The 33 best web performance links of Q2 2012

For some reason, I thought that the past few months had been kind of quiet on the research front, so when I started this post, I thought it would be one of my shortest roundups yet. I was pleasantly surprised to watch it grow to become one of the longest!

There are some great case studies here, of both large and small sites, which I love to see. There’s also some truly excellent debate about responsive design and the mobile web, sparked by a post from Jakob Nielsen last spring, as well as some good stuff about the browser wars and third-party content. So enough with the intro. Let’s get into it.

Case studies

Optimizing Retr-O-Mat’s Web Performance

A casual performance optimizer details her efforts to get Retr-O-Mat’s average load times under 2 seconds. Good information for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of front-end optimization (FEO).

Web performance can be beautiful too

After performing poorly in a 2011 web performance comparison of leading retailers, Crate and Barrel made WPO a priority moving forward. This blog post from Catchpoint shows just how “beautiful” their performance has been in 2012.

How the Post is improving site performance

Responding to a flood of user frustrations with their website, the IT team at the Washington Post rolled out a number of performance upgrades to their site over the past year. Find out what they did to improve their page speed by 32.4%.

Tips and how-tos

Building a faster web: Tools, tips, and lessons

If “faster connectivity and more bandwidth won’t save us,” then what will? Google’s Ilya Grigorik shares his insight on making the web faster in this in-depth slide deck, and he draws some very interesting conclusions.

How to Make Progress Bars Feel Faster to Users

The human perception of time is anything but linear, and with just minor visual tricks, it gets even more skewed. After reading this post, you may never trust a progress bar again. :)

The 3 white lies behind Instagram’s lightning speed

More cool perceptual tricks. The “secret sauce” behind Instagram’s stellar user experience is rooted in a combination of coding tricks aimed at giving users a feeling of constant responsiveness. Find out how their site “always pretends to work.”

Mobile

The web only works thanks to reload (and why the mobile web fails)

As Mike Belshe points out, web page resources routinely fail, but thanks to the ever-handy reload/refresh button, we can often solve these problems ourselves. With mobile browsing, however, the rules are different. Find out what this means for the future of HTML 5.

Web first for mobile

Performance evangelist Steve Souders focuses his performance research strictly on the mobile web – not on native apps. Why? He’s got more than a few good reasons.

A taste test of mobile website development

A solid webcast on the complex world of mobile development, touching on topics including Responsive Web Design (RWD), server-side device detection, and HTML5 performance on mobile.

Jakob Nielsen on mobile sites vs. full sites

Jakob Nielsen believes that mobile and full sites should be entirely different entities. Summarizing his argument, he states that “good mobile user experience requires a different design than what’s needed to satisfy desktop users. Two designs, two sites, and cross-linking to make it all work.”

Is Nielsen wrong on mobile? Arguments abound

From Net magazine: Jakob Nielsen’s assertion that “good mobile user experience requires a different design” is being challenged by a noted mobile expert, who argues that rather than stripping down for mobile, companies should be doing more.

Why we shouldn’t make separate mobile websites

More counterpoint to Nielsen’s post. Smashing Magazine’s Bruce Lawson argues that mobile redirection is unreliable, and excluding features for mobile browsers “perpetuates the digital divide.”

Responsive web design: Missing the point

Still more Nielsen backlash: Brad Frost states that, though mobile browsers are getting better at rendering full websites, creating adaptive sites for mobile users is essential to improving the user experience.

HTML5 features increase mobile usage by 28%

Interesting piece explaining how static pages needing an upgrade can vastly improve mobile user engagement through the addition of HTML5. The new release features interactive galleries, overlays, and expandable/collapsible boxes, driving up pageviews and decreasing bounce rates.

Tools

More ways to measure web performance with User Timings

Google Analytics has expanded its collection of Site Speed reports with a new feature called User Timings. The feature enables tracking of specific load times for discrete hits, images, and other user interactions.

New mod_spdy release supports Apache servers

More from Google. The latest version of mod_spdy – an Apache module that adds SPDY server support – is intended to fix bugs found in the original release.

“Speed Index” introduced as new performance metric

The Speed Index metric has been added to WebPagetest, helping measure the speed at which page contents are visually populated. The tool is especially useful for comparing page experience before and after optimization.

Browsers

Browser Speed Tests: Chrome 19, Firefox 13, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera 12

Lifehacker conducts it’s semi-regular browser speed tests, pitting the four titans of desktop browsing against each other in races for startup speed, tab loading times, and other performance indicators.

Which Browsers are the Fastest?

An interesting companion read to the Lifehacker piece, New Relic’s “Speed Wars” study shows that, while IE 9 speeds past other browsers on Windows, Chrome 13 on Mac was overall the fastest experience. In mobile speed tests, the fastest experience was delivered by Blackberry Opera Mini at 2.6 seconds, twice as fast as Safari 5.1 on iPad.

How the Chrome Predictor hides latency from users

Ilya Grigorik demonstrates how Google Chrome hides latency from users. Interesting stuff here.

