Fulfilling the Internet's Promise: A Hybrid Approach  
A  white paper on Seven Raven's NetRaven technology, January 1997. 
· The Problem Defined 
· The NetRaven Model: A Real Solution 
· Proof Positive: The Prototype At Work  
· Future Uses and Planned Developments 
· Conclusion 
The Problem Defined
    Current communication technologies place noticeable limitations on the quality of the average user's on-line experience.  The sheer file size of desirable media (full motion video, full screen animation) requires a real-time data pipeline that current bandwidth is not capable of supporting.  Through the seamless integration of optical media (such as CD or DVD-ROMs) into the on-line experience, Seven Raven, Inc.'s NetRaven client/server software suite vastly reduces these constraints, allowing for the kind of rich, interactive experience users seek.
    Although Internet connectivity promises the opportunity for many users to interact in real-time within a given application's environment, it fails to deliver that reality.  The technology currently in place simply does not provide the availability of a continuous, smooth, and reliable channel for large bandwidth data transfers, both to and from the greater Internet.  Even with the most advanced compression and streaming technologies, there is simply no way for phone companies to deliver the high quality animation and video that consumers have come to expect from traditionally distributed multimedia applications, but which now only trickle through Internet browsers.  Despite the projected development of high-speed cable modems and asymmetric digital subscriber line technology, it is estimated that public telephone networks will continue to carry the majority of Internet access traffic for at least the next five years.  Just to keep up with current demand, local telephone companies would each have to spend $1.5 billion a year nationwide through 1999 to upgrade their networks to handle the increased traffic.  It is further estimated that 80% of users will still be connected to the Internet at 28.8 kbps in the beginning of the next century; a woefully inadequate speed to receive new media effectively.  Even if an extremely fast and wide communication infrastructure were to exist for the majority of users, the bandwidth problem would still persist.  Just as work is said to expand to fill the time available for its completion, content likewise expands to fill bandwidth.  In a fiercely competitive market place, with users choosing one site over another based on superiority of content, it is likely that any increase in bandwidth and average access time would soon be eaten up by generally richer, more complex, and therefore larger web sites.  It thus seems that only by pairing connectivity with the superior resources found on users' own PCs (optical media drives, hard-drives, and removable drives) will the Internet become a functionally rich application environment.
The NetRaven Model:  A Real Solution
    NetRaven has been specifically designed to ease the development of hybrid applications, and is targeted toward companies such as entertainment media firms, publishers of traditional print media, and educational media companies currently (or considering) distributing content on optical disks such as CD-ROMs.  NetRaven manages objects from local resources as well as from remote servers on the Internet, through its three component software pieces.  These are:    
    1. The NetRaven Client (NRC), which manages an individual user's requests and resources,
    2. The NetRaven Master Server (MNRS), a central control tool and database management server, and 
    3. The NetRaven Application Server (ARNS), a site-specific content manager.
    The NRC is the only contact users have with NetRaven.  Although only 300Kb in size and easily downloaded, this middleware piece would typically be installed from a CD-ROM distributed as a matter of course by the aforementioned types of companies.  This same CD-ROM would also hold content in the form of an object library, with typical objects being web pages, video clips and sound files, etc.  Each object would be associated with one or more keys, with examples being "expiration date," identifier tag, creation date, etc.  The associated ANRS for a given web site uses these keys to establish concise and timely rule sets that govern an objects' behavior remotely, as well as determining which objects need updating.  Just as MPEG compression is based partly on the principle that most of a movie at any given time is static, NetRaven is partially based on the knowledge that most content, especially web content, remains static.  Utilizing vast local storage of content, only the changes in a given object would need to be transmitted over the Internet, rather than the much bulkier object itself.  The final piece of NetRaven, the MNRS, maintains a database of all NetRaven capable sites and provides it to active NRCs in the form of URLs to watch for.  With this system in place, content becomes immediately accessible, is easily changed, and the limitations of bandwidth virtually disappear.
    The enabling effect of this hybrid approach cannot be overstated.  Current web sites are not optimized for the current potential of on-line technology, but for the lowest common denominator:  28.8 connection speeds that rarely load compressed graphics in tolerable time.  A single CD-ROM, however, can hold 670 MB of content, an amount which a 28.8 modem under ideal conditions would take over fifty hours to download.  The looming reality of DVD-ROMs, with 4.7 Gigabytes of initial capacity (and up to 17 Gigabytes projected), provides even more mind-boggling possibilities.  Hard drive sizes continue to increase rapidly, and removable drives storing 100 MB - 1 GB of data, with speeds approaching those of hard drives, are fast permeating the installed base.  All of these re-writeable media provide the opportunity to create massive, fast, and highly tailored caches.  With NetRaven implemented, relatively little time is devoted to the retrieval of bulk content over the Internet, and idle time is more efficiently devoted to retrieving updates and replacing obsolete objects.  All of this turns the dream of real-time interactivity, coupled with rich and varied content, into an achievable reality -- NOW. 
