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Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Oct 21

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009  RssIcon

Skinny and Bloated websites in IrelandA pet peeve of mine is bloated websites: site with pages that are so stuffed with images and widgets that they take too long to download, even on broadband. Over our 10 years of operations CLUAS .com has continually tried to keep things lean and mean when it comes to page size (indeed CLUAS, as far as I am aware, remains Ireland's lightest – and hence fastest – music website).

Back in 2008 I had a good old rant about bloated Irish websites (specifically about Music and Technology blogs). Another indulgent rant is long overdue, this time I've fixed my attention on the winners at the recent 2009 Irish Web Awards. Are the best Irish websites of 2009 a lean and mean bunch, or are they a morbidly obese bunch? Read on...

The table below presents the results of an analysis of all 21 sites that won an award at the Irish web awards in terms their page size as reflected in:

  • the total size of their home page, and
  • the total number of files that need to be downloaded (also know as number of "HTTP requests") to create the page.

The 3 colour-coded categories in the table correspond as follows:

  • "The Skinny": ("Optimal balance of page size and http requests")
  • The Bloated: ("Just too much going on in terms of page size and http requests")
  • "The Bonkers": ("Inexcusably massive number of HTTP requests coupled with an utterly obese page size")

The Irish Web Award 2009 winners, categorised by payload

Site Winner of Irish web award for… Number of HTTP requests Total size of page (KB)
The Persuaders Best Podcaster 9 123 KB
Kildare Street Best New Web App/Service 11 148 KB
RTE Sport Best Sports Site 34 167 KB
CLUAS.com (did not win, just shortlisted) 30 168 KB
Silicon Republic Best Technology Site 44 217 KB
Count Me Out Best Social Media Campaign 32 240 KB
Curious Wines Best eCommerce site 45 266 KB
Talk Irish Best Education site 40 271 KB
RTE Most Useful Website 61 295 KB
Entertainment.ie Best Entertainment Website 91 350 KB
Look and taste Best Videocaster 35 432 KB
Boards.ie Best Discussion forum 23 468 KB
Cars Ireland Best Practice 100 540 KB
Decisions for Heroes Most Innovative Website 68 708 KB
Nos Mag An Suíomh Gaeilge is Fear 64 729 KB
Rose Project Most Accessible Website 44 792 KB
Phantom FM Best Radio Website 145 560 KB
IDA Ireland Best Govt. & Council site 175 655 KB
Irish Times Best Online Publication 151 832 KB
Organic supermarket Most Beautiful Website 71 1376 KB
Nialler9 Best Music Site 100 1387 KB
Dance Ireland Best Arts Website 62 2053 KB

Note: The data above is based on visits to these sites on 14 Oct 2009, page size of any site may have changed since then.

 

Seeing a whole load of data listed in a table is one thing. Presenting it in a chart is another, and can often make it easier to understand what is going on across a diverse set of data. So I plotted the results of each individual website on a chart in an effort to extract some more immediate and meaningful results from this analysis. The chart (see it below, where each dot represents one of the websites) has the number of HTTP request along the X-axis, the total size of the home page on the Y-axis. The general trend of the plotted data (that'll be the blue line rising gently upwards, my Leaving Cert Physics teacher would be proud of me) confirms what you'd expect, i.e. that the greater the number of HTTP requests a web page makes, the larger the size of that web page. However it's also easy to pick out from the chart which sites are skinny (hello to the sites that managed to squeeze into the box way down there in the most bottom left part of the graph) and which are bloated. And then there are those outlying sites which are just just barking when it comes to page size and number of HTTP requests...

Graph of Irish websites, page size versu HTTP requests

Pity your poor browser - and internet connection – if you hit one of these 'bonkers' sites. For these 6 sites we're talking an average payload of 1.17 megabytes of data to be downloaded via an average of 104 HTTP requests!? Take the worst offender in terms of page size – danceireland.ie. Their home page is made up of 2MB of data (I repeat: 2 megabytes) to be downloaded. If you're on an iPhone and visit their home page, this single page will consume 7% of the daily bandwidth your phone company has allocated you (based on the monthly limit of 1GB of data afforded by O2 to iPhone customers in Ireland). One single solitary web page consuming 7% of your daily download allowance? Truly. Madly. Deeply. Bonkers.

