Low Bandwidth Collaboration Tools

(this page is in the works - not complete. Please feel free to contribute!)

Brief Description

Often we have to collaborate with people who have diverse internet access and need tools that work in low bandwidth contexts. This means dial-up service, or service that is compromised by power cuts and frequent drops from connectivity. So while newer technologies can do amazing things - they often need broadband internet access. This page is dedicated to listing some of the online interaction tools that work in low or lower bandwidth setting or where people have to use internet mostly through public or internet cafes, or mobile devices.

History

While many parts of the world have access to reliable broadband, the majority of people in the world do not.

When to use

When the people you need to interact and collaborate with have either low bandwidth or intermittent access and need to be able to work offline.

Low Bandwidth Friendly Practices

  • Setting expectations - prepare people for challenges
  • Sharing norms or practices, particularly when there is bandwidth disparity. This is especially important to remind those with LOTS of access to slow down or adapt to those with less access.
  • Fall back options. If one technology doesn't work, have a simpler alternative as back up.
  • Patience and a sense of humor. Keep smiling.

Low Bandwidth - Infrastructure

  • Older computers - how can we usefully use old, slow computers? Consider sharing content via CDs or pen drives so people with older computers or little bandwidth still have access to content.
  • Slow or intermittent connections - what can we do to maximize the connection? Design of pages with easy access to content. Don't torture people with having to go multiple clicks to get to desired content.
  • Mobile phones - what can we do between mobiles or mobile to computer? For example, some Microblogging tools like Twitter have mobile phone interfaces.
  • Cafe access (vs. one's own computer) - how can we carry our tools and data with us? Pen drives with both content and programs such as portable Firefox. See also http://www.winpenpack.com/main/news.php

Examples of Low Bandwidth Friendly Tools

There are software and web based services that require less bandwidth or can operate well on older computers and operating systems.

  • EVO – A video conferencing environment, which is particularly suited to desktop or low bandwidth applications.
  • AccessGrid – An open source video conferencing and collaboration tool kit, which is great for room to room meetings.
  • Sakai – An online collaboration and learning environment, support teaching and learning, ad hoc group collaboration, support for portfolios and research collaboration.
  • Plone, Joomla, Drupal – A ready-to-run content management system, that provides you with a system for managing web content that is ideal for project groups, communities, web sites, extranets and intranets. These can work in low bandwidth environments if optimized properly.
  • Wikis – A way to easily create, edit, and link pages together, to create collaborative websites. (must be online)
  • Google Docs (must be online)
  • Free Email Lists (Software: Sympa, Mailman. Hosted: Yahoogroups, Google Groups)
  • DGroups
  • Onlinegroups.net
  • Low cost tools
  • Blogs
  • Social bookmarking sites
  • Chats
  • Skype
  • loband.org - a website that reduces webpages to the bare bones
  • squid+squidguard - a proxy software and a webfilter combined for getting rid of all the ads and take advantage of a server cache. Very effective, but has to be installed and configured on a linux server by a knowledgeable system administrator
  • Portable applications on a pen drive (so you can take your applications and use them on any computer, such as at an internet cafe)
  • Sending large files: Yousendit, drop.io ,
  • Downsize photos: Picnik ; ShrinkPic ; Microsoft's Image Resizer (Part of their PowerToys set) http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx, Dropresize: automatically resize images dropped in a preset folder
  • Video: http://corp.kaltura.com/ (which is a field side contribution tool). This is for more advanced video editing within an organization before posting to YouTube/Vimeo. MediaSilo http://www.mediasilo.com/
  • Twitter http://www.twitter.com/
  • Browsing with a lowband connection:
    • deactivate display of images (speed boost!)
    • in Opera , activate Opera Turbo : compresses pages (and images!) by going through Opera servers (read this if you have privacy concerns)
  • Low Bandwidth File Sharing Tools

How to use

  • Email listservs -- have a proper email client (not webmail) - not always simple

Low Bandwidth Design

(From Km4Dev) More than a guide, the following 5 points are a personal list of notes. A good deal of them come from:
Please contact me (gabrielesani@googlemail.com) if you feel you should be added to the above list.

1) Guidelines

If you are creating a website that will be usable also by people with low bandwidth connection, there are a 3 general rules to follow:
1. Keep the page size as small as possible Your pages should load within 10 seconds, which means 25kB should be the maximum page size if your website is aimed at areas with 20kbps connections.
  • Use compression
  • Minimise your CSS and JavaScript
  • Reduce the number and size of images, CSS files, JavaScript etc
  • Use as little video, audio and documents as possible. If needed, provide low quality versions of them
  • Allow the use of the browser’s cache. Browsers can store a local copy your pages. This means that the second time they need a file already in their storage (“cache”) they won’t need to download it, thus it won’t count against the size of the page.
2. Reduce the number of HTTP Requests Every image, CSS file, JavaScript file, HTML page etc. requires a separate HTTP request. Having more that 2 at a time slows down the page loading.
  • Use CSS sprites
  • Do not upload presentations, but convert them to S5 format
3. Optimize your site structure and design Provide easy navigation to reduce the number of page loads. This requires a user-driven approach ,and if possible, the inclusion of your audience in the testing.
  • Re-use cached content as much as possible, this will reduce the page size to be downloaded, and the number of HTTP requests
  • If possible, have a “navigation path” that will allow users to cache content in small chunks (eg: with first page cache the images. With the second page cache the CSS file. With the third page cache the JavaScript)
  • Put the useful items at the top of the HTML files, as they will be first to be loaded. If a page loads useful content in the initial seconds users are more likely to perceive the website as functional. If you have an incrementally loading website it is regarded as acceptable a total download time of 30s, that translates to a page size of 75KB for 20kbps connections.
  • Put the JavaScripts at the bottom of the page
  • Use CSS template sheets. Use tables with caution
  • Design an accessible website, possibly with a text-only version
  • Add important dates/user’s feedback/tags/link size/whatever is relevant for each page in its previews to allow users to ascertain how relevant that content will be for them

These 3 requirements are widely true, and can be applied in any different ways, but I am not discussing the whole range of them. The purpose of these notes is to show ONE way of creating a user-driven website for low bandwidth users. The platform of choice for this example is Drupal, an Open Source CMS system that has been developed mainly for social networking, and has a very wide community of developers that during the years have created hundreds of modules that allow to expand enormously the core features of the system. Again, this is just ONE way of creating a website for low bandwidth users and it may not fit everyone’s needs. For example, if all you need is to broadcast some information, a static HTML/CSS website could be a better choice. However, Knowledge Management, and this is what I feel I can talk about with a little more of salt.
Aptivate has some excellent ten rules for low-bandwidth design
  1. No Page Bigger Than 25kB
  2. Reduce Images
  3. Have Good Site Structure
  4. Use Style Sheets
  5. Minimise HTTP Requests
  6. Turn on Compression
  7. Be Cache-able
  8. Avoid PDFs
  9. Put Useful Items First
  10. Show Link Sizes
| Web Design Guidelines

Tips and Lessons Learnt


Examples & Stories

  • For more about how agricultural researchers are working with low bandwidth challenges in a global environment of high bandwidth for science, see this ICT-KM blog post.

Who can tell me more?

  • Luca Servo (luca.servo [at] fao.org)
  • Maarten Boers (maarten.boers [at] icco.nl]

Resources


Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Tags


Photo or image credits

If you included any photos or images, please put the source or photo credit here

Page Authors and Contributors

  • Atol
  • Carl Jackson with Joitske Hulsebosch, Gabrielle Sani, Christian Kreutz