Internet Explorer market share surges, as IE 9 wins hearts and minds

From Ars Tecnica: “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.”

CDNs

A one-size-fits-all CDN solution isn’t always best

Server configurations come in all shapes and sizes, which means a one-size-fits-all CDN is seldom effective. Find out which Level 3 customer was the beneficiary of a custom CDN solution and how it worked out.

Third-party content

10 Golden Rules for 3rd Party Providers

Murphy’s Law reigned supreme throughout June, with a flood of large-scale outages taking down some of the world’s most popular websites. Given the inevitability of online failures, third-party providers must be prepared to deal with the worst. The folks at Catchpoint outline the 10 Golden Rules by which all third-party providers should live by.

The vendor who flunked the web performance test

Are third-party vendors ignorant to the consequences of slow web performance? According to Catchpoint they are, as they detail a story of one such vendor who was completely unaware of the performance impact of their product.

Average UK website has 14 trackers per page

Interesting findings from TRUSTe: Despite the prevalence of privacy policies, over two-thirds of trackers on UK websites originate from third-party companies, and almost half embed themselves permanently.

Google releases +1 button preview – loads 20% faster

Google announced that they’ve improved performance of the +1 button and Google+ badge. By reducing the size of the js/plusone.js loader and making the code smarter, page elements now load 20% faster.

Third-party JavaScript should be loaded asynchronously

Old news to some, but still worth mentioning: Third-party JavaScript should be loaded asynchronously, as it helps avoid slowdowns and can speed up page loads.

Third-party front-end performance, Act 1

Application provider Bazaarvoice is delving into the realm of front-end performance, and provides an interesting third-party perspective.

Opinions and analysis

Performance Nightmare: Nasdaq & the Facebook IPO

When Facebook began trading on May 18, 2012, a series of performance failures on Nasdaq.com caused a huge headache for the company. This article from Intechnica asks how much these badly timed hiccups cost investors.

More, better, faster: Steve Souders on WPO

Steve Souders kicked off O’Reilly’s Velocity video podcast series with an in-depth discussion of the state of web performance optimization. Key topics included measuring slowness, performance monitoring tools, and whether mobile disrupts performance.

Other research

How complex systems fail

As a complex and interdependent system, the web is prone to catastrophe at the highest levels. In this fascinating paper on resilience engineering, presented at Velocity 2012, Dr. Richard Cook outlines the reasons why all complex systems are intrinsically hazardous, why disaster is always just around the corner, and how failure-free operations still require experience with failure.

The growing epidemic of page bloat

I don’t usually pimp my own writing here, but this information is too important not to share. I wrote a piece for GigaOM showing that the average page size is now over 1MB, according to the HTTP Archive. At current growth rates, the average page could hit 2MB by 2015, which is a really big deal, especially for mobile users.

How fast are websites around the world?

Some fascinating findings here. Google’s Site Speed Reports provides detailed latency data for page load times by separating data according to device, location, and industry.

These links were all sourced from Strangeloop’s Web Performance Hub, which contains hundreds (and by now, possibly even thousands) of industry-wide links, organized by topic, source, research type, and industry. It’s a pretty good resource, if I do say so. If you have any new links to recommend, let me know.

