Author Archive for Barbara Bermes

Web Performance & Responsive Web Design: Disconnected or Compliant?

We’ve all been there: people throwing around the word Responsive Web Design (RWD) in web project meetings, stakeholders can’t stop talking about it, and even the non-technical Project Manager might have tried to pitch this idea to you on your elevator ride to your desk.

We have to give those optimists all credit because RWD stems from a great idea: Simple multi-screen Web Development. In general, it is indeed a great approach but not everything that is great in theory works great in practice (duh!), especially when rushed to follow a new trend.

Slide 32: http://www.slideshare.net/guypod/performance-implications-of-mobile-design

Putting my mobile web performance hat on, I have to be honest, there is something that doesn’t sound quite right when my ear hears the buzz word “Responsive Web Design”. I don’t think I am very off with such perception. Please check out the screenshot I took from @guypod presentation. Guy is the Chief Product Architect at Akamai, specializing in Mobile Web Performance. I encourage everyone who is interested in Mobile Web Performance to follow his talks and tweets. His slide on the right shows that most of the websites built with responsive design in mind do not optimize for different screen sizes. This poses a problem, particularly for mobile devices.

Performance on Mobile

Performance is key for mobile websites. The latest research shows that responsive websites as of today don’t quite (yet) focus on web performance. The stats above reveal that 86% of the sites using responsive design don’t optimize for mobile. While being viewed on small-screen devices, those pages have the same page weight as the ones being viewed on a large-screen device.

Stop! Is that a negative side effect of RWD or just something that was not paid attention to? Does RWD and Web Performance go hand-in-hand or are they disconnected?

It is highly recommend to optimize your site for battery-powered mobile and small-screen devices. But what does “optimizing for mobile” mean? People might think that optimizing means they can re-arrange/optimize content and use fluid grids to be responsive for mobile devices and small screens. What I feel, they often forget is to also optimize performance for different devices and screens.

The key is to make your mobile presentation load fast on small devices.

While today’s desktop sites don’t have to be too strict on page performance (sadly, yet), sites viewed on a mobile device need to be “performance-optimized” to load content fast especially being on a cellular network.

74% of mobile visitors will abandon a website if it takes more than 5 seconds to load. In other words, you have 5 seconds to get someone’s attention. Make it count. (Brad Frost)

Further more, users appreciate pages that don’t drain battery power or add a significant amount of data usage to their data plans by using desktop-sized images or non-optimized scripts and stylesheets.

So how do you develop a responsive website that does not belong to the 86% sites that Guy mentioned in the slide above?

Here are a few risks, hints and recommendations while developing a responsive site.

Potential Risks (and Problems) with RWD

  • Performance might suffer for the sake of making a site responsive. If you make your site responsive, think about making it performance-optimized for different devices as well. Sometimes it makes sense to still serve different sites to different devices, e.g. you could have a responsive site for desktop and tablet but your mobile site uses a different implementation.
  • There is a risk of overloading-downloads (hiding content != reducing page size): If you choose to hide content based on the screen size, remember you still download the content if you do it with media queries. The page weight will stay the same. Media queries don’t prevent CSS downloads.
  • Review integrated 3rd party scripts/products: Check if the 3rd party product offers a mobile web friendly version because the desktop version might be too heavy (file size and processing). Also, make sure to identify if you need mobile sensitive logic included when using them (e.g. sometimes ads need different implementation of code for mobile vs. desktop).

Recommendations

  • Don’t be lazy and only focus on the presentation of your content being responsive, take responsibility for optimizing the performance for mobile.
  • Identify heavy and CPU intensive elements such as big images, scripts that maybe need to do things on your desktop-viewed site but maybe not on your mobile-accessed site. For those elements, you need to find a solution to optimize them for mobile. Otherwise performance will suffer and users will be upset with your pages being slow.
  • Avoid extensive client-side processing (JS scripts, non-optimized 3rd party scripts) and try to move the logic from the front-end to the back-end. Use server-side technologies to detect platform and device (capabilities) on the backend to load mobile-friendly scripts and implementations for mobile, e.g ad code, tracking, any 3rd party tools.
  • Presentation of different images sizes per platform should ideally be handled on the server side.
  • Content with only little script/logic can be displayed in a responsive matter, e.g. a box with single-column content on mobile could be displayed as two-column content on desktop.
  • Think about Mobile First (progressive enhancement) vs. Desktop First (graceful degradation).

