The Internet on a Slow Connection – Less is More

The internet is a very different experience on a slow connection, as I was reminded when I ran over my wireless data allowance recently and was limited to 64 kbps. The art of optimizing page download speed seems to have been lost, but there is hope on the horizon.

The usage indicator on my BigPond wireless broadband account has been broken since November 2009. There is some kind of server problem accessing the information for my account. I have a request in with BigPond technical support to fix it, but in the meantime I am not able to tell how much data I have used.

Last month I ran over my 10GB allowance due to having to reinstall Abode Creative Suites and eLearning Suite twice. They did not load correctly the first time, and each reinstall came with an 850MB update download…..Ouch!!!….. It must be time for CS5 release.

For a few days my broadband speed was limited to 64kbps, and this makes the whole internet experience quite different. Having to sit and wait several minutes for pages to download, if they download at all, can be very trying on anyone’s patience.

I remember in the old days of website development, you would optimize the page to download in less than 30 seconds @56 kbps.

The art of optimizing page download speed seems to have been lost, and I put this down to several factors:-

  • The increasing availability of broadband.
  • Most of the web designers today are too young to remember 56kbps.
  • Auto coding web development programs.
  • Photo and video content not being optimized.

Working on a Slow Connection

Several reputable sites I visited took over 3 minutes to load a page, and in the end I gave up on them.

There are still a lot of people out there using slow connections in remote areas and other countries, and site designers not allowing for low data rates, they are losing customers.

One of the big surprises was social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. For a long time I had thought they were basic in design and kind of ugly looking, but on my slow connection they all loaded very fast. There has obviously been some thought put into these sites under the hood, and this could be part of the reason for their popularity worldwide….  other site designers should take a lesson from this.

Experimenting Back on Broadband

When I received my high speed connection back, I did several experiments with page download times, while paying close attention to the connection download meter.

One on the most telling results came from reading entries linked to Twitter. I normally check a day’s worth of Twitter messages at one time, and opened 20 linked pages. The total data usage for this was 70 MB…. That’s an average of 3.5 MB per page….

Some pages ran over 5MB, and one static text page with lots of flashing bits on the sidebar  exceeded 7MB … How do these sites expect to retain viewers on slow connections with this kind of overhead??

I measured a plain text page on one of my own WordPress sites today using the Yslow plug-in for Firefox, and was surprised to see the PHP page was 425kB with 41 different http requests. The same page in HTML is 12kB. It’s nice to have these programs auto coding pages, but it comes at the price of download speed.

It’s very similar to when computer memory became cheap, and all the coding optimization skills were lost in software development.

Some Common Sense on the Horizon

I was listening to web professional Marc Fuller on the Camera Dojo podcast with Kerry Garrison the other day. It was very interesting what Marc had to say about website design, SEO and WordPress.

One point Marc mentioned was that in 2010 Google will be looking to focus on webpage download speeds, with fast loading pages benefiting more favorably in the page ranking algorithm.

We are also starting to see site caching become quite popular in software such as WordPress.

I hope these developments will get website designers thinking a bit more about visitor friendly layouts and designs, and dropping a few of the “data heavy” bells and whistles.

As they say…. LESS is MORE …

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