Monthly Archives: September 2007

links for 2007-09-25

Speed of a Site and Usability

Jared Spool and Christine Perfetti discuss a study on how web page speed impacts usability on their latest Usability Tools Podcast. Because this study conflicts with some of the research that I cited during my recent presentation to DevGroup NW on ways to speed up your site, I was anxious to listen to the podcast and review the research.

Basically, the UIE study found that speed did not have the impact on usability that everyone in the human factors field believed. This conflicts with the research cited in Andy King’s Speed Up Your Site book which found that the speed of systems had a high impact on usability.

Here is a quick summary of the findings:

  • The major finding is that the a strong correlation between perceived download time and whether users successfully completed their tasks on a site. In other words, if someone completes their task on a site successfully, they will feel the site was faster than it truly was. If they can’t succeed, they will perceive it as being slower.
  • The secondary finding was that the speed of the page had no correlation with whether or not someone would could complete their task successfully. So making a site faster doesn’t necessarily make it easier to use.
  • In the podcast, Jared described a Gesalt theory from the 40s that time is perceived as going more slowly when your in pain and more quickly when things are pleasurable. Frustrating websites have the same impact on perception. When the website is enjoyable, you perceive it to be faster.

At some point, I’d like to examine the UIE results and try to reconcile them with the other research that has been done in this area, but given the respect I have for Jared Spool’s work, I’m going to accept the UIE study as definitive.

Here are my thoughts on the study and what it means for those looking to speed up their sites:

  • Perception matters more than reality. This was one of my main points of emphasis during the presentation. During the presentation, I focused on how you can build the page to make it seem to load faster. The UIE study says that having a usable site has a big impact on speed perception so looking at the ease of use of the site should be a top priority (if it wasn’t already).
  • The study focuses on web pages, not applications. As far as I can tell from the study and the podcast, the study focused on web pages and sites, not web-based applications. I believe one of the reasons that Yahoo has spent so much time focusing on speed is because of they want people to do work—repetitive tasks—in their applications. I propose that people have less tolerance for delays in their applications than they will for web sites they visit.
  • Other studies still show speed impacting credibility and shopping cart abandonment rates I can’t believe all of the research on these topics is inaccurate. The latest was from Jupiter Research showing 4 second download thresholds for ecommerce sites.
  • The cost-savings for speeding up your site are still worth it. During the podcast, Jared acknowledged that speeding up a site can save money on bandwidth.
  • You shouldn’t have to choose between speed and usability. This is the place where I felt the conclusions of the conclusions of the study were off-base. The study says, “what we’re seeing leads us to wonder if it’s worth the resources to make web pages load like lightning.” And during the podcast, Jared gave the example of companies spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to optimize their websites for speed while ignoring core usability issues.

    Speeding up your site doesn’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars or lots of resources. That was the main point of my presentation last week. Some of the things that speed up sites the most are brain-dead simple (e.g., turn on gzip and shrink page sizes 70 to 80%). This shouldn’t be an either you spend the money optimizing the site or you send the money on usability testing question.

Those organizations that are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on speeding up their sites are probably looking in the wrong spots for the speed improvements. They are probably spending their time with expensive efforts to increase their server and database speed while ignoring the reality of Yahoo’s 80/20 Rule that the majority of the savings come from frontend design decisions.

So yes, web sites should be designed to be usable and have utility. These efforts are crucial and deserve priority. But very simple changes—mainly gzip and reducing the number of http requests—can have a huge impact on speed. There is no reason to chose between usability and speed.

links for 2007-09-23

Facebook: The First Level 2 Platform

A quick follow up to my previous post on platforms. In Marc Andreessen’s article on The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet, he writes:

  • In the Internet realm, the first Level 2 platform that I’m aware of is the Facebook platform.

Marc defines a Level 2 platform as a platform that lets “developers build new functions that can be injected, or ‘plug in’, to the core system and its user interface.”

Is Facebook really the first to do this? Does anyone have an example of a company that was doing this before Facebook?

What does it mean to build an API?

Dave Winer recently wrote a post asking the question, “Should every app be a platform?” My one word answer when bookmarking Dave’s post in my delicious account was a resounding “Yes!”

Not everyone sees the benefit of building your application as a platform. People often fear the loss of control, the idea that they may lose potential revenue or the fear of being fettered to support APIs that prevent you from making unforeseen changes.

Even if you can get agreement on the benefits of opening a platform, the definition of what it means to be a platform varies greatly. That’s why I highly encourage you to read The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet by Marc Andreessen.

Marc’s post is lengthy, but well worth the time. It gives you language to use when describing the different types of platform and an honest assessment of the challenges in building each type.

As more people move from trying to build holistic web sites hosted on a single server and move towards a vision of a web presence that combines information stored in multiple places on multiple servers, the focus on platforms will grow. We need to communicate clearly about that types of platforms we are both delivering and looking for others to deliver to us or we will likely be disappointed in the platforms we choose and disappoint those who choose to build on the platforms we develop.

links for 2007-09-22

OEN Award Winners

Silicon Florist announced Jive Software’s award at the OEN Awards based on my tweet earlier tonight. So in the interest of getting it right, here is my wine-colored recollection of the winners:

As always, the Awards Ceremony was fun, the food good, and the videos of all the finalists were inspiring. Congratulations to all of the finalists and winners.

(And I hope I remembered the winners correctly. Did I mention that the wine was good?)

Speed Matters: Presentation Files and Resources

Speed Matters: Presentation and Resources

We had an exceptional audience tonight at DevGroup NW for my presentation on how to speed up web pages. There were a lot of good questions and an engaged audience. Thank you to everyone who showed up. Here is my presentation from tonight as well as some of the resources I mentioned.

The great irony is that I used so many images in my presentation that I can’t compress the pdf files to the degree that I would like. Sorry for the large file size. If it is any consolation, you’ll likely get to fully use your broadband connection unlike when you download web pages and are limited by current connections to a fraction of your connection speed. :-)

Books on Site Performance

Articles & Resources

Measuring Site Speed

Minimizers and Compressors

Statistics & Studies

Thanks to all of the Flickr users who posted their images with Creative Commons licenses. This presentation wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting without their photographs.