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Best Low Bandwidth Web Design: Emailed RSS

By Wayan Vota on October 21, 2009

When you design websites for the low-bandwidth environment common in Africa, you come across constraints not considered by your average web developer. Paramount are download speeds like this, which choke on even the best made site. Just check this stat from Christian Kreutz:

Checking up a profile on Facebook or at least access the log in page, which has alone almost 800kb! In a cybercafe, where you have to pay fees per minute, it may take up to 3 minutes with a dial up modem connection.

Now Miguel argues that one way to ease Internet connectivity issues is to blog on appropriate platforms, while sites like Loband and Aptivate offer tools to quicken your web design. But I say there is a third way that can allow media rich sites for high-bandwidth viewers, and quick downloads for low-bandwidth visitors.

Email RSS Subscriptions

With such slow download speeds, why make your readers visit a website at all? Especially if they must have a concurrent Internet session to do so? Why not go back to basics and exploit the original digital communication system – email.

Subscribe to ICTworks via Email:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Paired with RSS via services like Feedburner, it provides a powerful, asynchronous, web content delivery system.

First, Feedburner can take any type of RSS feed, be it from Flickr, Twitter, or your company newsfeed, and turn it into an email to your subscribers, delivered daily whenever you have new content. And these emails can be read in text or HTML, so even those on dial-up can quickly get your content.

Next, I would strongly argue that email RSS subscribers are more valuable than RSS feed reader subscribers or even Twitter or Facebook followers for three reasons:

  1. Unlike all three of those services, email is pushed into reader’s inboxes – they don’t need to visit a third-party app or site to read your content.
  2. Readers can ignore a feed reader or Twitter for a while, but they will always check email regularly.
  3. As GigaOM says, RSS readers are more engaged with their subscriptions than Twitter or Facebook followers.

Taken together, you might even make the leap to say that old-school email newsgroups are better than websites for low-bandwidth environments. And for the right audiences, I don’t see why not. We still have vibrant, informative listserv’s even in high-bandwidth countries.

Or to the point, “appropriate ICT” includes choosing the right tool – in communication as well as implementation.

Filed Under: Connectivity
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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4 Comments to “Best Low Bandwidth Web Design: Emailed RSS”

  1. Great post!

    I think the biggest strength of Web 2.0 tools is the general presence of APIs – retargeting content to things like RSS + email should be achievable on most platforms.

    I’m sure you remember MIT TEK – http://tek.sourceforge.net/ which was designed with pure web browsing by email in mind – it serves a slightly different purpose but one hurdle they have to get over (as we do with Loband) is scraping content off a webpage and repacking it into another format – APIs can make this job redundant.

  2. I seemed to forget to make the point I wanted to in that last comment – Webmail!

    In my experience, the majority of local users in low bandwidth environments still use webmail clients. The efficiency of content delivered via RSS + Email can easily be squashed by heavyweight ad-laden web interfaces from Hotmail and Yahoo etc.

    Definitely scope for improvement though – Gmail’s basic view seems pretty efficient, services like fastmail.fm have been offering a very fast low bandwidth email service for ages and the majority of webmail providers seem to offer some kind of IMAP/POP service.

  3. Andi says:

    Not that I disagree with what you are saying – RSS email can be a good communication mechanism however, it’s a bit misleading to consider the initial request to a website as an indicator of general browsing resource requirements. I’m quite confident for example that when you access the Facebook login page for example, it’s preloading and caching a lot of resources (javascript, etc) to make browsing more responsive once you’ve logged in.

    Your last point regarding email newsgroups (as opposed to publisher issued RSS emails): In my experience these aren’t great for low bandwidth scenarios. A one line reply can often tow a few hundred KB of previous discussions which everyone has already read.

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