The 8 'bloated' award winners? They are only somewhat better than their bonkers brethren. Between them they impose an average payload on visitors of 455 KB of files to be downloaded via an average of 70 HTTP requests.

But it's hats off to the 6 'skinny' sites (that'll be 5 of the 2009 Irish Web Award winners plus gatecrasher CLUAS.com) who all manage to keep their page size to less than 300kb while keeping the number of HTTP requests to less than 50. Between them they average a modest 265 KB of files to be downloaded per page via an average of 31 HTTP requests. Needless to say, thanks to our ongoing dietary efforts, CLUAS is among these 8 skinny sites, and our page size of 168KB means we clock in as the 4th lightest of the 22 sites.

Two concluding pleas:

  • Plea 1: Could all webmasters run their websites through one of the many free online tools that check the overall size of a page (I recommend the one offered by the WebsiteOptimization.com guys). If comes out at over 500KB get pruning. Remove some heavy images or chunky widgets on your page to get it down to a reasonable size.

  • Plea 2: Both the size of a webpage - and the number of HTTP requests the page makes - should be standard judging criteria in any web awards. Placing a carrot like that in front of any website owner who aspires to being recognised by his/her peers with an award for their site is one way to help focus minds on this often overlooked but important aspect of user experience, whether the user be connected via broadband or dialup. (...Of course it never crossed my mind that if super light CLUAS.com were ever to be up for consideration of an award with such an additional judging criteria, that our chances might get a bit of a lift...).

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12 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Brilliant post Eoghan - was just trying to work out if our homepage was getting too big to download - glad to say we are about middle of your list! Thanks for the analysis.

By DP on   Thursday, October 29, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Welcome to the age of broadband! Obviously the experience won't be perfect for someone on a slow connection but, for almost everyone, it'll be just fine. As the developer of the Organic Supermarket site, yes I am somewhat biased. I'm also aware that Flash widgets, font replacement techniques, etc. can 'bloat' a site. For the Organic Supermarket, for example, emphasis was placed on the brand and 'look' - and the designer made this very clear before we started development.

As for your iPhone issue. Personally I've never even come close to reaching my monthly download allocation... and I use it on-the-go all the time! Also, we don't have Flash to contend with.

I don't really understand the point of this post to be honest. Unless you're living on an island off the West Coast on dial-up and Flash and widgets are genuinely ruining your online experience, then it's hard to fathom why bloat is one of your 'pet peeves'.

By Ken on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Ken, the truth of the matter is that in Ireland the experience will NOT be "just fine" for "almost everyone". Only last month the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society in Harvard University published results of a surveyed on Internet connectivity in 30 OECD countries. Of the 30 OECD countries Ireland came 27th out of 30. Poland, Turkey and Mexico were behind us. Among those who scored better than us were the Czech and Slovak republics. See the full report here (the table on p58 is instructive)

While many power users of the web - bloggers, those working in IT, rabid tweeters - are used to their access to broadband, there are way too Irish people not so lucky, certainly compared to much of the OECD. Only when we are appearing in the top 10 of such tables will there be a reason for me to drop this from my (pedantic!) list of 'pet peeves'.

By eoghan on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Speaking in relative terms, rather than comparing ourselves to other countries or using surveys, how many people in the country do you think will have difficulty with any of the sites above?

By Ken on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Ken, I think we talking we're talking hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland who will have problems visiting the bloated or 'bonkers' sites. Obviously there are the 80% of the population that simply do not have broadband. Now among those 80% you will have people who have access to internet but via a 56k dialup modem (...they are still out there, especially in rural Ireland...) or a mid-band package (or what is misleadingly marketed as "Mobile Broadband" - misleading as the average throughput to all users connected to a mast is about 1/5th to 1/20th of the peak speed, and it is the peak mast speed that is used in marketing blurbs for mobile "broad" band).

At the end of the day, when websites are being designed they should take into account those who are not on broadband (i.e. who are on mid-band or less). It is not a coincidence that the home pages of leading global sites such as google and bing are slim.

