Telling stories about technology

A slow internet connection can be deeply frustrating. Many households have their own folklore about what’s to blame for the internet slowing down or dropping out. While there are peak times for internet connection usage, people usually rely on their intuition to know when the internet is slower than usual.

Some people use websites like to check whether their connection actually is slower. But not everyone knows they can do this. It also just a sample of connection speed at one particular moment; it doesn’t give people data about the connection over time.

So we sketched a service that gives people the information they want to know.

This is the sketch we built to explore this problem. Click on the internet icon to see how we present timely information about a homes broadband performance.

Background speed testing

The sketch explores an idea at the heart of our thinking on The Log: continuous integration. This is a process where code is repeatedly checked for errors autonomously. We think it could be adapted to helping people understand trends in their connection speed.

Developing our interface, we introduced a new icon to the map representing an internet connection. People can see the latest information about their connection and headline information about the quality of their internet connection over time. These are insights we imagine the service can pull out from a locally stored database of performance information.

All of these headlines put the internet connection in an easily relatable context. There’s very little technical content in them, and they feature the kind of information that could be useful in a complaint to a broadband provider.

The sketch also imagines crowdsourcing data from other routers in the neighbourhood, as a way of putting connection speeds into context or as a prompt for collective action for better service.

How people responded

Of all of our sketches, this was the one that got the most engagement among CHOICE members. The clear headlines, jargon-free language and nods toward consumer activism were well received. Our efforts to use more definite language and show more context than the previous design sketch went down well too.

It’s something that lots of people felt would be reassuring or valuable. It could back up their hunches about the patchiness of their home broadband, and give them a solid ground for talking to their service provider.

That said, it proved an overwhelming page for some people. There’s a lot of text, and a lot of different kinds of information. It gives people a complex picture of their connection without much warm-up. That was important for us to hear.

There’s room for collective action

There are big technical challenges involved in showing people sentences like “In your postcode, your connection speed is slightly faster than average”. But, after testing it in this sketch, it’s clear to that the value to consumers is huge.

It’s something an organisation like CHOICE is extremely well placed to develop. It builds on their campaigning activities, and could provide them with a wealth of current, real data to argue for better service on behalf of their members.