Need for speed

What a cool tool Firebug is.    It lets you get under the covers of web pages, to see what is going on.  One feature is the ability to measure the page size and that of individual components on the page.  This blog post comes in at 294kb.  If I think back to the early days, that number would make me shiver.  In the days of 56k dial up a page that size could take more than a minute to download.  Things are different now.  In the UK Broadband penetration is now greater than 72% (source [xls]) and the page appears almost instantaneously.

So do we still need to optimise our pages for size and speed of download?  Having run hundreds of usability sessions, the key gripe of the web used to be speed – slow download times could effectively kill a proposition. But that’s not such an issue with a fat connection.  Not unless it’s a hollywood movie you are downloading…

But what about the remaining 30% who still use dial-up – that is not an insignificant minority to exclude.  I assume that people who read this blog are more likely to be using a fast connection, so I don’t feel I am excluding anyone there.  But as large pages become acceptable, with rich content and streaming media, should we spare a thought for the dwindling dial-uppers?


  1. Sam Smoot · Tuesday, 24 April, 2007

    I definitely think speed matters. I probably come off as a bit of a performance nazi sometimes, it’s just surprising what we choose to cherry-pick as developers. 🙂

    “Ruby gives me x*2 productivity! It’s an obvious choice!”

    “The perception of usability by users is influenced by performance, some loosing interest after 0.5 seconds? Who cares?”

    I guess I just want it all.

  2. Simon Stewart · Tuesday, 24 April, 2007

    One of the key advantages of a desktop blog aggregator is that it helps solve these problems. Firstly you’re only downloading the articles, not the pages around them, and secondly they can hit a large number of sites while you’re busy reading the first (effectively pre-caching the next set of articles)

    Of course, there’s an argument to be made that says that people who still have dial-up may not be the sort of people who have even heard of “desktop blog aggregators”….

  3. Carlos Villela · Tuesday, 24 April, 2007

    I remember spending a good chunk of the night grabbing 300k software for my 8086 when I was a kid.

    Still, if your target market is the UK, broadband penetration is the least of your worries, as would show:

    That’s the latest ADSL availability map for BT. And that’s BT only – there are plenty of other providers.

    Given that the current size of a few and pages I’ve just visited hovers around 180-300k, I wouldn’t be too worried. It’s also important to remember that the lag on those dial-up connections is SIGNIFICANTLY higher (mine used to be around 300-400ms when I was living not far away from the ISP, on a 56k modem). I’m not sure how to measure that in terms of actual perceived speed, but it certainly affected my Quake 2 fragging back in the day.

  4. stevef · Wednesday, 25 April, 2007

    how did you get this blog post to be 294kb?
    My firebug says 91kb.
    Or do you mean your main page with the last 10/15 blog posts.

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