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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

  • #2
    From the AOl Web Site:

    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....

    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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    • #3
      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):
      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, 06:37 PM.

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      • #4
        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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        • #5
          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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          • #6
            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:
            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
              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
                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
                  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
                    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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                    • #11
                      Debbie,

                      I DID try loading my page in Internet Explorer - and it showed the same compression scheme! I'm pretty sure AOL (I'm not sure what version my mother has) overwrites the IE provided with Windows and installs it's own version of IE over it. How else can I explain "Internet Explorer brought to you by AOL" in the title bar??

                      Granted, I tried IE after I'd already viewed the page in the AOL browser, so perhaps it just found the already compressed images in the Temporary Internet Files folder and used them. I'm not sure. I can't remember if I tried CTL-Refresh in the IE window or not. I'll try to do a little more investigation and figure that out. It sure threw me for a loop because I also always use IE after logging in via AOL (I have to use AOL when I visit my sister).

                      Jeanie

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jeaniesa
                        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
                        That shouldn't be a big deal, since I saw a stat somewhere (but I can't remember for the life of me where) that 98% of people on the web have the flash plugin loaded. also, you can make a flash file that's not an animation and you can also use Jpeg compression for the output to .swf, so it can load fairly quickly (you just need to make sure the file isn't already compressed or you'll just run into the double compression again). another nice thing about flash is the animation features, you can do things with photos like having a restoration example fade from before to after when you do a rollover and things like that.

                        - David

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                        • #13
                          I feel like my website is becoming more and more complex to implement - and I haven't even started putting it together yet!

                          Jeanie

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                          • #14
                            Forgot about that "brought to you by.." line Jeanie. You are probably right. It does seem to take over every possible aspect of the web.
                            Debbie

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                            • #15
                              Well, I played around a bit more on my mom's computer. She's running AOL 6.0 (and moving to non-AOL cable internet this month, so not going to upgrade AOL), so what I report here may be different for the newer AOL versions.

                              If AOL has compression turned on and a webpage is loaded, then it stores the compressed versions of the images in the cache. If IE (AOL) is then used to view the webpage, it uses those compressed images from the cache. If you hit refresh in IE, it still uses the compressed images from the cache. It isn't until you hit CTL-refresh that the uncompressed images are downloaded from the server. They overwrite the previous cache files so that if you go back to the AOL browser and hit the Reload button, it will display the cached uncompressed files (even with the compression preference set). CTL-Reload in the AOL browser does NOT download a new set of (compressed) files from the server.

                              Obviously no one actually browses the web like this. I was just trying to figure out why IE was showing me the compressed files the other day. As it turns out, if I were to first load a page from IE (without first loading in AOL), then there is no issue with compression. And, CTL-Refresh will solve the problem if compressed files are already stored in the cache.

                              Jeanie

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