The 27 best web performance links of Q1 2012

This week, I had a chance to go through the latest links added to Strangeloop’s WPO Hub, and as always, I’m impressed by the breadth and depth of the topics covered. There are a lot of smart people in our industry.

A few things I noted in the first quarter of 2012:

  • We saw a lot of jockeying for performance dominance and audience dominance among browsers, indicating that the war isn’t over yet. This is great news for all of us — from users to site owners.
  • Our understanding of issues that affect mobile performance and third-party performance — topics that most of us were ignorant of just a couple of years ago — is increasingly nuanced.
  • More and more, we’re seeing mainstream coverage of web performance, signalling that this topic has permanently entered the public spotlight. It definitely makes my job easier. :)

Mainstream coverage

For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait
Really great piece in the New York Times about Google’s research into the neuroscience behind perceived page speed. Excerpt: “Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond to a click on a Web site or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even 400 milliseconds — literally the blink of an eye — is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less.”

How One Second Could Cost Amazon $1.6 Billion in Sales
Fast Company published this piece about our (lack of) tolerance for wait times in general, and about page speed in particular. Among other things, they cite the stat that one in four people abandons a page if it takes longer than four seconds to load.

Webpages showing sharp growth in girth
This was a fun example of the trickle-up process in action. On December 20th, I predicted that the average web page would hit 1MB in 2012. On December 21st, GigaOM picked it up. On December 22nd, it showed up on BBC News. I love the internet.

Think Quarterly: The Speed Issue
Google’s “Think Quarterly” isn’t exactly a mainstream publication, though it’s pretty widely read in the tech community, but I’m including this link here because I love the broad approach — ranging from technical to philosophical — of this particular issue, which is dedicated to the idea of speed. It includes articles by Urs Hoelzle, Kristen Gil, Jeff Jarvis, and Tjaco Walvis. Definitely a must-read.

Browsers

Which Browsers are the Fastest?
Interesting study from New Relic. Key findings were that, while IE 9 outperforms other browsers on Windows, Chrome 13 on Mac was overall the fastest experience (2.4 seconds). In mobile speed tests, the fastest experience was on Blackberry Opera Mini (2.6 seconds), twice as fast as Safari 5.1 on iPad.

Internet Explorer market share surges, as IE 9 wins hearts and minds
Summary: “The browser wars are back on in earnest. For the second time in three months, Internet Explorer made large gains, picking up almost 1 point of market share. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all lost out, as Internet Explorer 9 won over new users.”

Browser Speed Tests: Chrome 17, Firefox 10, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera 11.61
As always, the latest round of Lifehacker browser speed tests generated some interesting results. Overall, Chrome was the winner, but the tests crossed a lot of parameters, and each browser had its strengths. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re new to understanding the nuances of browser performance.

Internet Explorer Performance Lab: reliably measuring browser performance
The MSDN blog offers a detailed look behind the scenes at the IE Performance Lab. Be sure to check out the comments, too.

Chrome Fast for Android
A must-read if you care about mobile web performance: Google engineer Tony Gentilcore’s top 10 Chrome for Android speed features.

Chrome 16 – World’s Most Popular Browser
Interesting observation from Google engineer Mike Belshe: In January 2012, Chrome 16 quietly became the world’s most popular browser.

Case studies and other research

Just One Second Delay In Page-Load Can Cause 7% Loss In Customer Conversions
The folks at TagMan partnered with the UK’s leading glasses e-tailor, Glasses Direct, to study page speed and conversion behavior. Their findings substantiated Aberdeen’s 2009 findings, in which slower page load times correlated with a 7% drop in conversion rate.

Real User Monitoring at Walmart.com
Cliff Crocker, Aaron Kulick, and Balaji Ram joined forces at a meeting of the SF Web Performance Meetup to tell a RUM (real user monitoring) story through the lens of three job functions at Walmart.com: the performance data analyst, the developer, and the business analyst. Some excellent slides demonstrating the business value of performance. (I featured my four favourite slides in this post.)

The Performance Golden Rule
Excellent post from Steve Souders. He revisits his six-year-old stat about where end-user response time happens and confirms that 76-92% still happens at the front end. I really love this kind of post. In our industry, it’s crucial to keep revisiting these kinds of numbers and testing our assumptions.

The Need for Speed
Great case study for web performance geeks: How Chemeo delivers “pure bounce with pure value”.

