The NEED for speed and "the rest of the story"


Part 2: . . . and "the rest of the story"


   "What I can tell you are a few of the things that you should take into account when you do design a web site. These are important whether you are a great designer or a novice.

   "The first of these is load time. If a new visitor to your site sees little but a blank screen or unrecognizable 1meg GIF file loading for the first 20 seconds, odds are pretty good that they are likely to leave before they even find out what your site is all about.

   " 'But', you say, 'last week you said that load time is not very important!' That is correct. Load time is not important. It is the experience that is critical. A web page that loads in 10 to 20 seconds but offers the visitor nothing of interest in that time is a disaster. A web page that takes 60 seconds to load but is constantly feeding interesting and relevant information to the visitor is a success.

   "Think of a loading web page as a slide show or presentation. By default, a browser will display each of the various elements that make up a page as it encounters them in the HTML file. Text, images, scripts, forms etc, will be processed in sequence. With the older Browsers that did not support CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) [or JavaScript], these components were displayed from the top to the bottom of the page as the page was loaded. If the first element on the page is a relatively large graphic such as a logo, the visitor will have to wait until that element has finished loading before seeing anything of meaningful interest."

 IMS Web Tips: Design your page for Load Speed!  

Load times matter:

   The above quote provides an interesting point of view, to help introduce several fundamentals of Webpages. [Editorial note: divide the above load times in half, to bring those in-line with the current reality of the Internet.] The first fundamental is that load times do matter, or The NEED for Speed— as the first part of this commentary put it.

   It should also be noted that many high-end users now use a 3G cellphone or tablet to connect to the Internet. However, during times of extremely heavy use on the cellular network, or when the signal causes the data connection to fall back to EDGE, the performance will be closer to that of a 56k modem. Not to mention many users outside a major city or town still use a 56k modem.

   This is why any Webpage should still be evaluated using 1 mega-bit per second (or T1) and 56k modem connection speeds. (4 second rule vs. 10 second rule.)


Webpages deliver Content:

   The next fundamental is often phrased "Content is King". That the content of each page is what is being delivered to site users. Everything else either enhances, detracts, or even prevents the delivery of this content. And a Webpage without any content, is like the shipment of a package, that the expected product is missing from inside the box. Something that most certainly would reduce the weigh, and thus the cost to deliver such a package. But will also leave the customer really disappointed (possible understatement?) when they do not receive what was anticipated.

   So "Speed at all cost", by reducing the "weight" or total file-size for the page, can end up like taking the product out of the above box. That even after efforts to reduce the weight of the packaging , or to re-distribute the product weight among several smaller containers, there will come a limit to how much the weight of specific packages can be reduced. (For the Web: Reduce the file-size of the graphical "packaging", or re-design one large Webpage into several smaller pages.) Then any further "weight reduction" will come only by removing the product from a box (a short shipment), or taking content out of a Webpage.


Content presented in sequence:

   Which brings us to the third fundamental: Webpages are not the delivery of a finished product, but rather an assembly on-site with the assistance of pre-fabricated modules. Specifically, loading a Webpage results in the display of the page elements in a sequence. And this provides a way of trying to work around any slooooow loading side-effects. Side-effects caused by page elements with a really large file size, or just having too many smaller pieces to produce a complete Webpage.

   That by manipulating the order in which page elements load— which is a separate and very involved topic of its own— it is possible to provide the most important parts of the page first. Parts such as the top-of-page or above the fold navigation links, so a user could immediately move on to the page they were really looking for. And the written content of the page, to permit starting to evaluate what the current page does contain. Then once those provide a meaningful beginning, where the user has something substantial to start working with, the page "fills out" as the rest of the content finishes loading.


Load times STILL matter:

   Does this mean load times and file-size guidelines for Webpages are something that "would be nice", but are not absolutely necessary? Nothing could be further from the truth! As major sites on the Internet are finally understanding the message "speed matters", aggressively pursuing methods such as file-size budgets and limiting the total files for each Webpage are more important than ever. But as with financial budgets, it must be recognized that cost overruns (over spending) sometimes should or must occur.

   That if a modest addition causes a tremendous jump in the "return on investment" or delivery of content by a Webpage, that might justify a specific case for over-spending the file-size budget. In other cases, the minimum size possible for a single piece of content will exceed the file-size guidelines for the entire Webpage. Forcing either a longer down-load time, or eliminating that piece of content from the Website. But in all cases, be absolutely certain that any file-size over spending is justified by the extra content. And the display of this extra content is then presented using some manner of a sequence to render it. Since content, with properly set expectations for what is still loading, is the only thing that Website visitors might be willing to wait for.

This Commentary Copyright © 2002-2011 Allen Smith

Bookmark & Share this page

E-mail the Webmaster
Page Content Updated: 16 March 2011

Note: I admit to being totally mercenary in my "Quest for Understanding". So when I find something presented "better than I could put it myself", I do sometimes quote extensively from that source— with full credit, and a link back to the original document. (Assuming the original page still exists on the Web to link back to it.)