posted on February 06, 2008 11:59
In Ireland recent years have seen progress in the availability of broadband services (in July 2007 it was up to 15.5% penetration, according to the European Commission). However that does not mean that dial-up as an access route to the web has gone the way of the Dodo. CLUAS.com's experience is that about 7% of our visitors in 2007 visited the site via a dial-up modem (based on Google's web traffic analytics service we use). If you ask me, many website and bloggers targeting Irish readers would do well to keep it in mind that a decent chunk of their readers are still dependant on a dial up connection to access the ould internets, and that flabbing out their site (or blog) with hefty images and bandwidth choking Flash is going to be counter-productive.
But it's not just about ensuring sites & blogs are quick and snappy for unfortunates stuck with dialup modems. Those of us with bandwidth connections are also sensitive to download times. And arguably more so than someone using a dialup modem who, in order to have any chance of maintaining some sanity, is obliged to demonstrate super human levels of patience. Having a broadband connection means our patience goes out the window: expectations of loading times for any web page are hugely raised, God help a site that is slow to load when we have that big juicy broadband pipe at our disposal. Bloggers and webmasters: ignore this at your peril, especially if you are trying to reach music fans (as their broadband connection may already be under heavy pressure at the moment they try and visit your site considering they are more likely than most to be listening to streaming music or downloading recent MP3 or digital video purchases).
So how are the main Irish music blogs and websites doing in terms of keeping the flab off? Who within the well established eco-system of Irish music sites is going to test the patience of their readers, be they in dialup hell or broadband bliss? And who is successfully keeping the weight down? To get some answers I checked out the size of the main page of over 30 established Irish music sites and blogs. As a starting point I took the 26 blogs longlisted for the category of "Best Music Blog" in this year's "Irish Blog Awards" (two of which I am pleased to point out are from the CLUAS blog family - French Letter and Key Notes). To this list I then added in another bunch of music sites picked out at my own discretion, the sites I added were: State.ie, Hotpress.com, Thumped.com, the Thrill Pier blog, Muse.ie, Phantom FM and the CLUAS.com home page.
There is a massive variation in the list. The lightest site steps in at a lean 97 KB (that'll be CLUAS.com's home page, thank you) and the heaviest being a broadband busting 2.1MB (stand up Egocentric). In terms of time, a 1Mbps broadband connection would take over 30 seconds to download the 2.1 megabytes that constitute Egocentric's main page (only the hardiest digital souls are advised to click the link). It doesn't bear thinking about but the 7% out there still on a 56 kbs dial up connection would have to wait for over 8 minutes. There should be a law against that. Or something.
Anyways I've clustered the results into 4 colour coded categories, based on overall page size:
- Less than 250 KB: ("Optimal balance of content and page size")
- 251 KB to 500 KB: ("Total nightmare for dialup users")
- 501 KB to 999 KB: ("High risk of testing the patience of broadband users")
- Greater than 1 MB: ("Clinical cases of inexcusable hyper cyber-obesity")
Those falling into the orange and red categories would do well to assess their site's content and see what they can shave off to reduce the payload. Three tactics I'd recommend are:
- Reduce the size of images: A quick glance in the 'Images' column in the table below confirms that it is images which carry the most blame for the bloated sites. Using even images with slightly reduced dimensions can reduce an image file size by 75%. It is vital to understand that reducing the size of the image as it appears on the page does not automatically mean the file size is reduced. To reduce the file size the image must be 'resampled' to reflect the reduced dimensions of the image. Finally, there is little point pursuing the next two suggestions if this first one is not addressed.
- Reduce the number of blog entries on blog home page: The obese blogs should also reduce the number of blog entries listed on the blog's home page. Take Stuart Ballie's blog for example (weighing in at 1.8 MB). His has a massive number of entries appearing on his blog home page. If his blog were configured so that the older half of those blog entries were systematically moved to an archive page, the blog would probably leap out of the depths of the red zone and into the healthier echelons of the yellow.
- Activate 'server side' compression: 4 of the 13 sites in the orange and red zones do not have automatic file compression activated on their web servers (for more info on this see note 2 after the table). This can help reduce the size of the HTML file but, to be honest, the effect on the overall payload of any heavy site will be insignificant if the excessive image files are not first addressed.
These sort of steps can also have longer term benefits when you consider that an iPhone-inspired era of sophisticated mobile web access is on its way. You can bet someone trying to access your site via their future all-singing, all dancing mobile phone - be it a snazzy iPhone or a more modest non-Apple device - won't be prepared to wait 30+ seconds for a 1 or 2 megabyte web page to download.
Ireland's Top Music Site's & Blogs
(ranked in terms of page size)
Notes on the above:
- Figures above are the sizes of each site's main page on the evening of 4 February 2008 (according to the Web Page Analyser service). It just represents a snapshot in time. The sizes above are dynamic and will fluctuate whenever new content is added to, or older content removed from, these sites' home page.
- Of the 32 sites in the above list, 22 are configured so that text files (such as HTML) are compressed by the webserver before being sent to the requesting visitor (whose browser then automatically decompresses them when the file is received). The advantage of this being that the amount of data to be downloaded is reduced, the reduction in size of a HTML file that can be expected with such compression is usually in the order of 70-80%. In such cases it is the size of the file after it has been compressed that is cited in the table above. The 10 sites who do not have this function activated (indicated above with an asterisk) are strongly advised to do so (Aside: the CLUAS home page is not compressed - yet still manages to top the list - but the two CLUAS blogs in the above list have compression activated).
- The above list does not include the 'Digital Sole' blog (one of the 26 blogs longlisted for the Best Music Blog at the Irish Blog Awards 2007) as it was inaccessible at the time I was checking the sizes of the blogs / websites.
- CLUAS.com's three entries in the list above are all well tucked into the green zone. Hooray!