My suggestion is to create a nice mix of server side detection and responsive design elements. And to be fair, this is not something that is new or a paradigm I created. It’s called Responsive Web Design with Server Side Components.

Go with RESS

Luke W & Dave Olson have been talking about this approach for some time now.

RESS stands for Responsive Web Design with Server Side Components and describes the combination of using responsive design approaches aligned with server side components for optimization. It helps to avoid what Guy described in his slide at the top. With server side techniques you will be able to offload some of the heavy page weight upfront before serving it to the client but still applying media queries to accomplish a responsive design approach.

And before I use the word RWD one more time, I want to end this post with a quote from Brad Frost’s presentation at the BDConf 2012 in Dallas (slide 159)

Users don’t give a s**t if your site is responsive

Responsive Design can work if you also focus on performance to make the site better and faster.

Here some links that are worth checking out:

Building and designing energy-efficient mobile websites

I was introduced to an excellent paper at the Future Insights Live in Las Vegas this year during a talk I attended and really liked by @glan.

The paper is called “Who Killed My Battery: Analyzing Mobile Browser Energy Consumption” and was presented at WWW 2012, the Mobile Web Performance Conference, France, in April 2012.

For anybody who is passionate about & interested in mobile performance and wants to know what actually kills the battery life on a mobile device when browsing the web, this is a must-read!

A few take-aways

  • Many sites are poorly optimized for energy use and rendering them in the browser takes more power than necessary.
  • Rendering images takes a significant fraction of the total rendering energy.
  • Some sites like Youtube spend around 1/4 of their rendering energy on images.
  • Javascript is one of the most energy consuming components in a web page.
  • Using generic Javascript libraries simplifies web development, but increases the energy used by the resulting pages.
  • Rendering JPEG images is considerably cheaper than other formats such as GIF and PNG for comparable size images
  • …more below in slideshare presentation

If you don’t have time and rather want a summary, you can flip through the slideshare presentation I created for an internal working group meeting at my current company.

Link to paper: http://www2012.org/proceedings/proceedings/p41.pdf

Why bashing Facebook’s HTML5 hybrid app is mean and doesn’t make sense

Whaaaaat? Another one of those “Facebook’s native app is faster” posts – No! You won’t hear this from me.

After I had heard from posts/people that FB would be changing their core mobile architecture for their iOS app from more-or-less hybrid to native again, I had been waiting impatiently for the release. So there it was in the app store, as a big advocate for mobile web, I was almost afraid to launch the new FB native iOS app because I didn’t want it to be faster because I could not comprehend why a company like FB could not have engineers figure out this new HTML5 beast.

Well, I launched the app. It loaded. Fast, faster than I thought, the scrolling wasn’t sluggish anymore. Native development succeeded? Not so fast my friend! I made sure I’d read the FB engineering blog post that explained the architecture behind the latest iOS app they built.

“For areas within the app where we anticipate making changes more often, we will continue to utilize HTML5 code, as we can push updates server side without requiring people to download a new version of the app.”

To me that sounds pretty hybrid, no? – Nobody said hybrid is all webviews and no native components. So why the fuss? They identified the areas where pure HTML5 didn’t work quite well yet, either because of their backend/architecture was not setup to deal with mobile web/HTML5 parts due to maybe bloaded old JS or because certain elements should not be done via webview in general, e.g infinite scrolling that can’t perform well within an iOS webview.

Here,  Facebook’s engineering manager Dave Fetterman explained about a year ago FB’s approach to HTML5 and its challenges.

“HTML5 is probably the way that we should have done it. This is the way we get to do it now because HTML5 has changed so much under our feet. The initial attempt at building a hybrid application, there were certain things in HTML5 that weren’t ready yet and we said forget it, we are going to keep moving forward.”

There have been many people out there expressing their views on Facebook and HTML5. Here are some I liked and could agree with.

From the comments block at mashable.com, Esteban Saa writes:

I’ll take this opportunity to write about how Apple in order to maintain control over their app market are creating problems for HTML5. For instance they won’t let use run our web apps at full JS speed stating security issues, which everyone knows is BS. Don’t get me wrong I love Apple products, but practices like these really hurts the evolution of software.

