Web Performance – it’s all subjective

In the mid 1990’s when we started to access the web via dial up modem, we were in awe of the amount of information available to us that we could not access in this way previously. Ecommerce allowed us to buy anything at any time of day or night. We found we could perform our research on a number of different web sites rather than having to read one or two encyclopedias. Not to mention being able to email more widely than just in our own organisation at work. Early sites took time to load – but we were patient as there was a novelty factor to accessing the web.

Fast forward 20 years, and with the advent of high speed broadband, we expect pages to load quickly, and any perception of slowness (even if it is just 1 or 2 seconds) makes us feel as though the site is slow, and for many people, they will go elsewhere.

What does that say about how we as humans have evolved in terms of how we use and access the internet? Well, I believe it has not necessarily made us better people. The mere fact that if a web page doesnt load in say 5-6 seconds, causes someone to click away in a ‘huff’, means it has made us a great deal more impatient than we ought to be.

We have access to more information than we could possible ever access or absorb – yet we seem to have quickly skipped over just how major this advance has been:

  • we can access information from so many sources worldwide,
  • the amount of information available is limited only by the amount of servers available to hold this information and the amount people have placed there,
  • we can perform business and commerce with each other, paying for goods without sending cheques – instant payments,
  • we can manage banking and other services via the internet,
  • we can manage the heating in our homes – and this is the tip of the iceberg with the ‘Internet of Things’,
  • we can talk to someone over Skype anywhere in the world if they have an internet connection, without incurring massive phone charges.

The list goes on and on, but let us not forget one thing – the leap in technology and the opportunities available to us in the way it allows us to live and manage our lives is amazing, and we too easily forget that and take it all for granted.

So what if a web page takes 8 seconds to load rather than 5? Can we REALLY not wait a few seconds more? Is our time so stretched that we cannot afford a few seconds (not minutes!) to wait?

The amount of money that companies spend trying to reduce page load times is phenomenal, but time spent trying to shave a few milliseconds off a page that is already sub 5 seconds may not always be money well spent. What if that money instead could be spent adding new features to the site?

Performance is very subjective – one person may think that 8 seconds is ok, another may think 5 seconds is slow! Who do we believe? The problem could be your browser or your web connection, so don’t assume that it is always the fault of the web site.

There is a balance to be struck between performance and feature enrichment – and we can all play our part in this. Let’s try something novel, and showing a little more patience. How about hanging on in there for 2 or 3 more seconds and giving sites a chance to load? What have you got to lose – oh yes, just 3 precious seconds of your life. 🙂