Internet, the Enigma

For some people, the Internet is an enigma. An enigma is something puzzling. Perhaps if more people knew more about the Internet, they too would find it to be an enigma.

The Internet Is Not A Telephone Line

Some may assume the Internet works like a telephone line. Dial up a contact. The other party comes on the line. Immediately you have direct communication. What is said at one end of the line is heard at the other end.

The Internet is not at all like that. A web page at its origin is very different from the forms it takes as it moves through the network that brings it to the viewer of the web page. Packets of information travel through a complex traffic balancing system. The process by which a web page is chopped up into packages, moves through the network and is reassembled at the other end is almost miraculous. .. or perhaps even enigmatic.

The Enigma Machine

This enigmatic web page transmission process has some similarities with a process used during the Second World War to transmit secret information over vast distances. This process was based on the Enigma Machine. The Enigma Machine was used to encrypt military information in such a form that it could be transmitted without the possibility that an unintended party could waylay the information and learn the secrets. When the intended recipient received the garbled information, another enigma machine was used to reverse the encryption process and make the contents intelligible once more. Only an enigma machine set up to match the transmitting enigma machine could correctly decrypt the contents.

The Transmission of Web Pages

The transmission of web pages across the Internet has more similarities with the encryption/decryption process of the Enigma Machine than might be realised. A website owner viewing a web page on his or her own computer might assume that every recipient would see it exactly the same. However the process of preparing it for transmission works just like the enigma machine. If the receiving station does not have a compatible ‘enigma machine’, then a distorted impression may be received.

In the case of the Internet, if the transmitting and receiving stations are not too dissimilar, then the content should be recognizable. However exactly the same viewing experience will only be seen if both stations have exactly the same:

  • Hardware
  • Operating System
  • Internet Browser, and
  • Monitor type and screen resolution.

If the web site designer has done the web page development with skill and competence then most receivers should receive a reasonably satisfactory viewing experience. However most web pages will look ‘broken’ to at least 10% of their viewers and this percentage of dissatisfied viewers can very easily exceed 50% in the worst cases.

To avoid this enigmatic behaviour, a knowledgeable website owner will employ a web designer who understands viewer technology options, web standards and cross-browser compatibility.

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