All the same I appreciate that a designer who places an emphasis on brand and 'look' can be a headache for a developer as it can steer you towards a heavier overall file size. In such a case I'd see it as an opportunity to educate the designer about the impact of translating their super slick vision into reality (in the case of Organic Supermarket this resulted in a rather bloated 1.3MB home page). My guess is that an fair minded designer would be open to toning down the super slick vision, while maintaining key elements of branding, all in order to have a snappier website and more positive user expeirence. Would you agree?

By eoghan on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

I can't say I do agree, no. While Organic Supermarket certainly contains the most 'bloat' of any site I've ever coded, the resultant return has been well worth it. Aside from the jerky FLIR implementation, I'm pretty happy with how it's worked out all in all. For those on slow connections, the site will degrade gracefully should they choose to disable Flash, JavaScript, etc. I'm assuming that those of us who build 'bloated' sites follow best practice for the most part so and that those unfortunate folk who are still stuck on dial-up or painfully slow connections are aware of how to make the most of their online experience.

The alternative, I suppose, is to go back the stone age. Every site is text-based, no enhancement, no rich media, use Lynx as your default testing client, etc, etc. Okay, so I'm being facetious but my point is - who decides what's too much bloat and what isn't? How much is too much client side script? How much Flash is too much? What weight should pages be and do we need to determine this on a country-by-country basis? Should all our sites cater for those on dial-up, regardless of their browser configuration?

To be fair Eoghan, I do agree with you to a point and I generally appreciate backwards compatibility, catering for the 'lowest common denominator', inclusiveness, etc. I'm just wondering who draws the line and sets the standard?

By Ken on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Brilliant article Eoghan and very interesting.

One website that everyone here in UCD is going mad about is the Facebook Status Generator website. The hits that it has been receiving in this campus alone must surely put it for an award.

www.theisbook.com/status-generator/

Keep up the good work mate

By Dean on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Jaysus, I got a fright there. I've definitely been neglecting my pages sizes. I've added compression, removed whitespace in external files and removed JS files which just weren't been used anymore. It's now down to 717KB, near half of what it was. Still not very small but an improvement.

Thanks for the reminder.

By Niall on   Tuesday, November 03, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Excellent analysis, Eoghan.

As one of those people in supposedly mid-band or even broadband Ireland, but whos speed can reduce significantly from the quoted 3MB package speed to <100k at certain times of the evening. Therefore Ken, if I was on one of these such "bloated" sites around such a time, I'd be forced to abandon browsing, to be honest...

I think that it's reasonable to expect designers to be efficient with their designs and using good design practices without overloading the site. For example, Curious Wines is designed by Sabrina Dent and imho this is a fabulously visual and functional site, which is also one of the slim and fit sites in this analysis.

I don't imagine that I'm alone in my sometime BB difficulties, and indeed when I travel and use a 3G modem, I would again prefer to browse slimmer sites which would provide a more rewarding experience.

If this type of approach was used as part of the site design & construction criteria, I'm sure we'd all be much happier in our browsers ;)

By John P on   Wednesday, November 04, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

All suggestions noted. May we all strive to improve the standard of Irish Web design. Or at least to critique it ;)

By Ken on   Thursday, November 05, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

@Niall: nice work on slimming down the site by half!

@John P: I think your point that you would prefer to "browse slimmer sites which would provide a more rewarding experience" is something developers / designers should ignore at their peril. Encouraging repeat visits is a function of many factors, one of which I truly believe is the time it takes for the site to set itself up in your browser. Many of us are an impatient lot when on the web. A slim site will keep us happy at least in terms of a zippy browser experience, and we'd be then more open to bookmarking it and returning to it.

By eoghan on   Thursday, November 05, 2009
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Re: Irish Web Awards 2009: The Skinny, the Bloated and the Bonkers

Hi Eoghan,
I was involved in the Dance Ireland site, so I was most concerned to see such a huge page size in your report.

However, on investigating this, I discovered that the tool on websiteoptimization.com includes unused background images referenced in the CSS file in the total page size, which grossly distorts the figures for Dance Ireland.

When I use various tools in Firefox to check the total page size (Firebug, Google's page speed tool and Yahoo's YSlow tool), they all report a file size under 240Kb - not super skinny granted, but nearly 10 times smaller than the 2Mb figure!

By Janine on   Friday, November 06, 2009

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