Startup general interest

Fast is beautiful

By March 31, 2010 No Comments

Fred Wilson gave a talk in February at the Future of Web Apps conference in Miami where he listed his ‘ten golden principles of successful web apps’ (video and transcript are here on the Carsonified blog).  Maybe surprisingly he put speed at number one – his logic:

First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature. If your application is slow, people won’t use it. I see this more with mainstream users than I do with power users. I think that power users sometimes have a bit of sympathetic eye to the challenges of building really fast web apps, and maybe they’re willing to live with it, but when I look at my wife and kids, they’re my mainstream view of the world. If something is slow, they’re just gone.

We think that the application has to be fast, and if it’s not, you can see what happens. We have every single one of our portfolio company services on Pingdom, and we take a look at that every week. When we see some of our portfolio company’s applications getting bogged down, we also note that they don’t grow as quickly. There is real empirical evidence that substantiates the fact that speed is more than a feature. It’s a requirement.

I make this ponit because speed is easily forgotten.  It is less talked about than other features and, in comparison to adding new and cool stuff, working on it is hard and unrewarding.  But the benefits are real – as Fred puts it, speed is a pre-requisite for capturing the mainstream and the faster your site the quicker it will grow.

For interest I pulled the data below from Alexa.  I was a little surprised to see how slow some of the top ten sites are, but I think this table in general bears out the thesis that speed is important.  Most of the sites that are going places are fast and YouTube apart the slow ones are arguably in decline.  Perhaps it is inevitable that a heavy video site like YouTube is slow, and a check against Metacafe (average load time 4.169s) and DailyMotion (average load time 6.75s) shows that when compared with its peers at least YouTube’s speed is pretty good.

SiteAlexa rankingAverage load time (s)Alexa description of load time Percentage of sites that are slower
Google.com10.781Very Fast88%
Facebook.com20.632Very Fast91%
Baidu80.758Very Fast89%

A note on the data: as the eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed Alexa has Wikipedia with a slower page load time and describes it as fast, and Blogger with a faster page load time and describes it as average.  I don’t know where the error is and simply reproduced the data on the site verbatim.

By way of calibration I compared TheEquityKicker stats on Pingdom and Alexa.  They are consistent with a 2.2-2.3s response (49% of sites are faster).  A speed-up is in order, and hopefully underway.

Fred’s nine other principles (and he alludes to more in the Q&A) are also worth reading.  If you own a site you should read or watch the whole interview.

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