Why the internet is getting fat…
The internet is getting heavier. We’re talking about the size or “weight” of webpages compared to download speed. Recently we compared the download speed of 1100 websites in 2007 to 2011. Two seconds is widely considered the threshold from where people start to feel impatient when a page is loading. We found a significant drop in perceptions of load speed between the two dates of around 20%. It seems more and more websites are now crossing this two second threshold. Given that we have not observed a slowing down of connection speed, this means the internet is actually getting fatter. As with all things, heaviness leads to slowness.
So why is the internet getting fat? Is it getting lazy? Or is it just eating more than it used to. We believe it is the latter; pages are getting stuffed with more goodies than five years ago, and this is creating the sluggishness.
Eight years ago, at the forefront of most web designers’ concerns was page leanness. Back then, a significant proportion of the population had dial-up, spawning the ubiquitous phrase of the day “WWW – The World Wide Wait”. Slow connection speeds lead to a trade-off for designers—liberal use of graphics and code, or fast loading pages. A sure sign of quality work then (and even now) was efficient well organized code. Correctly, most web designers became obsessed with maximizing download speed and efficiency by making pages lean. Pretty graphics and useful but not so critical widgets took a back seat.
Five years ago, many more people had broadband internet speeds, so web designers could afford to pack a few more goodies into their webpages than they did before. But old habits die hard, and web designers were still obsessed with leanness when it came to design, largely in an effort to make pages still accessible for the increasing minority who still had slow internet speeds.
Fast forward to now, and we are seeing web designers loosening up as concerns over the slow speed minority wane. This means web designers now have more freedom to pack more features into a single webpage than ever before. However, as our data show, it seems web designers may now be pushing it too far. Consumers have noticed more sluggishness in website loading speeds across the board since five years ago, despite fast connection speeds. Web pages have gotten heavier to the point where they have overtaken the buffer we once had between webpage size and load speed. The critical two-second load threshold is being crossed too many times.
The reason for this weight increase could either web designers easing up on their principles of leanness, or increased pressure from clients to pack more features into a page, despite mumbled protests from the designers. Perhaps we will see resurgence in the old saying, though with a twist: “WWW – The World Wide Weight”