AOL web troubles.. New AOL speedup seems to be a slowdown

Any AOL people around?

In the past few days our AOL users have been reporting serious problems
accessing images to their accounts on our picturesharing site Picturetrail.com
The images show up as broken images (red x) in their browsers about 30% of
the time. They also report almost total failure when trying to upload images
to their accounts. We however are seeing a slow AOL low data network that we
feel is causing the problems. We have not received any such complaints from
non-aol users.
We have replicated the problems using our AOL test accounts. No
such problems occur when using a non-AOL internet connection.

Below is the traceroute from an AOL users IP to the Abovenet datacenter in
San Jose California where our servers are located.

I just heard that they are now offering some new speedup technology.. Hence
probobly more web caching. Anyone else having these types of issues? And 20
hops to get to a proxy.. at that speed?

traceroute to 64.12.96.107 (64.12.96.107), 30 hops max, 40 byte packets
1 inside.fw1.sjc2.mfnx.net (208.184.213.129) 0.359 ms 0.276 ms 0.427 ms
2 99.ge-5-1-1.er10b.sjc2.us.above.net (64.124.216.11) 0.529 ms 0.564 ms
0.538 ms
3 so-1-0-0.mpr3.sjc2.us.above.net (64.125.30.97) 0.547 ms 0.581 ms 0.578
ms
4 so-0-0-0.pr1.sjc2.us.above.net (64.125.30.30) 0.594 ms 0.708 ms 0.572
ms
5 sl-gw19-sj-3-0.sprintlink.net (144.228.44.145) 1.146 ms 1.185 ms 1.114
ms
6 sl-bb23-sj-4-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.0.249) 1.509 ms 1.307 ms 1.227
ms
7 sl-bb24-sj-14-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.3.222) 17.685 ms 16.042 ms
5.352 ms
8 sl-bb20-ana-6-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.20.100) 11.036 ms 11.128 ms
11.208 ms
9 sl-bb24-ana-13-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.1.138) 11.110 ms 12.263 ms
11.081 ms
10 sl-st21-la-14-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.20.126) 14.179 ms 12.567 ms
14.047 ms
11 pop1-las-P5-2.atdn.net (66.185.150.253) 10.689 ms 10.538 ms 10.596 ms
12 bb2-las-P0-0.atdn.net (66.185.137.130) 10.704 ms 10.541 ms 10.737 ms
13 bb2-sjg-P7-0.atdn.net (66.185.152.23) 10.442 ms 10.565 ms 10.469 ms
14 bb1-sjg-P2-0.atdn.net (66.185.153.26) 54.948 ms 125.951 ms 227.168 ms
15 bb1-ash-P14-0.atdn.net (66.185.153.58) 286.153 ms 83.629 ms 83.592 ms
16 bb1-rtc-P4-0.atdn.net (66.185.152.157) 216.817 ms 132.213 ms 201.491
ms
17 pop1-rtc-P14-0.atdn.net (66.185.140.97) 83.479 ms 83.383 ms 83.268 ms
18 dar1-mtc-S0-0-0.atdn.net (66.185.143.114) 83.535 ms 83.708 ms 83.631
ms
19 172.21.44.66 (172.21.44.66) 83.718 ms 83.729 ms 83.749 ms
20 cache-mtc-af06.proxy.aol.com (64.12.96.107) 83.886 ms 83.982 ms 84.020
ms

Nicole wrote:

In the past few days our AOL users have been reporting serious problems

Several Brickshelf users have complained about the new "blurry images" problem using AOL. I have not heard any reports of broken images or upload problems yet.

Kevin Loch
I

Thus spake "Kevin Loch" <kloch@gurunet.net>

Nicole wrote:
> In the past few days our AOL users have been reporting serious problems

Several Brickshelf users have complained about the new "blurry images"
problem using AOL. I have not heard any reports of broken images or
upload problems yet.

In the past, some ISPs have used a quality-reduction algorithm on images to
"speed up" dialup users' experience; I assume that's what AOL has adopted.

This reminds me of an old saying, "you can make any computation go faster if
you don't care if it gives the right answer."

S

Stephen Sprunk "Stupid people surround themselves with smart
CCIE #3723 people. Smart people surround themselves with
K5SSS smart people who disagree with them." --Aaron Sorkin

Thus spake "Kevin Loch" <kloch@gurunet.net>
> Nicole wrote:
> > In the past few days our AOL users have been reporting serious problems
>
> Several Brickshelf users have complained about the new "blurry images"
> problem using AOL. I have not heard any reports of broken images or
> upload problems yet.

In the past, some ISPs have used a quality-reduction algorithm on images to
"speed up" dialup users' experience; I assume that's what AOL has adopted.

Gotta use their lingo... your stuff's been optimized!

I have been thinking about whether the use of lossy compression methods would constitute tampering with copyrighted material. After all, if a site was carefully designed to provide optimized images of fine art, and AOL or other ISPs mess with the quality, the value of the site content would be decreased, and the site could lose business due to users thinking the quality of the images is bad.

This reminds me of an old saying, "you can make any computation go faster if
you don't care if it gives the right answer."

Heh.

