One could hardly imagine the internet of today being accessed on a machine using a dial-up connection.
Perhaps this is one reason why dial-up in the United States has increasingly lost its market share to broadband, which is often faster and more reliable. According to the Pew Research Center, only three percent of Americans were still using dial-up at home as of 2013. While that number may seem small, that three percent represents millions of people.
So why does this matter?
In answer, because those who access the internet are not even close to equal; connection speeds range between super-speedy gigabit connections to slow- crawling dial-up. Despite this huge gap, however, both connections lead to the same final destination which takes up the same amount of bandwidth no matter how fast the connection.
Smartphones, which have arguably done more to give the average person internet access than any other invention in the last decade, only complicate the matter; the same phone owned by the same person with the same service can have an excellent, strong connection one moment and then a weak, barely-moving connection the next.
I remember the pain of trying to download a simple PDF during a trip down to South Carolina. The document’s contents were simple and could have been just as plainly released in plain text, but I had to wait patiently for half-an-hour to download the document as we moved in and out of data coverage. On several occasions, the connection would drop out for so long that my phone simply gave up and cut the process. Once the download finally finished, I had very little time left for reading as the constant searching for networks had done a number on my battery level.
When designing for the web, I believe it necessary to think not only of those with an average connection, but also of those with a substandard connection. After all, if even a reader with a slow connection can load the page quickly, think of how much better the connection will be for a reader with a fast connection!