill my site with hi-res images how will it affect the user experience? If you’re lucky to live in the greater New York City area sure you may be fine. What about the rest of the world? Image compression helps alleviate a lot of the baggage that comes along with that file.

Generally, there are two stages in image compression algorithms. The lossy phase, then the lossless phase. In an effort to save bytes, most lossy compression takes advantage of how the human visual system works by removing color information that we can’t really see. Web developers must realize the sweet spot for images. Finding the right image quality while still keeping file size at a minimum.

Following a lossy compressor, comes a lossless variant. These algorithms allow the source stream to be recovered directly without any loss of information. Popular lossless codecs include LZ77, RLE, and Arithmetic encoding.

I always find it hard to understand a topic when I can’t find a way to relate it to my everyday life. Since It seems sometimes that my generations primary means of communication is through GIFs I will use them as an example.

On top of breeding a whole new love for cats, GIFs also contributed a lot for the cause of media compression. The GIF format consists of two stages of compression. A lossy palletization, followed by a lossless LZW compressor. The palletization compressor aggressively restricts the entire image to only 256 colors. This step is a major key player in acquiring better compression sizes.

Maybe in a perfect world we could binge watch our favorite cat gifs in high quality, but if this world was really perfect then everyone would love pineapple pizza. Sadly neither case is true. Until then just think, less is more.