Tech reporter calls 256 “an oddly specific number”

Often, one wonders what the qualifications required are to be a tech reporter with a major publication like the Independent.  Take Doug Bolton, for instance, who feels that there is no known reason behind WhatsApp’s recent decision to increase the maximum number of users in a group chat to 256.

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Doug Bolton, a tech and science writer for the Independent newspaper, wrote in his article:

It’s not clear why WhatsApp settled on such an oddly specific number

It is at this point, that any geek that has ever had anything to do with tech, is thinking, “well that doesn’t sound very specific at all actually.”  Indeed, anyone who has ever grown up with computers remember the days of 256MB of RAM, and even now, a 256GB hard drive is not considered unusual.  Of course, when it comes to memory and storage, we also have 32, 64, 128 etc.  Notice anything about those numbers?  They each double the one before.  Double 128 and you get 256.

Of course, anyone who has ever worked with computers knows this, but 256 being particularly special might be one that requires just that extra little bit of help with.  While at this stage, everyone but The Independent’s tech report knows that 256 isn’t unusual at all, what might not be known is that 256 is the maximum number of combinations found in one byte.  A byte consists of 8 binary bits of either 0 or 1.

Doug Bolton - Tech/Science reporter for The Independent

Doug Bolton – Tech/Science reporter for The Independent

So for the sake of Doug Bolton, let us explain this fully, using binary.

1 bit allows either 0 or 1.  Meaning a maximum of two.
2 bits allow either 00, 01, 10, 11.  Meaning a maximum of four.  See what happened there?  It doubled.
3 bits, maximum of 8.
4 bits, maximum of 16.
5 bits, maximum of 32.
6 bits, maximum of 64.
7 bits, maximum of 128.
8 bits (or a byte), is a maximum of 256.

But again, even if you don’t understand binary, or even that a byte is 8 bits, surely, just surely, 256 (meaning 0 to 255) isn’t so odd a number?  Take an RGB colour, something we’ve all surely encountered in use as computers, surely a tech journalist, after all, will have done.  Each part of that Red Green Blue goes from 0 to 255.  An IP address!  Who hasn’t encountered one of those, each part, 0 to 255.

256?  Oddly specific?  We think the Independent made an oddly specific choice in assigning you to the technology desk.  We suggest that next time, Doug Bolton just stick to the real issue, now there’s a hundred and fifty-six extra people shouting and screaming in those horrifying WhatsApp group chats you get added to.