Proof Positive: Blowfish,  The Prototype At Work
    Seven Raven's proof of concept prototype application, a Java-based version of the NRC named Blowfish, will be distributed on the CD-ROM accompanying the March 1997 issue of the Net magazine. Using Black Sun Interactive's CyberHub Server, which allows 1000 concurrent users to enter and interact with each other in the same 3-Dimensional space, Blowfish is installed along with a library of VRML objects that, together, comprise a rich and varied VRML world.  It should be noted that the Blowfish prototype client is far less efficient than the NRC.  Benchmark tests, on the same base system, comparing the VRML world's load time via standard modems versus the speeds achieved when utilizing the Seven Raven technology yielded the following dramatic results:   
    14.4kbs modem: 30-45 minutes. 
    28.8kbs modem: 15-20 minutes. 
    Blowfish prototype: Consistently under 40 seconds.
    The advantages inherent in building and maintaining content locally could not be clearer.  Note that interactivity is not sacrificed here.  Even though the world is generated locally, users still see and move around each other's Avatar representation, holding conversations and exploring the world together.  Connectivity, freed from a task it cannot realistically perform, assumes its optimal role:  the real-time transmission of small but essential data such as avatar coordinates and text, which comprise the very elements that define the interactivity of the application.  Our tests also demonstrated that the appropriate use of available bandwidth keeps objects flowing down the pipeline rather than clogging it up.
Behind the Scenes
    Every NetRaven Server is registered with the MNRS, letting the NRC know of the ANRS's existence without having to crawl around the Internet looking for Servers.  The NRC listens for an Internet connection to be established.  Once this happens, the NRC automatically communicates  with the MNRS.  The MNRS delivers a file informing the NRC of NetRaven enhanced sites.  Knowing which URLS to be looking for the, NRC waits until a NetRaven site is requested.  
Once a NetRaven enhanced site request is identified by the NRC, a rule set is obtained from the ANRS.  For example, if a NRC-enabled client requests http://www.xyz.com, the NRC anticipates that this is an NetRaven enhanced site and finds the associated rule file.  This file lets the NRC know what objects are still valid from local resources and prompts the user to insert the associated CD-ROM or removable drive.  Invisible to the user, it also describes any changes to object values and queues updated files on the server for broadcast to the client at a more favorable time.
    Example:  NetRaven Catalogue 
    Prime candidates for NetRaven technology are print catalogue publishers who wish to bring their catalogues into the on-line world.  An on-line catalogue gives retailers the ability to maintain a constant channel of two way communication with their customers, providing them with up-to-date pricing and product information, and garnering important demographic and customer response feedback.  Often catalogue content, whether it be graphic images or animation, photos, video and/or audio clips, is too large (in terms of associated file sizes) to be downloaded from a web site, given current bandwidth constraints and modem speeds.  However it often can be impractical to create entirely new CD's every time there are pricing fluctuations, changes in seasonality of items or product availability.  NetRaven software allows  the best of both worlds.  Retailers can send out comprehensive catalogues on CD-ROM, and, utilizing the connectivity between the CD and the Web that NetRaven software creates, keep customers up-to date on the most recent pricing and product availability.
    Example:  DVD-ROM delivered entertainment  
    DVD-ROM discs can deliver 1.2 million polygons-per-second, or video at 30 fps in Dolby surround sound. The quality and quantity of DVD delivered content is far superior to what can be continuously delivered over the Internet.  When utilizing the rate of delivery available via DVD, the Internet becomes most practical as an information management channel.  For example, a movie distributor (i.e.: Sony or Blockbuster) could distribute DVD as a replacement or supplement to their printed and on-line catalogues.  This allows for the incorporation of video promo's, digital stereo quality music samples, and interactive games with music..  The content genre can be controlled via a rule set over the web, which opens up potential synergistic partnerships between companies like Sony/ Blockbuster and co-marketers of products looking for access to a distinct Internet demographic.  The ability of NetRaven to collect vast amounts of demographic data on the user enables content to be tailored for a particular user.  The key to strong consumer reception towards an on-line advertisement is the quick delivery of personalized content.  NetRaven simplifies the process of delivering targeted content interleaved with DVD-ROM based entertainment titles.  
Future Uses and Planned Development
    With the release of all necessary components in early February, NetRaven will provide users with the complete power and functionality of our Hybrid Resource Management System.  A functional Windows NT server will be available late February, allowing developers working with NT servers the ability to remotely control the functioning of the NRC.  Thereafter, Seven Raven will release a Beta version of the NetRaven Studio - a GUI resource manager for the design and control of NetRaven capable websites.  Once sufficient care has been taken to meet our users' needs, development of Version 2.0 will commence.  Planned additional functionality includes integrated profiling and seek engines capable of reading various Internet "broadcast" data (including point cast, back web, and marimba) AND  polling sites visited by individual users, in addition to gathering keys for a given ANRS to more efficiently develop rule sets.  Version 2.0 is also slated to utilize encryption technology, allowing publishers to securely limit access to specific content on the delivered optical media.
    Clearly NetRaven's time has come and will continue into the future.  Universally shared access to high-speed Internet connectivity and wide bandwidth is, at most, a distant reality.  Utilization of local resources in tandem with Internet connectivity seems the only viable way to experience the kind of active and rich on-line experience that will be critical to the continued growth of the Internet, but which increased bandwidth only tentatively promises.  Technology shows no sign of halting its headlong dash into progressively more powerful incarnations.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the home PC and high-technology entertainment markets where consumers scramble to find the most immersive experience available for their home on-line experience.  We believe that 7Raven's NetRaven technology is the only currently viable solution to providing Internet user's with dynamic, visually compelling content within current bandwidth constraints.