America loves Pied Piper, the fake company at the center of the popular HBO series Silicon Valley. It is so popular that it has become a cult legend, garnering real world recognition on startup tracking site Crunchbase and having its fake press releases covered by real tech industry publications.
Fans of the show know that Pied Piper is a compression company, meaning it makes large file sizes smaller to allow for faster sharing across networks. While this premise might seem somewhat niche for a show that could just as easily make a fake company that develops a consumer gadget or a software program that is more tangible for the "low tech" people among us, it is actually extremely relevant.
The digital information we share is getting larger and more complex: videos have higher resolution, software is more intricate than ever, and we want all of that on our devices instantly. To meet the growing demand for speed and quality, the entire infrastructure of how we share files needs to evolve. Pied Piper would propose using a compression algorithm to expedite the transfer of files, but realistically, an algorithm like the one described on the show could be years away.
But smoother content delivery can be accomplished in numerous ways, according to video delivery expert Nathan Barnett, CEO of delivery platform company Swarmify.
Video Buffering Matters
It is no secret that content consumers prefer not to have to wait for things to load, and glitchy or low resolution playback is frustrating. But the issue escalates far beyond preference for many consumers, even going so far as 'buffer rage', a condition described as, "a state of uncontrollable fury or violent anger induced by the delayed or interrupted enjoyment of streaming video content from over-the-top (OTT) services."
Fury and anger is not the ideal reaction a consumer should have to watching content that has been carefully produced to attract and hold their attention. Barnett says that according to data that Swarmify has aggregated, people who stream video online and have buffering problems ultimately watch 64% less than people who are able to watch videos smoothly.
"Content is so competitive right now that losing viewers over a simple issue like buffering could be a death sentence. Consumers form habits and will quickly find competing sites with better delivery systems," says Barnett.
Why Buffering Happens
Back in the 1990s, everyone who played video games on the Nintendo 64 experienced glitches in the game. When that happened, the plastic cartridge that the game was loaded on would be removed from the console and each player would try one trick after another to get it to work again. Of course the first solution was to blow on the cartridge, but particularly desperate players, perhaps experiencing some of the first cases of buffer rage, would resort to anger and violence.
Experts now agree that blowing on Nintendo cartridges was not actually helpful. The same can be said for most of the ad hoc solutions that people use today to prevent or overcome video buffering. It does not matter if the browser is restarted or the modem is reset or if the website is refreshed; none of those solutions solve the core of the problem, which is that the network being used by the media company distributing the video is overloaded.
Barnett describes it like a series of roads. The source of the video is the beginning of the road and the consumer's computer is the destination. In between are miles of roads with many turns and just like real roads, they have a tendency to collect too much traffic. This can explain some of the more unusual problems with buffering, like how a video can play smoothly in the beginning and then buffer halfway through.
"Traffic can collect at any point while streaming a video," explains Barnett. "If the video is five minutes long, it can run into a jam that was not there when it started, causing buffering to occur. That is why it is so important to be able to switch routes even while the video is playing."
Network Agility as the Solution
Video compression could certainly be a solution to the issue of traffic jams on overloaded networks. But even reducing file sizes is not a 100% solution. Consumers are spending more time online, more time streaming videos, and doing so on multiple devices at the same time. A healthy networks needs to be agile, allowing for files to be sent to consumers through the clearest routes possible.
Swarmify specializes in this process, asserting that they are able to achieve seven times better video delivery than traditional methods.
While ending buffering is certainly a noble goal, the challenge redoubles almost daily with the creation of new products that demand better and better delivery systems. Virtual reality, 3D video, and ultra high resolution will continue to stress our current system. "We have made it our goal to end buffering, for today's content and tomorrow's," says Barnett.