Mobile Marketer interviewed people in the industry and got the following opinions

“Facebook by all accounts, didn’t make mobile its top priority early on,” he said. “As a consequence, they underinvested in their mobile experience (i.e. HTML5) over the past two years. (…) With other companies such as Netflix, LinkedIn, and Instagram, they committed fully and put their best resources on it. Facebook tried to recycle too many things from their desktop technology into HTML5 instead of starting with an approach fully optimized for mobile.”

And finally Tobie was sent from FB to come forward explaining what’s slowing down the Facebook HTML5 app

Scrolling performance
------------------------
I've already started sharing some of it with the W3C WebPerf WG[4]. Will
continue bringing it to other relevant WG in the upcoming weeks.

This is one of our most important issues. It's typically a problem on the
newsfeed and on Timeline which use infinite scrolling (content is
prefetched as the user scrolls down the app and appended) and end up
containing large amounts of content (both text AND images). Currently, we
do all of the scrolling using JS, as other options were not fast enough
(because of implementation issues).

My honest opinion based on everything I read on the internet, etc, and my own brain:

  • FB underestimated mobile web, hence they didn’t care much about mobile, and did not built their previous hybrid app accordingly with any potential growth of mobile web user base.
  • They didn’t care about mobile that much because they didn’t know back then how to monetize it with ads. Of course, Facebook is huge and has so many smart engineers working there but they also have smart product managers, and we all know that FB is not making (much) money with their mobile products because they don’t include ads. I would argue that the focus on mobile has never been that big at Facebook to begin with and hence the apps & mobile web were always low-priority.
  • They tried their best with their knowledge back then, now they share their problems and frustration: good for us to learn from their mistakes and make it better.
  • Despite Zuckerberg admitting they made a mistake counting on HTML5, they will still continue to focus on mobile web because research says there are still more users accessing Facebook mobile web than Android and iOS together.
  • I agree with codefessions.com article “It seems as it was the rethinking of the architecture that fixed everything, not the underlying technology.”
  • HTML5 hybrid apps are not the solution for all businesses: Facebook’s infrastructure is unique and needs to handle thousand of requests constantly. Watch the velocity video (around minute one) for more details. It’s a challenge to handle loads like this, not only for mobile, but also desktop.
  • Web Apis still need to catch up to deliver native-interaction properly, hence device specific features might still need to be developed natively.

My suggestion for anybody thinking not to develop hybrid mobile web apps now, consider the following thoughts as they might convince you to shift your focus back to building hybrid/HTML5 apps.

  • Don’t use bloated JS within your webviews: You don’t need to put all your logic on the client-side, server-side mobile (app) detection and enhancements can give you higher performance as well.
  • Draw a comparison to Facebook, are you a dynamic content / social media company or a content-centric company like news broadcaster? Do you rely on complicated SQL queries or do you “just” show simple content results. How many people access your content and what kind of daily/hourly etc? What areas need to perform fast?
  • If you need to load content on the fly, e.g. with infinite scrolling, think about moving such component to a native view, not everything has to be a webview! Be smart and honest about it.
  • Evaluate each component of your hybrid app and follow the rule if the difference in terms of performance and user experience is way better with native code, use native code. I believe certain elements should be done natively, no doubt, navigation items behave less sluggish than  mobile web implementations. However certain static/less dynamic areas with content could be served in a webview.
  • Be aware of things HTML5/the browser can’t do or has problems with and try to fix them, e.g. the 300ms onlick delay.

One thing you should always strive for is making your product better and faster, no matter what you choose to use, HTML5 or a native codebase.

6 years later

I can’t believe 6 years have passed. I remember writing those posts below, still being on a temporary work permit in Canada, wishing to work for a bigger media company while learning lots during my first job in a media company.

Things change.

I’ve been part of the CBC mobile team since 2008, extremely proud of that and being more than ever interested in mobile web. I remember a friend from University worked for a mobile company six years ago and she was telling me that mobile will become big. I didn’t believe her back then and almost thought “who would want to develop for a crappy, small device like a phone?” Well, I proved myself wrong – There is no doubt anymore that mobile is not the next big thing, so here I am now, back as a big advocate for the mobile browser & creating mobile web apps.

