The company has already released Google-branded versions of such nuts-and-bolts components as digital video formats, name servers, link shorteners, and AJAX scripting delivery services. Heck, there's even a Google-riffic web browser that's doing quite well in the market and an entire operating system built around that browser. And I'm really only scratching the surface of Google's wide-ranging attempts to change the very infrastructure that delivers your online experience.
The latest addition to this pantheon is the WebP image format. Meant as a more efficient replacement of the venerable JPEG format, WebP is based on the image compression technology used in Google's WebM digital video specification. Google claims something like a 40% reduction in size for your average online image, which in turn is claimed to make up "65% of the bytes transmitted per web page today." Do the math: widespread adoption of the new format should reduce bandwidth usage by as much as 25%.
Reducing bandwidth in this way is an alternative to installing more network infrastructure such as backbone fiber-optic lines and huge routers, and also reduces the need for optimized content delivery services by Akamai Technologies
"If," not "when"
"Widespread adoption" may never happen. The JPEG steering group itself has tried to update the age-old JPEG format at least twice, but JPEG 2000 never gained traction and remains unsupported in some of the most popular web browsers of our age. JPEG XR is still under development and may meet the same grim fate. It's really hard to change a fundamental building block of the Internet such as basic image formats at the drop of a hat, even for the industry group that makes the rules. Google will face the same inertial obstacles here but with less actual power to effect a change.
WebP will probably soon be supported by browsers and other software based on the WebKit toolset, which includes Google's Android browser, the Chrome browser and Chrome OS platform, Apple's
I could envision plugins for popular web server software like Microsoft's IIS or the open-source Apache server, sending converted WebP images in place of JPEG and GIF files on the fly when the browser says it can read the new format. But even that solution might be a hard sell: You're asking webmasters to go out of their way to support an unproven technology while sacrificing both processor cycles and storage space to keep a library of alternative WebP images available.
So why try at all?
Google's willingness to launch this sort of potentially game-changing project without much hope of making much of a difference in reality says a lot about the company's general philosophy: WebP won't matter for years (if ever) but it's worth a shot to try reducing the bandwidth usage and download times of your average web page.
Bandwidth caps like the ones already implemented by AT&T
Is Google to be commended for its efforts to improve the user experience, or is the company spending too much resources on meddling with stuff best left alone? I'm waving a "Go Google!" flag over here and hoping for an improbable changing of the image guard, but you can make your own argument in the comments below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Akamai Technologies and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Apple and Adobe Systems are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.