Dark Friday

If you’re planning on relying on the Internet to get work done on Friday — especially if you’re on the East Coast — you may want to think about working unplugged. William and Kate may spoil your day.

Not even the HDTV Almanac is a Royal-Wedding-Free zone. But rather than focus on bridal trains and the like, I’m going in a different direction. Liz Shannon Miller wrote a terrific piece for GigaOM about the potential impact of the wedding on the Internet. She points out that YouTube will host a BBC live feed without commentary. And the Associated Press will also be providing a feed that will be hosted on multiple sites (and for a surprisingly small fee, your site can be one of them).

The question is whether or not the Internet is up to the task of worldwide Royals mania. Broadcast television is one thing for live events with a massive audience; it is by definition a single channel of content that is delivered to multiple points — possibly millions in some markets — all at the same time and with the same bandwidth. In contast, the Internet is a point-to-point system, and even if you’re watching the same thing at the same time as the person in the next cubicle, the packets are still individually targeted to your separate computers. And streaming video requires lots of data packets.

Many of us have seen the effect that an early school dismissal for snow on a local cable broadband service; performance can tank for the rest of the afternoon. If everyone else on your cable system decides to stream the royal wedding, it is likely to impact your ability to access data on the Internet. And that’s any data, not just the wedding ceremony video stream. Email, browsing, and other typical activities could be affected. The same holds for small networks that share access to the Internet, such as your company’s network. And even if your network is up to the task, it is not for certain that your broadband service provider or other upstream systems will be able to handle the load without buckling.

If you want to help ease the strain on Friday, eliminate as many video streams on Friday as you can. Set up a large HDTV in a central location and receive a broadcast television signal for all who want to watch, in return for a pledge that they won’t stream the video when they return to their desks.

Friday will be a stress test for the Internet and a lot of other systems. Nobody knows what the impact will be, but I won’t be planning on doing a lot of critical online work on Friday. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be watching the William and Kate show; I’ll just have plenty of offline work prepared.