No framework needed
Nice case study from 37signals about how they shaved 500ms from a page and got a 5% conversion bump.

January 2012 Site Performance Report
It’s great to trumpet success stories, but we learn as much by talking about what’s not working as by talking about what is.  This report card — in which the team at Wayfair shares how they suffered page slowdowns of up to 370% —  is a good reminder that optimization is a neverending task.

When good back-ends go bad
In this post for the annual Performance Advent Calendar, Pat Meenan talks about the fact that, while the back end is only responsible for 10-20% of response time, when it goes wrong, it can really go wrong. Among other things, Pat shares his findings that “It is not uncommon to see 8-20s back-end times from virtually all of the different CMS systems.” Ouch.

Mobile

M-commerce site performance hampered by Verizon
Not exactly news, but still a good reminder from Internet Retailer that you’re at the mercy of networks when it comes to mobile performance: “The load times for virtually all of the 30 retailers on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending Feb. 12 were negatively affected by a dip in performance on the Verizon wireless network.”

Mobile UI performance considerations
More goodness from the Performance Advent Calendar. If you’re just starting out with mobile web performance and don’t know where to begin, this post by Estelle Weyl is a good place to start. You should also check out her session slides from Velocity EU.

Tips and how-tos

Web Font Performance: Weighing @font-face Options and Alternatives
Nice collection of tips for making sure your web fonts aren’t slowing down your pages.

Timing the Web
Still more Advent Calendar goodness. dynaTrace technology strategist Alois Reitbauer explains how to use navigation timing to measure page load time.

Third parties

3rd Party Providers and DNS Poisoning Risks
Here’s a topic that doesn’t get talked about enough, via the Catchpoint blog: “DNS cache poisoning refers to data breach, whereby new DNS records are introduced in the DNS Cache of a resolver or computer and divert traffic to a different IP address. The cache poisoning can be caused by hackers trying to divert traffic to a phishing/malware sites or it could be a configuration mistake. In either case the end result is not good for end users – they will end up accessing the wrong site or not access your site at all.”

Are External Services Slowing You Down? New Relic Infographic Reveals the Fastest and Most Popular External APIs
More research (with infographics) from New Relic, this time showing the four fastest 3rd-party APIs among the 200,000+ applications the company monitors.

Tools

Welcome YSlow Open Source
Yahoo has released the source code for YSlow under the BSD Open Source license. They’re encouraging devs to “use the source code, learn how it works, fork it to make your own projects and enhance it with new rules, features, and whatever will improve this tool we all love.”

Google: SPDY Gaining Adoption
Article in Web Pro News about the fact that SPDY is gaining support among browsers, developers, and vendors: “Recently, Firefox has added SPDY support, which means that soon half of the browsers in use will support SPDY. On the server front, nginx has announced plans to implement SPDY, and we’re actively working on a full featuredmod-spdy for Apache. In addition, Strangeloop, Amazon, and Cotendo have all announced that they’ve been using SPDY.”

Introducing mod_spdy, a SPDY module for the Apache HTTP server
Google engineers Matthew Steele and Bryan McQuade break down how Google’s mod_spdy for Apache works.

The Biggest Misconception about Google Page Speed
Really interesting findings from Catchpoint: “There is no correlation between Page Speed Score and how fast a page loads.” This corroborates our own findings here at Strangeloop. A while back, I was talking about this with Pat Meenan, and a probable reason for the drop is because the newest version of Page Speed checks for more optimizations, which has resulted in lower scores across the board. It’s also important to know that Page Speed doesn’t take into account advanced front-end content optimization techniques — nor could it, because there are way too many of them to track and measure. As a for-instance, we’ve had experiences here at Strangeloop where we’ve taken a page with a perfect Page Speed score, accelerated it with Site Optimizer, cut load time in half, and ended up with a new Page Speed score of 74%.

And finally, a shameless plug for Strangeloop’s annual performance state of the union, which came out in January. We tested the top 2,000 Alexa-ranked retail sites and analyzed the results against our findings from the previous year. Among other things, we found that the average e-commerce website takes 10 seconds to load, web pages are getting bigger, and Internet Explorer 9 outperforms other browsers.

If you have any other links to share, let me know in the comments. And if you’re looking for more great links, we have hundreds — sorted by topic, industry, and type — over in the Strangeloop WPO Hub.

Related links: