Snake oil

I’ve read a couple articles recently regarding FastTCP. The first article was on Slashdot. The second article was part of the ZDNet Tech Update newsletter. If you go to the links, I encourage you to browse some of the comments posted on both these articles.

It seems to me that the adage “there is nothing new in the world” really applies here. While the products may be new, the marketing techniques have been around forever. The hype in the articles is no different than the claims made 200 years ago by the hucksters who wheedled people into buying their snake oil.

The snake oil in question today is “Fast TCP – 6000 times faster than broadband”. Right away, my skeptic meter jumps into the red zone. After having read the articles, it appears that the researchers have simply come up with a slightly modified version of TCP that may perform better on clear connections. I can’t see how the tweaks will help with “normal” network traffic, which is typically short bits of data being passed back and forth. It does seem to make sense that it can help with streaming video.

What burns me about the articles, however, is the hype placed into the headlines. In my opinion, the hype is a lure. It’s like the car sales where the dealer advertises cars for $500. They don’t tell you that they only have two of them for sale at that price. All they want is to get you onto the lot. They know you must want a car, so they’re going to try to sell you something.

When the news media uses headlines like this, they are falling into the trap of becoming a mouthpiece for the marketing people. That’s one of the problems we have with commercial news media. They are influenced by the advertisers, whether they want to admit it or not. They may not receive direct pressure from the advertisers to publish a certain spin, but they must realize that upsetting the advertisers may lead to lost revenue. This balancing act definitely leans in the direction of the advertisers, as they have the ultimate control over where their money is being spent.

This is why I think blogs are an important part of the Internet culture. They’ve provided an easy way to publish opinions and information that doesn’t have to be controlled by outside influences. It’s still important to have a healthy skepticism of what you find on a blog, but they provide a forum that is lacking in the commercial media.

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