Earth, from deep space
Web and speed: II

Web and speed

I noticed the other day the two postings on TypePad Hacks about speeding up the rate at which your web page loads: TypePad Hacks: Keep Readers Happy With a Fast-Loading Blog, Part One and TypePad Hacks: Keep Readers Happy With a Fast-Loading Blog, Part Two. I'm not bothered by this as far as this weblog goes (I think it loads OK, though now I've mentioned it I'll probably find out that it loads incredibly slowly), and not being great as a practitioner of the dark arts of CSS coding, TypePad advanced templates, etc some of this passes me by, anyway. What did intrigue me, however, was this (from Part One):

If you have a two column blog with the sidebar on the left, consider changing your layout so that the sidebar is on the right. That way, your posts load first and your widgets can load at their leasure while visitors read your posts. If you have a three column blog, then try moving the slower widgets into the right-most column.

Now it's been mentioned, it's kind of obvious, I guess, that something must be telling the browser in which direction to read/load the blog, but it hadn't occurred to me before to think about this and I'm left wondering how universal the left/down-to-right directionality is — in weblog/webpage design generally, but also across cultures. (It's explained more fully in this quotation from A VC, cited by TypePad Hacks, about Fred Wilson's blog: 'The way things are coded in this blog layout, content is read [by the browser] first down, then to the right. This means, the browser needs to load all the widgets on the left, then your content, then the widgets on the right'.)

Then, today, I read this on Greg Linden's blog, Geeking with Greg:

Google VP Marissa Mayer just spoke at the Web 2.0 Conference and offered tidbits on what Google has learned about speed, the user experience, and user satisfaction. … Marissa ran an experiment where Google increased the number of search results to thirty. Traffic and revenue from Google searchers in the experimental group dropped by 20%. … The page with 10 results took .4 seconds to generate. The page with 30 results took .9 seconds. Half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Half a second delay killed user satisfaction.

This conclusion may be surprising -- people notice a half second delay? -- but we had a similar experience at In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.

Back in January the BBC reported some research carried in Nature:

Internet users make up their minds about the quality of a website in the blink of an eye, a study shows. Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage. … The Canadian team showed volunteers glimpses of websites, lasting for only 50 milliseconds. The volunteers then had to rate the websites in terms of their aesthetic appeal. The researchers found that the speedily formed conclusions closely tallied with opinions of the websites that had been made after much longer periods of examination.

The researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the "halo effect". If people believe a website looks good, then this positive quality will spread to other areas, such as the website's content. Since people like to be right, they will continue to use the website that made a good first impression, as this will further confirm that their initial decision was a good one.

As websites increasingly jostle for business, Dr Lindgaard added that companies should take note. "Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors," she warned.

The web — where sometimes almost every millisecond counts, it seems.