Friday, April 3, 2009

New Options for Testing Your Webcomic Site Speed

Anyone with a web site may be interested in WebWait , an improved approach on download timing.

WebWait is simple: enter your URL, and get download speed reports every 60 seconds until you are satisfied. The first report is almost immediate. Average multiple reports to get the best reading, though they are usually very close.

What makes it special is that it attempts to report a user's experience, rather than your own, and downloads all the JavaScript and Ajax that many timers skip. These useful programs are part of the user experience, and bypassing them gives a false result.

It seems to be consistent: when I told a friend her site seemed sluggish, it gave her similar results to my own findings. And she's in Europe.

Readers have come to expect speed online, and delays cause frustration, and bounces.

Since I started using WebWait, I've noticed trends among the slower sites.

Some have a lot of widgets, and often, a particular widget that is demanding. Since these are easy to remove and restore, you can see how various choices affect your speed.

Blogs can be adjusted to display many posts or a few on the home page. I now have this blog set to display the last five articles, lowered from seven to add zip. The load time is decent at a couple of seconds -- except on pages with a lot of images, which brings us to the next frequent cause of slowdowns.

Most of you are aware of image files saved in GIF, JPG or PNG formats. Those of you who use Photoshop and other tools know that you can adjust image resolution within these formats, making, for example, a low quality GIF or a high quality GIF. Discussing the pros and cons of different formats is beyond today's article, but you should play with different settings and see if you like the results, both for quality, and for affect on load speed. I like higher resolution GIFs for a balance of speed and quality and lower resolution where quality is less important (like on this blog, as compared to on our comics). I'm happiest with JPGs for quality, though -- for the record.

Once you find the right quality and speed balance for your comic, look at other images on your pages, and hunt for opportunities to economize. Remember, reducing image density also reduces bandwidth use.

Webcomic sites with blogs on the home page are becoming common due to the wildfire spread of WordPress/ComicPress. Text isn't bandwidth intensive, but consider how many blog episodes you want to present. Another friend is offering 15, including graphics and videos. Her site scores about 6 seconds -- rather slow. I like to see people score below two seconds, and faster is better.

Consider bookmarking WebWait, and next time you encounter a slow site, time it. See how your patience level with the reported speed compares to what your own site scores.

My only criticism is the horrific logo on the WebWait site -- it reads as WeBWalt, and is pink. Will coders and graphic designers ever communicate effectively? Some days, I have my doubts.