949: File Transfer
Title text: Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.
Cueball is trying to help two people, his friend and his friend's cousin, exchange a 25 MB file. Most people know how to use email to send files through the internet, but (as of 2011 when this comic was published) 25 MB exceeds the attachment size limit of most email services. The reason there is a limit is because every email has to be transferred between several mail transfer agents, and each one has to temporarily store a copy of the email. Space constraints on those mail servers means that they must impose size limits, and an email with such a large attachment will therefore not be delivered.
The next option is to upload the file to an FTP server (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, as opposed to HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol), used to transfer files between computers on a shared network, such as the internet. However, FTP servers are a touch more esoteric than a mere email attachment, and many internet users don't have access to one of their own.
Web hosting is simply the ability to create a website and store all the data for said website on a server which is connected to the internet. If Cueball's friend's cousin had the ability to do that, sharing the file would be as easy as putting a copy of it in an accessible directory and sending the link to the desired recipient.
Megaupload was one of many sites on the internet that recognizes most users' inability to host large files on their own, and so offers to host large files, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. The payoff is that in order to make such a service profitable, many of these sites are cluttered with banner and pop up ads in a mad effort to squeeze as much ad revenue out of every page view as possible. It's not a dealbreaker for some, but Cueball seems to think it'll be too much for his friend's cousin to handle.
AIM direct connect was a file sharing system on AOL Instant Messenger, which was already suffering severe drops in popularity by the year 2000. Clearly, Cueball is grasping at straws here: anybody desperate enough to invoke the name of AOL as a solution instead of a problem must be at their wits' end.
Dropbox is a program with a web-based GUI that automates file sharing between two computers on the internet. But this solution also has its issues, as it requires that at least the sending party has a Dropbox account. Installing Dropbox software is not actually required, since Dropbox also provides a web interface for uploading and downloading files. At the time of the comic's publication, Dropbox was still relatively new and unknown, thus why it is not Cueball's first suggestion.
While Cueball is still explaining Dropbox, the friend's cousin has copied the file to a USB drive and physically transported it to the friend's house, circumventing the internet entirely. It's not an elegant solution, but sometimes traditional methods are the most efficient ways to get something done.
When used to transfer files between computers in the same room or building, this same approach is referred to as sneakernet. This comic is also an illustration of what Andy Tanenbaum said in 1989: Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway. Sneakernet was examined in this What If article.
Tim Berners-Lee is considered to be the inventor of the World Wide Web. In the title text, Randall implies that he would be disturbed by the need today to use two separate protocols (smtp for sending the file as an email attachment and http for retrieving the file from the mail server web interface) to perform a third, unrelated, obvious function such as file transfer.
- [Cueball stands near a computer, talking on the phone to another person.]
- Cueball: You want your cousin to send you a file? easy. He can email it to- ...Oh, it's 25 MB? Hmm...
- Cueball: Do either of you have an FTP server? No, right.
- Cueball: If you had web hosting, you could upload it...
- Cueball: Hm. We could try one of those MegaShareUpload sites, but they're flaky and full of delays and porn popups.
- Cueball: How about AIM Direct Connect? Anyone still use that?
- Cueball: Oh, wait, Dropbox! It's this recent startup from a few years back that syncs folders between computers. You just need to make an account, install the-
- Cueball: Oh, he just drove over to your house with a USB drive?
- Cueball: Uh, cool, that works too.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- I like how we've had the internet for decades, yet "sending files" is something early adopters are still figuring out how to do.
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