I’d like to use this post to let you all know that I am back and hoping to post more valuable information here so you can witness how passionate and interested I’ve been in mobile web, mobile performance and the future of such.

the (social network) online radio

business 2.0 magazine calls it “social media” and i think it comes very close to a term that we could use by describing web 2.0 and its online community websites.

not only did i get surprisingly informed about pandora.com (which unfortunately only works for US residents due to some legal issues), but also figured that there are more social radio stations like that: last.fm. business 2.0 magazine writes: “Last.fm, for instance, monitors all the tunes you listen to on your computer and adds a social-networking twist by sharing your playlist with other Last.fm users with similar tastes and vice versa”.

read the “social media” article and find out who and what the “next net 25” are.

asp.net, i think i like windows.

so i have been getting involved more and more in VS2005 lately. i have to say windows is surprising me and is actually making my life really easier when it comes to building web applications. today, i found out about a nice tool to manage displaying different content depending on their role. the role management offered by vs2005 is nice and can be used very easily. It allows me to customize information that will be presented by users through different templages. This is done based on theirs roles.

It’s sometimes recommended to read about the “what’s new”.

Manage user-based content display and user data persistence

the power of blogging

yesterday’s article in the well-known german newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ) talks about the power bloggers nowadays have to judge about products and brands and thus can influence a market with their opinions. Not only YouTube has been used lately to inform people about bad products, bad customer service, also blogs can make a company’s profile look horrible. YouTube videos show frustrated customers talking about products that just don’t work …within a few hours, a product can be (verbally) distroyed. the social computing is a powerful tool to inform about products, and blogs more and more help people to choose the right and not the wrong product/service.

faz article here

google gadgets for YOUR site

another google entry here, but this one is a really fun one: google gadgets can be used and integrated in your personalized google page: nice and wonderfully useful thing: i have been using the personalized google start page for a long time now, i have my calculator on it, my toronto webcam, some weather data, and so forth (see screenshot).

google personalized homepage

but now, google announces to use these gadgets also for your own website, using a simple <script/> tag.

That’s so much fun, so you can include now all kinds of funny gadgets into your page: calculators, world clocks, games, web cams, searches and so forth: check out the gadget collection

 

do the math with google, huh?

so, google is one of THE most powerful search engines in the world, google also just started offline advertising, it has a good stock market position, and now google can even slowly be used as a multi-functional information tool. while browsing the technology section of the new york times, i came across an interesting article about google shortcuts.

  • did you know that you can use google as a calculator? well, try it out: type into the searchbox: 12+12, as a result, it will suggest the mathematical solution as a sum of 12 and 12.
  • did you know that you can search for a fedex package by typing in the fedex number: it will give you as the first result, it will give you a shortcut to the tracking information for your package.
  • do you need a correct and fast definition of a word: well, then type it: define: [word] and it will give you all the definitions it finds on the web.
  • and the the one that most of us have seen already before: when typing in an address, it normally shows as a first result the map of a city the address is related to.

more google shortcuts are here

and this google cheat sheet is worth to be printed out and put next to your computer desk, it has the most useful search terms included.

google can recognize certain codes typed in or numbers into the search box and eases your way to your result.
try it out…it’s fun.

roger’s and bell’s online services

i am frustrated: ok, let’s take the two biggest communication providers in canada: bell and rogers. you would normally assume that at least they provide you with user-friendly websites: well structured and with a great offer of online services which actually work?!?!? well, i have to correct here a little bit (and with a lot of frustration):

incident 1: don’t think you can register for online billing if they say you can: i have a rogers account: now, i wanted to link my billing to my online account. i typed in my account number + postal code, then a screen appears: you have 2 more chances to try it? what? why? i try it again and same problem again: you have 1 more time to try it. believe me, i checked the account number and my postal code. they are correct.
incident 2: bell didn’t tell me when i ordered basic lite internet that this only allows 1GB of down/up load bandwith. ok, i exceeded it already once, now i wanted to upgrade (ding ding: more money for them), so i followed the nice provided link “you can upgrade here” and after typing in and collecting all the information needed, they say: due to technical difficulties it’s not possible to upgrade. well i have tried it now every single day for the past 3 days. what kind of service is that? i sent an email to them, also no response …
well, at least my online billing with bell works :)

i guess bell or rogers can for sure compete with german’s “deutsche telekom” customer (online) service.

please dear bell and rogers: if you can’t offer online services then don’t promote them on your website.