http://t.co/EHbRdT6r
10 Golden Rules for 3rd Party Providers [article]
Catchpoint – June 26, 2012
Summary: Murphy’s Law reigned supreme throughout June, with a flood of large-scale outages taking down some of the world’s most popular websites. Given the inevitability of online failures, third-party providers must be prepared to deal with the worst. Find out the 10 Golden Rules by which all third-party providers should operate by.
http://t.co/LGYUpGn1
End-to-end optimization: Taking content delivery to the next level [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June 27, 2012
Summary: Strangeloop Networks is thrilled to announce the launch of our latest product, Network Accelerator. Learn all about how this product works, what it does – and most importantly – why it’s a major step forward for content delivery networks.
http://t.co/T4z69s7k
How complex systems fail [research paper]
CTALab.org – June 26, 2012
Summary: As a complex and interdependent system, the web is prone to failure and catastrophe at the highest levels. In this fascinating paper on resilience engineering, Dr. Richard Cook outlines the reasons why all complex systems are intrinsically hazardous, why catastrophe is always just around the corner, and how failure-free operations require experience with failure.
http://bit.ly/LzGPqN
Mobile optimization starts with mindset: Hooman Beheshti interviewed at Velocity 2012
O’Reilly Media – June 25, 2012
Summary: Where are we in the mobile optimization life-cycle? What mindset should site owners adopt when boosting mobile performance? Are performance measurements improving? In this video, Strangeloop Technology VP Hooman Beheshti offers his unique insight on the current state of mobile.
http://t.co/Vnced8tq
The 90-Minute Mobile Optimization Life Cycle [slides]
Strangeloop Networks – June 25, 2012
Summary: Strangeloop Technology VP Hooman Beheshti wowed attendees at this year’s Velocity Conference with a presentation on the mobile optimization life cycle. For those who missed it, be sure to check to check out these fascinating slides.
http://bit.ly/Nu1gCi
Ghosts of Velocities Past: 9 presentations that are still relevant today [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June 20, 2012
Summary: Velocity’s short (yet incredibly important) history is filled with memorable moments, and these 9 presentations from past conferences remain relevant today. Perhaps not trendsetting anymore, but certainly trend affirming, which may just be better.
http://bit.ly/MFuxMR
My recent post on SEOMoz: 13 Questions (and Answers) About Google, Site Speed, and SEO [article]
SEOmoz – June 18, 2012
Summary: In this article, Strangeloop president Joshua Bixby breaks down how site speed and performance metrics affect Google page ranks. For anyone who has ever wondered how Google manages to make performance metrics affect SEO, this article is a must-read.
http://mz.cm/M24fGc
Introducing: New Browser Tax feature for our ecommerce customers [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June 14, 2012
Summary: Ever wish you could arbitrarily tax your customer base for failing to stay current, with zero repercussions? With the new Strangeloop Browser tax, your wish is now a reality!
http://bit.ly/NC5Q65
Optimizing Retr-O-Mat’s Web Performance [blog post]
Finding Marbles – June 9, 2012
Summary: For the “WPO guy’s wife,” average load times just aren’t good enough. In this post, a blogger and casual performance optimizer details her efforts to get Retr-O-Mat’s average load times under 2 seconds. Great information for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of WPO.
http://t.co/k0lXkniG
Browser Speed Tests: Chrome 19, Firefox 13, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera 12 [article]
Lifehacker – June 12, 2012
Summary: It’s a battle of startup times, tab loading times and other KPIs between the four titans of Windows browsing. Lifehacker’s speed tests are always entertaining for what they’re not afraid to say, and this article is no exception.
http://bit.ly/Nb2ibS
Marrying CDNs with front-end optimization for maximum acceleration [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June 12, 2012
Summary: Front-end optimization (FEO) has been weaving its way further into content delivery networks (CDNs) over the past two years, and the dynamic between these two technologies continues to evolve. In this video presentation, Strangeloop’s Joshua Bixby breaks down the benefits of combining these performance solutions.
http://bit.ly/L3aatz
How the Chrome Predictor hides latency from users [article]
Igvita.com – June 4, 2012
Summary: Google Chrome features countless tools for supercharging load times, but when those aren’t enough, the browser can hide latency from users. Find out how!
http://bit.ly/Nw6ZMh
Building a faster web: tools, tips, and lessons [slides]
Igvita.com – June 3, 2012
Summary: If “faster connectivity and more bandwidth won’t save us,” then what will? Google’s Ilya Grigorik shares his insight on making the web faster in this in-depth slide deck, and draws some very interesting conclusions.
http://bit.ly/L0eERH
The “performance poverty line”: What is it and why does it matter? [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June , 2012
Summary: The “performance poverty line” is the point at which business metrics have sunk so low, load times cease to matter. But how is this line measured? Does it differ between industries? And most importantly: is there hope?
http://bit.ly/NJAqs2
A one-size-fits-all CDN solution isn’t always best [article]
Level 3 – June , 2012
Summary: Server configurations come in all shapes and sizes, which means a one-size-fits-all CDN is seldom effective. Find out which Level 3 customer was the beneficiary of a custom CDN solution.
http://bit.ly/M9P5xt
Why the Facebook outage is (yet another) wakeup call for site owners [blog post]
Web Performance Today – June , 2012
Summary: The hazards of running third-party scripts are well documented, but the May 31st Facebook outage was another stern reminder. In this post, Strangeloop’s Joshua Bixby discusses all things third-party, including rogue content and common performance pitfalls caused by third-party content.
http://bit.ly/JQj7GX
The web only works thanks to reload (and why the mobile web fails) [article]
Belshe.com – June , 2012
Summary: Web page resources routinely fail, but thanks to the ever-handy reload/refresh button, we can often solve these problems ourselves. With mobile browsing, however, the rules are different. Find out what this means for the future of HTML 5.
http://bit.ly/NAAQ3O
How to Make Progress Bars Feel Faster to Users
UXMovement – June , 2012
Summary: The human perception of time is anything but linear, and with just minor visual tricks, it gets even more skewed. After reading this post, you’ll never trust a progress bar again!
http://bit.ly/NcsVfg
Does the average web user waste two days a year waiting for pages to load? [blog post]
Strangeloop Networks – June , 2012
Summary: It may not be true, but in web performance, perception is reality. Web users in the UK are less than pleased about their online experience, but just how cranky are they?
http://bit.ly/LSFIlv

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4 thoughts on “The 33 best web performance links of Q2 2012

  1. Wow. This is a really excellent collection of articles. I love seeing the pros & cons of RWD vs. targeted experiences for mobile (various techniques) stacking up on both sides. Obviously a lot of exploration going on.

    My one reservation is the site “speed index” — I’m not a fan of value systems that obscure actual metrics. I get that this makes it easier to explain what’s going on in a complex system, but it is risky to rely on them when the system is always changing. How can we fix what we don’t really understand?

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