Sunday, January 5, 2003

How Many People Die While Your Site Loads?

I'm beginning to suspect that the fight against fat websites needs a mascot – a Smokey the Bear for web download times. I'm sure everyone reading this can sympathize with the pain of waiting...and waiting some more...for a website to download. Everyday, regardless of connection speed, we all wait for some websites to perform this most basic opperation.

But maybe a mascot isn't enough to convince the world's web developers to slim down their websites (though the idea of t-shirts emblazoned with an over-stuffed modem character crying "Only you can prevent fat websites" pleases me tremendously). Maybe we need to translate our download annoyance into something a little more quantifiable.

I recently had the opportunity to speak as a guest lecturer to a class at the Creative Circus, an Atlanta design school. I spoke to a web design class and, among other issues, I tried to stress the importance of slim web pages and optimized graphics.

Good web developers know how to build slim sites: Optimize, optimize, optimize. A website’s download speed can make or break it. Most graphics applications – Photoshop, ImageReady, Fireworks, GifBuilder – can optimize images down to an acceptable Web-ready level. And most web authoring programs, such as Dreamweaver, can trim the code of excess tags (though GoLive and most Microsoft editors are notorious for leaving excess or poorly written tags to clutter up the code).

There is no excuse for 50KB images and pages of extraneous HTML tags on your website. A lot of visitors will leave a site before the download is complete if the download takes too long (and don’t just consider download time on a T1 or DSL...think dial-up). Not convinced? Let this light a fire under you...

In 1999, John Shiple and Yong Yi developed the Death-to-Download Ratio (the D2D Ratio) in an article for Webmonkey. The D2D ratio is a function of the world's population, the global mortality rate, and the average time it takes for a given web page to download (including any task or process, such as registering for a site, buying products online, reading free email, etc.). The US Census Bureau defines the global-deaths-per-second (GDPS) rate, as of 1999, at around 1.7 deaths-per-second.

Some of the worst offenders* (sampled from Webmonkey and based on a 33.6-Kbps dial-up connection speed) are: - 38 deaths - 39 deaths - 45 deaths
*Results will vary based on connections speed
Certainly this a humorous (and slightly disturbing) way to consider the problem of download times and, while still a combination of connection speed and files size, there is only so much a web developer can do to remedy the problem.

Consider the D2D ratio next time you're waiting 5 minutes for to process your ticket order or for hotmail to do anything. The Death-to-Download ratio probably wouldn't work as well on a t-shirt as an over-stuffed modem character, but it does get the point across in a way we can all understand. fb

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