1. Smozzy for Android – the latest in a long tradition of accessing the net in messed-up ways

    Posted September 11, 2011 in web  |  No Comments so far

    Smozzy is a new Android app (for US T-Mobile customers only) with a novel approach to getting round prohibitive data costs. Instead of downloading web content in the traditional manner, the app uses SMS and MMS messaging to get websites on to your phone. So if you’ve got an unlimited SMS/MMS deal, you can browse the web for free.

    Of course, there are a couple of drawbacks. The first is that T-Mobile are almost certainly going to shut this party down as soon as they notice streams of MMS attachments, each packed with HTML, CSS and Javascript, hurtling across their network towards the phones of cheekily grinning customers. And the second is that the user experience will almost certainly be terrible.

    I feel qualified to say this because I’ve experienced something similar. Back in 1998, working in an office with email but no web access, I started using a bizarre method for looking at websites. It involved emailing requests for web pages to an email address which would then reply to you with a huge bunch of uuencoded data. You would then convert that data into HTML source, which you could then view as a web document in your browser.

    Uuencoding was an early way of embedding binary data in text-based communications, and it was probably the most low-tech method I’ve ever used to access the web. Often the desired web page’s source code would be split over multiple emails, meaning you’d have to stitch the data strings together to get to something a browser could load. It wasn’t as bad as having someone read HTML line-by-line to you down the phone, but it wasn’t much better either.

    This experimental, gruelling subversion of my company’s IT policy didn’t last long. But not because I was caught – because it sucked so much. Even now, thinking back to how slow and frustrating it was makes me feel sleepy. I returned to wasting my time by drawing cartoons, with the web left waiting until I got home.

    If you want to know more about this painstaking, archaic form of internet access, you should look at the website of www4mail, which might have been the service I used. It’s a very similar concept anyway.

    When I read about Smozzy I instantly thought of those days, browsing the web via email, and felt a kind of admiration for people who work to secure web access at all costs. Projects like Smozzy and www4mail are ambitious conceptually and technically, and that can’t be denied, even if the user experience is horrible.

    An even more ambitious project in this vein is IPoAC, or Internet Protocol over Avian Carriers – browsing the internet over carrier pigeon. Although it’s tongue-in-cheek, it was actually implemented by a group of Norwegian Linux users in 2001:

    The group transmitted a “ping” command, among the most basic operations of the Internet, in which one computer sends a signal to another, which in turn signals that it is attached to the network…

    The pigeon protocol didn’t mean the fastest of networks, though. Taking an hour and 42 minutes to transfer a 64-byte packet of information makes the pigeon network about 5 trillion times slower than today’s cutting-edge 40 gigabit-per-second optical fiber networks.

    That doesn’t sound much worse than my experience of web over email. I can only assume that Smozzy, as a smartphone-era update of this concept, will be smoother, faster, and less likely to leave white poo splattered over the user.