Speed Still Matters

I remember switching my homepage from AltaVista to Google back in 2000 for one simple reason: it was blazingly fast. It's the same reason I don't use personalized Google, or Google suggest as my homepage: they're simply too slow.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/11/speed-still-matters.html

Is, uh, how to put it… “graceful expansion” possible? As a counterpoint to graceful degradation, how about the possibility of loading a small page in to the browser for immediate display and then using javascript to pull in the heavier content and add it to the layout as it becomes available?
I’m envisioning either a responsive-yet-rich Web2.0-ey application here, or perhaps just a giant pile of steaming segfault and CPU cycle wastage.

I’d question that Google homepage takes too long to load. While you say that AJAX is increasing the time taken to load pages, I find that the vital components of personalised Google home are loaded as fast as any site, and I have quite a number of different components on there.

I would argue that well-planned use of AJAX could decrease page load times - as in the case of Google personalised home - since you can have the important parts loaded (i.e. the google search form) in no time, and let the rest of the content load itself in the background as the information becomes available.

Perhaps, too, the users who were presented with 30 results on a single page were simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of results presented to them.

Maybe I’m just wierd, but if I go to Amazon to look for a book, dvd, or cd I’m going to buy it, regardless of how long it takes the page to load.

Maybe I’m just wierd, but if I go to Amazon to look for a book, dvd, or cd I’m going to buy it, regardless of how long it takes the page to load.

What if it was an impulse buy?

here’s the inconvenient truth (due to Al Gore, natch): widespread broadband, or any cash and energy hungry tech, is a myth. energy prices are rising rapidly, incomes (as measured by the median) are falling and have been every year since 2000 (overall longer than that, but with some respite years).

I expect, over the next few years, that dial up will rise from the dead. and sites that are parsimonious of bandwidth will win. after all, it’s just internet. pandering to a minority only works for so long. ask Bush.

this course of events is not without precedent. HD TV was supposed to be everywhere by now. the networks were smart/crafty enough to get an escape clause in the law: if usage didn’t rise to some percentage of sets (I don’t recall the number, but recall that it wasn’t all that high) by some date, they didn’t have to implement HD.

IIRC, the date has passed (or nearly) and we’re no where near the penetration figure.

I couldn’t agree more with hating slow websites.

The only reason I’ll use a slower website is when it has all of the best features, but the second a faster website comes along that offers all of the same things, I’ll switch… and that’s just for the websites I need to use often.

If I’m shopping around for something, I will always leave a slow website.

I also use plain google.com as my homepage.

My favorite site: http://local.live.com
My least favorite example of AJAX: http://local.live.com

I cannot stand the fact that the page layout changes as pieces are loaded. Especially since the first thing I do is try to close the Welcome panel on the left side of the screen, but the click is cached until the toolbar loads. Instead of having a useable, beautiful map, I’m taken to Live QnA.

Tip: if you’re going to take forever to load, at least let me interact with the stuff that’s there!

Let’s face it as we move away from software installed directly on the PC and more feature rich web applications it is going to take a bit more time to load. Outlook does load in less then 1 second, but once it is up, it’s up. Web applications tend to have to send massive amounts of markup language back and forth, which until we are all running on fiber networks and have faster PCs is going to be a problem. But does the hardware drive the software, or does the software drive the hardware?

I have google suggest (uk version) as my homepage and its lightning fast.

I’m not convinced using ajax in some apps is that good an idea - if you delete 5 emails in hotmail and then close the browser - it still says there are 5 emails unread if you then go back and open it up again.

Ha. I just clicked on that link to Dare’s blog, and it took 22 seconds to fully load on DSL. Scary.

I have a huge assortment of widgets and information on my google personalised home - a page which I use purely for the bookmarks, TODO list, news aggregation, etc. It stays open in a firefox tab because it’s a useful information collector.

It’s silly to actually load a google page just to do a search. In firefox it’s Ctrl-T, Ctrl-K, type your search query and hit enter. Much quicker. The size or speed of one’s homepage is a moot point.

Back to the point though, the less responsive any interface is, the more frustrating it is to use. Take, for example, the failed Nokia 7710 - http://google.co.uk/search?q=nokia+7710+slow

Gorgeous screen, and the stylus input works quite well, but when it takes seconds and even minutes to perform some tasks, you’ll soon be restraining the urge to throw it through the window. Nokia’s current N series phones are also guilty of this to a lesser degree, leaving you feeling that the interface is flimsy and half-baked. Much the same with websites :slight_smile:

Don, do you still have a mouse from the early 90’s?

