There are many factors that go into designing a great fast loading
Web page. I will explain a few factors many designers miss, putting each
factor in bold text for quick spotting so you can print this page and
use it as a future reference. This should help you improve your website
— or at least confirm everything is fine.
There are many more issues most Web designers miss. I don’t plan on
covering all of them. What I don’t cover, or catch, I will leave for you
to e-mail me — including some
good book-title suggestions or web pages that cover design details,
which would be great to pass on to everyone next week.
Designing a great and fast website is actually a very tricky art. It
takes both technical knowledge and a creative eye. I recall when Hewlett
Packard (HP) had zero clues about Web pages. Back when the world had
14.4K modems HP was slapping huge giant images on its website. We’re
talking images that looked great, but actually took as long as 15
minutes to load. These images of course looked good to the corporate and
marketing types at HP connected to the local area network (LAN) in the
office. That wasn’t the Internet; it was the LAN where computers were
connected to the Web server locally at speeds that exceeded 10 million
bits per second (that was a fast LAN in those days). At 10 megabits per
second those images loaded fast and looked great. However, people on the
Net accessing that same HP Web server saw things much differently. What
took less than a second to be delivered to an HP executive desktop took
an Internet user several minutes to download.
As you know, WorldNetDaily’s front page is taking longer to load.
Yes, I am criticizing our own home page. Today, it is an example of what
not to do. But, if you know Joe Farah, you know he speaks facts, truth
and confronts tough issues everyday. I have known Joe for years, and he
can take criticism just as well as he dishes it out — an admirable
quality that I am sure will enable me to level some constructive
criticism at our own page. We know it’s slow for some people, and we’re
fixing it. “Too many cooks” are the basic problem at the moment.
A couple of weeks ago I ran a poll. (Thank you for those that
participated). The information was helpful. We learned that close to 75
percent of the people had 56K modems or slower. Ouch! Trust me, the
grass is really greener (and the Net a great deal faster) on the Cable
Modem or DSL side of the fence. If you don’t have it, look into it.
Back to what this 56K “modem” speed really means.
56K or not? Most often the owner of a 56K modem will connect
at speeds lower than 56K. It is a simple phone company fact that most
people, due to line-noise factors, cannot connect at throughput speeds
greater than 40K. That means that if you look at your website and work
on it using a fast connection, you don’t feel the impact you are having
on someone that loads the page at 40K bits per second or less. This
fact is important enough that at Netscape, Yahoo and Excite they
actually make Web designers check page download times with a 28.8K
modem. If the page doesn’t load within a specific number of seconds the
Web designers must go back and redesign for speed. You should do the
same in your company.
Connection speed is a primary issue. A good Web designer can always
do the math to calculate how long a page will download at a speed of
28.8K and round up very quickly. More on how to do the math later in
Cache can kill. Your browser caches pages and images locally
on your hard drive — and it definitely affects download time. You can
feel it slow down when it’s full — you might also know it when your
disk drive makes more noise than usual. Overall it will help speed up a
page when you return a second time to reload the same images. However,
when your disk drive cache is set to allow for many megabytes of space
things can slow down once the cache is full with a large number of files
— and usually it’s not until the cache-wait pain sets in that a Web
surfer cleans out his cached pages and images.
Here’s how it works: As the HTML text of the page loads, your browser
builds a list of images that are to be displayed on that page. Then your
browser checks the disk drive cache area to see if it already has these
images. If it finds it has an image, it still goes out on the Net to the
Web server and checks the file date and time to make sure the image
hasn’t been changed since the last time it downloaded. If the time is
different it downloads that image. If not, it takes it from the disk
drive and places it on the screen. If the cache area is full of files
and the disk drive is slow, it can take a machine a while to check the
cache. It does this every time it loads an image or an HTML file. So by
placing too many images, even if they are small in size, you can slow
down a Web page by making a computer with a full cache work more to
search for each different image that needs to be displayed.
Text or graphics? Displaying text as image files makes for a
fat page. A perfect example is the left hand side of the WorldNetDaily
page. If it’s still there as of this writing (I happen to know WND is
listening to readers and is busy redesigning), you will see a list of
editors, associates, employees, etc. This is not text; it is an image
file that is over 14K “bytes” in size.
Here comes the math I promised. Internet speeds work at and are
measured in “bits” per second. 14,000 bytes is equal to 14,000 x 8
“bits” or 112,000 bits. Now divide 28000 (that’s 28K, the modem speed)
into 112,000 and you get four seconds. Not bad, but that’s four seconds
just for that image to load and there are plenty more images that need
downloading. It all adds up.
Let’s take an even closer look. It’s text in that image, right! OK
how much text? There’s about 65 lines of approximately a baker’s dozen
of alphabet components on each line. That’s about 65 x 13 = 845 letters.
Each letter is a byte, so that’s 845 x 8, which equals 6,760 bits if we
displayed that same image’s text content in text form. That same amount
of information will download in less than 0.24 seconds; that’s
one-quarter of a second, or one-sixteenth the amount of time.
By the way, WND is growing fast and that list is growing at the same
rapid rate. Ouch! I am pretty sure WND will eventually change that image
Lots of images and tables? Ouch again! Most people don’t have
a fast machine with a cool, fast, whiz-bang video card that most Web
masters own. In fact, I would guess that a large percentage of Apple’s
G3s and iMacs sales are for the task of creating Web pages — more so
than being used for average desktop applications. When one creates a
page with tables (as WND has) it can look really nice. However, tables
are full of numeric calculation requirements to position images and
present text areas proportionally. An element of calculation involves
the window screen size that you have chosen. An older video display
card, older microprocessor or both can result in tremendous page drawing
If you have more tips you would like to see mentioned or explored,
e-mail them to me.
In last week’s column on establishing your own radio station, I
painted a picture of where the Net began, how it’s progressed and that
it will soon lead to all Web pages becoming interactive radio and TV
stations. Many people agreed.
Many appreciated the memories. Since this week’s column is so long,
however, I will only present a couple of the responses:
Baachus1 @ mediaone.net
When I first got started on the Internet I was introduced to
Veronica, I loved Veronica. I remember my mentor taking me to gopher
sites of all kinds, then there was Veronica; he made a special point of
showing me “her”; it was all pretty cool.
Then this World Wide Web craze hit just after Clinton was elected,
and for various reasons I stepped out of the whole Internet thing for a
few years. I returned to the Net in ’96 and was amazed at what I saw —
especially now, the sites are dazzling and fun.
Thank you for being one of the only people I have seen give Veronica
a good mention as well as for the birthing days of the Net with gopher
sites. Most people I know have never heard of these things and so have
never talked about them. Thanks for sparking an old memory; your column
was worth it just for that.
Tom & Jenny @ home.com
I’ve been surfing the news sites for some time now, and never have I
found such an informative article as yours on the different types of
audio available on the Net. I’ve used RealAudio for about a year and
had pretty much settled for the mediocre sound because I didn’t know
about all the other mediums and formats available. Thanks for your
research and your article!
I’m listening to MP3 as I write this, and a whole new world of audio
has opened up to me. The sound quality is infinitely better than
RealAudio and the graphic equalizer is really nifty. I ordered the book
about MP3 and hopefully I can master the different settings and options.
Thanks again and keep up the good work!