One of the biggest driving forces behind the growth of the Internet has been the insatiable demand from users for ever more multimedia in the form of audio and video. Initially, bandwidth was so precious that there was no such thing as live streaming, and it could take minutes or even hours to download an audio track, let alone a video.
The high cost of bandwidth and limited availability of fast modems drove the development of faster and more efficient compression algorithms, such as MP3 audio and MPEG video, but even then the only way to download files in any reasonable length of time was to drastically reduce their quality.
One of my earlier Internet projects, back in 1997, was the UK’s first online radio station licensed by the music authorities. Actually, it was more of a podcast (before the term was coined) because we made a daily half-hour show and then compressed it down to 8-bit, 11KHz mono using an algorithm originally developed for telephony, and it sounded like phone quality, or worse. Still, we quickly gained thousands of listeners who would download the show and then listen to it as they surfed to the sites discussed in it by means of a pop-up browser window containing a plug-in.
Thankfully for us, and everyone publishing multimedia, it soon became possible to offer greater audio and video quality, but still only by asking the user to download and install a plug-in player. Flash became the most popular of these players, after beating ...