This is more of their AOL TopSpeed stuff. Basically, the reason why end users
are seeing the blurry images is because of the AOL ART format being used by
their web proxies. Downloaded images via the built in web browser are
actually not in the same format as they were on the server. Basically, AOL's
proxies download the image, recompress it as an ART image (killing a good
portion of the quality in photos especially) and forwards it to the built in
IE browser which knows how to render the ART images (even though the images
themselves are still called .gif and .jpg and similar).

Want to see an example of this? In older AOL versions (before 7 IIRC), load
up a photo in the built in IE browser in AOL with image compression on, right
click and save the image to disk, then try to open it with third party image
program such as GIMP or PaintShop Pro and watch it moan about the format not
being right.

The sudden decrease in quality could be because they turned up the compression
level.

I'm quite surprised that many professional photographers haven't spoken out
against this, as a few issues arise as a result of this:

1 - Potential sales MAY be lost as a result of the degradation of quality.
2 - Ineffective digital watermarking.

One could make the argument that since AOL has such a large share of the
online market, that by deliberately modifying imagery (especially
commercial) in such a way, they are doing a disservice to sites that are
very reliant on the quality of their imagery. (Getty, Corbis, etc.)

An issue could also be raised about storing and reproducing (via proxy and
ART compression) a copyrighted work without explicit permission.

Ben Chase
Federal Contractor (and photographer) - Spokane, WA

Other than AOL, the current batch of dialup accelerators that work through
a lossy compression scheme give the user control over image quality ( by
providing a 'slider' bar to select preferred quality vs. speed tradeoff ).
In addition, they work well with the browser ( IE ) so you can click on
an image and get a menu option 'reload at high quality'. Thus you can view
the original unaltered image if you want.

Additionally, ( again I can't speak for whether AOL does this ), it's very
clear to the user what is going on, as there's a program that is installed,
that they can turn on or turn off as they wish. As an end-user of dial-up
at home, I use a 'web-accelerator' and it does exactly what I want. I
can load web pages faster, and if I want to see the high quality original
image of the CNN story, I can.

Am I violating a copyrighted work if I don't clean my glasses or monitor
and thus see an 'altered form' of an image? I don't think so. It is not
resent to anyone else in the altered form, and the user viewing the altered
form has made a concious decision to view it that way. Alternatively, if
the original image is 1600x1200 resolution, and I shrink it to fit on my
1024x768 image in an image viewer, I don't think you could argue I'm
transgressing copyright boundries there either.

-Chris

I am certainly not trying to make the point that anyone taking part in using
web accelerators is violating a copyright by viewing content that is not
necessarily in the original form, but I've been witness to a few discussions
on several prominent (photo.net, etc) websites where the issue was being
raised that the act of the parent company (in this case AOL) collecting
images on their proxy and redistributing them to their users (in a new form,
recompressed) pretty much negates any digital watermarking present in an
image.

Am I concerned about it personally? Not at all. Since I shoot primarily
35mm transparency film, I have a physical original of a piece of work, and
if I needed to prove an image was really mine, then I would produce the
physical copy.

Properly implemented watermarking won't be affected by the recompression. It
may not be as clear to the program as it would be if it was in its old format,
but its still legible. Since I'm a photographer, I've tested this theory a
bit because of concerns that my black and white photos (which I actually sell
for money) might be stolen off of our gallery site. You'd have to badly
degrade the quality in order to completely destroy the watermarks completely,
as long as you implemented the watermarking correctly in the first place.

That's *visible* watermarking, not invisible *digital* watermarking which is hidden in the image file and marks the image as the property of the copyright owner. If AOL's recompression technique is stripping out the digital watermark (can anyone here verify this?), then:

AOL is copying and redistributing the image in a new format *without the permission of the copyright holder* in a way that A) makes AOL money and B) removes protections that the copyright holder had placed on the image to help keep third parties from reproducing the image without permission.

and in doing so:

IMHO they are infringing on the copyright of those who have placed the digital watermark in the image.

jc

Yes, AOL has always been know for less than original image quality. But we are
often having users getting no image. WIth the images show up as broken images
(red x) in their browsers about 30% of the time.

"Optimized" is one thing but "optimzed" to oblivion is very painful.
Tracerouting to them is very slow while inside their network, altho
perhaps due to prioritizing.
  
As far a tampering with the images. Their was a lawsuit in england not long
ago over cache engines containing a copy of the image. But I don't remember the
outcome.

  Nicole

As far as I know, they don't tamper with digital watermarks. Frankly, unless
you know the program that created them, its very hard to figure out where a
digital watermark is, as they are designed to be completely transparent and
invisible to pretty much everything but the identifying program. If they were
visible, it would be simple enough to strip it out and take the image.

Visible watermarking shouldn't be too badly affected by the compression
either - I guess I could throw up some of my samples if people here would be
interested in the difference in quality between normal images, AOL ART
compressed images, etc so you can get an idea if you dont already know what we
are talking about.

The most common side affect of the AOL ART compression is color banding -
where smooth gradients are turned into color streaks of solid colors. The
other thing is loss of detail on areas where color is very similar (ie: skin
tones).