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build for slow guys, not fast guys
usability, modem, dsl, compatibility issues

 9:39 am on Dec 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

i have a long standing rule that i believe follows general usability theory: build a site for the lowest common dominator.

graphic heavy, flash based sites, mutli-layered sites seem to be ignoring the reality: most surfers are still using modems. 56k with a subpar connection at that.

as designer its seems its our job to build with the slowest surfer in mind, not the fastest.

every site should load with a modem in less than 40-55 seconds.



 9:01 pm on Dec 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

Preloading confuses me. I don't get the concept I guess.

How does the browser know which images to preload? I have a couple thousand images spread over my site and have little or no idea where the viewer will look next. I thought I did, but I was wrong.

Anyhow, If the images don't start preloading till the page is called, what's the advantage?

Ya know, they never taught this stuff when I was in kindergarten! hmmmph!


 9:11 pm on Dec 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm only familiar with preload scripts for navigation graphics. They typically reside in an external .js file. My understanding is that they preload all the rollover images while the browser is rendering the rest of the page. This is to prevent unusual occurences when users pass their mouse over the rollovers.

How this works in preloading regular images on a page, I'm not sure. I'm still learning this stuff!

P.S. This is now a prerequisite at day care level! ;)


 6:30 am on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

page size...I try to stay under 30k and under 10k for an index page

Flash...the problem with Flash isn't technical..the problem is content...good animators are few and far between, and usually they cost...if I want to see second rate animation then I'd subscribe to the cartoon channel...too much Flash suffers from what I call "talking dog syndrome"...yeah it's amazing that you can do it on a web page, but so what?...if you've got nothing to say or nobody can understand what you say then it is a waste of other people's time

tables...honestly if you aren't an expert then a css and div layout is EASIER than tables...it's rarely a good idea to use a single table for the entire page

target market...we have centres in rural Sri Lanka and remote parts of Brazil...we've got centres that access our site by printing it off and handing the paper version around...once you start dealing outside the developed world you stop being able to make any assumptions about how the site will e accessed


 12:58 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

Making static content (images, css, pdfs etc) highly cacheable can also improve response time.


 2:55 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

I feel as long as text loads within 10 secs and the page completely finishes (graphics) within 30 secs, it's good. This is assuming a 28k connection.


 4:58 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

What's can be quite nice as a preloader, particularly for images is to use a small gif with a fade up from the background colour to white. This is cached on the users computer before the pictures download. It can be the difference between that 5/10 seconds of nothing and enough to get the images on the page before the users jump ship.

Equally a similar effect can be obtained in flash.


 5:53 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

My site is an information site to be read like a book. I keep every page below a 10 second load with a 28.8, and I receive compliments from my readers for the speed of the pages and the cleanliness of the site. In my guestbook I ask visitors to rate the site design from 1 to 10, and am averaging over 8. :-)


 6:17 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

The discussion on tables has been very interesting. My entire home page is one big table so I can how see dial-up users might get ticked off. I never noticed it using DSL for years, but using a 56k simulator [google.com] helped me see how it renders for different users. I think WebmasterWorld threads would display faster for dial-up if each post was its own table...


 8:03 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

(1) i am glad to see the topic well received.

note: most web designers that enjoy photoshop, imageready, corel draw etc.. are building sites that easily take up one FULL minute and not before they "lock" your system on a dial up connection. mind you these are so-called professionals. they also generate lots of stir when people do manage to sit down and view their sites.

some very popular sites w/ tutorials or messageboards for professionals that push the idea of "get dsl or get off the net" with their heavy page loads:


probably the only high graphic site that doesnt load slowly is: [andys.dk...] , but many of his friends in the industry take that dsl or nothing attitude.

the question is: some of us are saying, clients want "less graphics, more text." some are saying, "a few key graphics, some text." while the bulk are saying, "apply the newest technology and force your clients and surfers along for the ride, the net is about innovation - either they are in or they are not.."

where is the median here?


 9:34 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

...most web designers that enjoy photoshop, imageready, corel draw etc.. are building sites that easily take up one FULL minute and not before they "lock" your system on a dial up connection....

I'm not sure if the word "most" is entirely accurate here. I know of quite a few web designers using photoshop and corel draw (and photopaint, I might add ;) ) who try to either minimize graphics usage or optimize the heck out of images. We've got lots of sympathy since some of us are on dialup connections ourselves. ;)

Personally, I encourage clients to take advantage of fast-loading pages in favor of overwhelming visitors with large bulky graphics that take forever to download.

Of course, there are some sites where you don't worry about things like that - graphic and artistic sites, for example. Folks expect pages like that to take awhile to download. But when you're expecting it, you really don't mind so much.


 10:05 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

14k to 28k to 56k to ISDN 128K to DSL to?

My DSL is delivered on the same line as my original 14k connection.

I personally like many of the sites that are entertaining and esthetically pleasing that my DSL line allows to flow like water.

I do think that in the not-to-distant future the communications companies are going to open this thing up, providing broadband at much less expensive rates, and much of what we are talking about here will be irrelevant.
(Even with broadband some will push the envelope to far!)


 11:01 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

>I think WebmasterWorld threads would display faster for dial-up if each post was its own table...

Personally I find WebmasterWorld renders exceedingly fast despite my slow connection.

