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AOL compression schemes

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  #1  
Old 01-06-2003, 02:12 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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AOL compression schemes

I do not use AOL, but half of my family members do. I'm working on a personal "update newsletter" for family and friends and asked my mother (AOL user) to view my webpage in her AOL browser. She reported some things that didn't make sense to me, so I went to see for myself what she was talking about.

The first thing I noticed (and which she didn't even mention as a problem) was that my pictures looked awful! At first I thought she might have her display set to only 256 colors - but that wasn't the case. I then thought to check the properties of an image and discovered that it was less than half the size of the image I had uploaded to my webhost. AOL was compressing the images!! Given that I had already compressed my images significantly, the result was absolutely terrible quality images as viewed with the AOL browser.

The bad news is that this compression scheme seems to be the default for AOL browsers (to "enhance" the viewing experience ). (My mom swears that she didn't even know the option was there, much less purposely set it.) The good news is that it is a setting that can be changed. (From within AOL, go to Settings->Preferences->Internet Properties (www) and click on the Web Graphics tab.)

The other bad news is that even making this change and refreshing my webpages (and stopping/restarting AOL), I could not get my original images (i.e., non-AOL compressed) to load. I literally had to go to the Temporary Internet Files folder and delete all of the files related to my website that were cached there! I do not know if this lack of refreshing images is a settable preference in AOL or not. I'll check that when I see my mom again in a day or so.

My reason for posting this info is that any of you with business websites may want to put a "special note to AOL users" on their first page explaining that your site is best viewed with no compression - and explain how to turn it off. Otherwise, all of the hard work you put in to making your images look nice for the web will be wasted - and people will not be viewing your work looking its best. (In fact, I was horrified at how bad my pictures looked!)

Jeanie
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Old 01-06-2003, 05:56 PM
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T Paul T Paul is offline
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From the AOl Web Site:

Quote:
When the AOL caching system detects that an object is an image, it sends the image through a compression manager on the AOL system network before caching it. Compression makes images smaller for faster retrieval from the cache to members. Members can individually disable AOL graphics compression, but most choose to allow compression because it speeds up web page delivery.

Also note that AOL uses a proxy cache....

Quote:
Even though AOL's Proxy cache is updated every 24 hours, a member can clear their Browser Cache and force the reload of a page. This is done by either reducing the browser History to "0" and manually clearing all pages in history by deleting the files in the temporaty internet files tolder located in the Windows Directory or PC users can force a refresh by holding down the CONTROL key on their keyboard and mouse clicking on the AOL browser reload icon. The latter will completely clear all items in history.

If you are a web master/designer and want more information on how your pages will look on AOL click on the below link:
AOL Web Master Info
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Old 01-06-2003, 06:51 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Thanks for the link to the AOL Web Master Info T. Some interesting reading.

I have to take issue with one of AOL's quotes though (not issue with you - issue with AOL):
Quote:
Members can individually disable AOL graphics compression, but most choose to allow compression because it speeds up web page delivery.
It seems to me that if you are not given a choice as to whether you want graphics compression when you first install AOL and you don't even know it's happening, then you are not "choosing" to allow compression. My mother is very much computer literate and had no idea AOL had "chosen" this option for her.

Furthermore, the AOL Web Master info has a whole page on how to optimize graphics for your web page and strike the right balance between file size and quality. Then, after I've taken the time to strike that balance for my images, they override it with their "choice" and compress them to oblivion. Does that mean if I'm designing for the AOL browser that I should make my images higher quality and larger file size so that when AOL compresses them, they'll look OK? I won't because that penalizes others who don't use AOL. But, it certainly is a dilemma!

So, I think I'll just put a note on the first page of my site and hope that AOL users read it and can then make an informed choice on how they wish to view the images on my site.

Oh, and regarding the reloading of pages. I did try the CONTROL-Reload button and it made no difference whatsoever. I had to physically remove the files from the Temporary Internet Files folder before they would reload.

Not upset with you T - just royally upset with AOL mucking with my images that I have spent time to make "perfect"!

Jeanie

Last edited by jeaniesa; 01-06-2003 at 07:37 PM.
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Old 01-06-2003, 07:36 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Point of clarification... I know that I really have no control over how my images look to others viewing them on the internet. Things such as uncalibrated monitors, gamma settings, number of colors, etc. will all affect how my images are viewed. I'm just upset that a company like AOL would make compression the default option for viewing images!

Jeanie
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Old 01-06-2003, 11:20 PM
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Blacknight Blacknight is offline
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Wonder of AOL messes with Flash pictures? If not, you could put your pictures in Flash and display them that way, perhaps. I have thought of trying that, for other reasons - but this might be a good reason as well.
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Old 01-07-2003, 12:55 AM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Interesting idea BK. I've thought of Flash for other reasons as well, but I might kill two birds with one stone now that I know about this issue with AOL browsers. The AOL site that T posted says:
Quote:
The object must be in the BMP, GIF, JPEG, or Progressive JPEG format [for compression to take place].
So, it looks like FLASH would not be compressed.

OTOH, wise words from my younger sister: You need to remember that the people who use AOL, will assume that all photos look like that on-line and will not be making specific assumptions about your photos. Sad but true, I think.

Thanks for the idea, BK!

Jeanie
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  #7  
Old 01-07-2003, 01:13 AM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Thinking more on the Flash idea (my brain is working overtime )... The problem with Flash is that it requires people to download a Flash player - which some people don't want to do - and there are others who won't wait to see what is contained in the Flash file and move on. Seems like it might deter some people from viewing my site - I just don't know how many.

Jeanie
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  #8  
Old 01-07-2003, 07:56 AM
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T Paul T Paul is offline
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Jeanie,

I agree that AOL's double compression scheme is quite painful (they tell you how to compress graphics and then they compress them again). There should be a a line of code to add to your site to turn off AOL's compression...basically images already compressed so don't mess with them any more.

I think your idea of adding a note for the users is probably the best way to go. I design web pages and I know I am sometimes unhappily surprised when I see them on someone elses computer...of course it is how they have their computer set-up and beyond my control. I know I have wished many times that what I saw on my screen would be what everyone else saw on theirs.

Best of Luck,

~T
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  #9  
Old 01-07-2003, 09:48 AM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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I know I am sometimes unhappily surprised when I see them on someone elses computer...of course it is how they have their computer set-up and beyond my control.

Hopefully my sister's comment applies here as well - that the way they have their computer set up affects all of the website that they view, so yours won't stand out from the rest as being particularaly "bad" - because all of them look bad!

Jeanie
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  #10  
Old 01-07-2003, 09:54 AM
dcarr dcarr is offline
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What most aol users don't do is use ie or netscape after logging on. When I used "aohell", I used to just minimize the window and go directly to ie. That way I could browse the web without aol's proprietary directives. Perhaps a note that the site is best viewed using another browser would help. I think most people won't bother to change their settings. Aol doesn't play nice with most of the web, but it is the giant of the industry and people think they must have it.
Debbie
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