This is the main reason that I stick with regular Yahoo Mail and avoid the newer Yahoo Mail Beta like the plague, despite Yahoo’s urges for me to migrate.
The beta version uses AJAX in a way that make startup times unacceptable. If you find this annoying as well, make sure to tell Yahoo in their feedback forms!

Even if Don has a retarded mouse, he also has a point. Scrolling is definitely an inconvenience and even minor inconveniences can make a large difference.

One of the paramount rules of web site design, don’t make the user wait. Like Steve Krug says in “Don’t Make Me Think,” keep the home page simple. Of course he’s referring primarily to confusing content, but he also mentions speed as a big reason.

By the way, I completely agree about Dare’s site…suuuuuuuuper slooooooooow. Like Great-Grandma slow.

On Amazon’s site – I habitually, when I see an Amazon link, go through a thought of “is looking at this page worth 10-15 seconds of everything else I’m doing on the net being painfully slow?” Sometimes it is. A lot of times it isn’t.

Yes, I use dialup. People in Silicon Valley and similar places tend to forget that a lot of people live in places where broadband simply doesn’t go, or just don’t consider it worth the cost. (Both my mom and my mother-in-law have sufficiently low-grade phone service that a phone modem won’t even get anything above 28.8, and they’re each only about ten minutes from the nearest town! I’m in the “not worth the cost” camp.) These dialup users are potential customers.

I’d been noticing more and more slowdown in page rendering/presentation from sites I’ve long visited (for example, slashdot). In Firefox, I not infrequently would notice a suspiciously market-y URL in the status bar during these delays.

For an unrelated reason, I finally got around to installing the extension Adblock Plus. Mixed feelings, as I don’t want to deprive sites of the revenue that supports my habit, and I’d already been using the extension Nuke Anything (now Nuke Anything Enhanced) to manually click away the flashing, egregiously distracting stuff. Never did install Flash into Firefox, so that wasn’t a problem.

Well, with Adblock Plus in place, the same old sites/pages are loading significantly more quickly. I’m not waiting on third party marketing servers to churn.

Another point for an open architecture, and for the user to be proactive. There are some things we can do, currently, from the client side, to maintain a responsive interface.

In light of this, how do you explain digg’s success? The first time you visit, loading all the js takes up to 9 seconds. That didn’t stop them from becoming one of the most popular sites on the web?

In a Web application I recently developed, we just finished a major maintenance release. One of the things I’ve noticed about ASP.NET applications in general is the number of postbacks that occur as a result of the nature of ASP.NET’s intrinsic architecture. Users perceive the postbacks as general slowness in the overall application. It bugged me as the application designer, since the application had lots of custom validators for the fields (can’t always trust the users to enter valid data).

In the maintenance release, a major effort on my part was to find ways to improve application speed by (1) eliminating unnecessary graphics, (2) eliminating unnecessary postbacks wherever possible, (3) scripting some of the validation on in the HTML pages to provide immediate feedback (which led to elimination of some of the postbacks), and (4) reduce the user’s need to scroll (which, for some reason I have yet to understand, users perceive as a performance issue because they have to spend a lot of time scrolling to get to the information they’re interested in).

All of these things were done. The primary stakeholders didn’t understand why I tackled them so aggressively, but to me they were important. Users weren’t happy. Therefore, I wasn’t happy. If the application was performing sluggishly, it was a pain to use, and users would be disinclined to use it. For this particular niche, it was vitally important that they use it, because the type of data they were managing was sensitive and needed to be accurate and complete.

Once the changes were completed and promoted to the live servers, users were much happier. The perceived changes in application responsiveness were thoroughly welcomed. Pages rendered faster, posted back to the server less frequently, alerted them to mistakes much earlier, and didn’t
require as much scrolling. The system is getting much more consistent use, and the number of complaints from the users has significantly decreased, much to my satisifaction.

So speed does matter. The stakeholders might not understand it, but it does matter. It’s especially important if the system in question is one where you need the users to use it and not have it frustrate their efforts.

Firefox web browser = speed fix. And try the ‘fasterfox’ extension for firefox.