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Published: Monday, January 03, 2000

Speed Is The Essence, Part 2

By Mo Morgan

Read Part 1

How To Do It
It's not just the boredom factor you need to consider. With all web content, but particularly ASPs, there may be a short delay when a page is requested while the server sorts itself out. It is important A few little alterations can make the world of difference.

- continued -

Firstly, HTML editors such as FrontPage are notorious for writing pretty but cumbersome HTML. I use a little utility called HTML Shrinker, freely available from http://pico.i-us.com, to reduce the file size of all the HTML documents I create. It works by stripping out all the unnecessary spaces, tabs and other characters, without affecting the look of the document when viewed in a browser.

Secondly, graphics. When including them, try to make them as small in file size as you possibly can, without affecting the image too much. GIFs are generally smaller then JPEGs, but try saving your image in both formats with different compression values to see which one meets the size to quality ratio the best. Animated GIFs are a great eye-catcher, but be warned! They eat processor cycles like nobody's business and can take ages to download in full.

Also, think about the structure of your pages. With text embedded in the HTML it will appear as soon as the document as loaded, whereas images will take longer. Can your visitors be reading something while all that lovely artwork is coming down the line? Could an effect that you're creating with an image be done just as well with text? JavaScript rollovers are a popular way of making buttons and other images come to life on Sites, but can slow the page down even more. Could you achieve a similar and faster effect with a Style Sheet?

Thirdly, technologies. Take an ASP, JavaScript or CGI script you've written, and see if it can be done faster in either of the other two. If not, what can you do to make your facility work faster? Again, think about what your visitors will be doing while the page is downloading. Look at every last feature on your Site and evaluate its functionality against it's size.

Finally, gimmicks. No, no and thrice NO! Background sounds, MIDI files, bizarre plug-in requests and cookies asking for your first name are all major piss-offs. I don't like dictating to people on grounds of creativity, but come on! There's nothing more likely to make me leave a Site than the sound of "Chariots Of Fire" through the MIDI synthesizer of my sound card. Gimmicks will slow the Site down, and may reduce visitors to despair. Think twice about their use, and if you still think they're a good idea then think about it non-stop until you change your mind.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a massively successful and hugely popular Site such as Hotmail or Yahoo!. If they don't do it, neither should you. (Before anyone finds it offensive that I mention Hotmail in an article about access speeds, their problems lie only with the servers. The Site itself is pretty slick for what it does.)

Another option you have open to you is the possibility of streaming data. Audio and animated vectors can be accessed by the visitor almost instantly, and are then downloaded as they are being watched or listened to. The best audio streaming facility I've come across is from Real, and for those wonderful fully animated singing, dancing, bells and whistles Sites, You'll be wanting Flash from http://www.macromedia.com. Anyone who fancies themselves as a bit of a graphic designer should definitely get Flash - the 30 day trial of the software will more than convince you to part with your money.

What Now, Mo?
So, the next time you're writing an ASP, pinching a JavaScript or including some sizeable graphic, ask yourself what these features do to benefit your paying guests, and what they're going to be doing while these features are downloading. If the answers are nothing and nothing, maybe you should consider other methods of conveying the same information or providing the same utility.

Thinking about visitors has led to Web success time and time again, and success is the measure between genius and insanity. Ask Vincent Van Gogh.

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