I do think that target audience and site purpose plays a big factor in how fast your page needs to load.

I see all this talk of how DSL and cable is becoming more popular and the first thing I always think is "not in my country". Sure more and more of New Zealand is becoming DSL capable (although still not where I live despite that it's a pretty big city) but it's expensive. I only know one person with broadband of some kind, despite knowing many many internet users, and the kind they have is only available in their city (where I want to live for that exact reason). But of course NZ is a pretty small country and the chances are we aren't your target market anyway.

I frequent sites which use a lot of flash (games and suchlike) and have reasonably slow page download speeds, but there is always a reason for it. If I was just there to read then I'd expect fast loading text, but since I know it's going to be slow I'm happy to wait. Some of my own pages are a little slow to load because of the graphics on them, but it's expected for the kind of site it is and it's not excessive. I think it all depends on the purpose of the site in the first place.

So while there are definitely guidelines for these things and it's something we should all take into acount, there's no hard and fast rule. Like so much of this webmaster stuff :)


 11:13 pm on Dec 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

Sure more and more of New Zealand is becoming DSL capable (although still not where I live despite that it's a pretty big city) but it's expensive.

I thought that in countries like Australia or New Zealand broadband was commonly used among surfers. Strange enough you say it's expensive. Here in Spain a 256Kbs 24 hours a day DSL is about 40, altought at present I think there're even cheaper prices. I don't find it excessively expensive.


 12:10 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

turk182, its almost double that in Australasia. Spain has a European data pipe it can use... Australasia is somewhat isolated in terms of bandwidth partners by all that water.


 1:22 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

broadband is pretty common in aus i guess, but limiting...
especially with all the providers giving a standard dowload limit of 3gb / month before charging excessive rates for extra Mb used...
this severely limits the use of broadband I think, and is cetainly the main reason i remain on a dialup account.


 1:27 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

yes, pricewise in Aus, you are looking at a cost of at least $80aus / mth.
That is about a day's pay for an average office worker. (a coffee costs about $2.50, and lunch will cost about $7 here, to put things into monetary context for you).


 5:07 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

RE: Load time. It completly depends on the site, & the audience.

My friend keeps emailing me about how long my site takes to load. He's a member of the "7 seconds or less" club and thinks that when the front page takes up to 16 seconds that it is way too long.

While I agree that people who are surfing will loose their patience VERY quickly, my site is not designed for people who are browsing the net, or who find me via a search engine. I have very sticky customers who are there for a purpose and IMHO they are more willing to wait than someone who is just hap-hazzardly surfing the net.

So, IMHO: If your audience is people who are just browsing the net without a real purpose, or if your traffic is made up primarilly of search engine results then that will effect how quickly your page needs to load.


 6:37 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

>I thought that in countries like Australia or New Zealand broadband was commonly used among surfers.

Definitely not here. There is one city where it's fairly common (as I mentioned in my prevous post) and I think that company is moving into another city (and I so wish they would move here :)). However national coverage is still pretty low (although getting better). I'm not sure of exact costs because it depends on what is available in each area, but the most well known national company providing DSL has a $100 connection fee, needs a modem worth at least $300 and then costs anywhere from $30 per month connection plus $20 per month ISP (no idea why you need to pay both) upwards. And excess data charges are apparently quite steep. Compared to dial up which costs $22 per month for as much as you can use.

Maybe someone is trying to build a country full of patient people? :)


 10:54 am on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

I find Mozilla an effective tool for slow sites, as it displays content as soon as it has loaded, unlike IE6. On forums, you can start reading straight away, not stare at a blank screen.

I've noticed a lengthy PHP routine I wrote also comes up bit by bit as it is processed, whereas IE6 makes you wait until the whole process has run before displaying anything.

It seems like Mozilla is happy to display table cells as they load before the whole table is loaded.

Future versions of the browser will also allow you to block Flash so you can surf even faster.


 12:28 pm on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

What a thing the web is!

With so many wonderous differences it truly feels organic.

Can we really design for every user? Probably not :)

Rules made about connection times, page download times, use of flash. Surely it is all circumstantial.

A page should be primarily designed for the audience intended. Perhaps my only rule when developing a web page.

Get the initial market research right and all the other questions seem to answer themselves.

None of the users of a site I recently created are likey to use anything more than 56k on IE3 because it was locally produced for a research facility in Uganda.

At the the other end of the spectrum I recently helped produced a site for a DJ promotion Company in London - It uses all the bells and Whistles we could find! It had a sod the non flash, slow machine, ludites get with times attitude, and users love it. those that can see it anyway ;)



 12:45 pm on Dec 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think we should really be saying "Design the best site you can - as much multimedia as you want, aim to satisfy the broadband user, BUT... allow for a slimmed down version of the site for 56K users as well."

For instance, follow the W3C Accessibility Guidelines and produce text-only commentaries for your videos. Add alt text for images, etc.

The goal, as Tim Berners-Lee envisioned it, is for the web to be open to everyone.

Never mind places like Uganda, what about people viewing your site on a WAP phone or small screen PDA? The content should still be represented, if possible. Obviously large images and soundtracks won't be applicable, but you could still give background information about the product.

Of course, with style sheets, we can allow for different styles to be used depending on the media. Or we can serve a different version of the page vai XML.

I'd hate to see the proliferation of sites where only one combination of hardware (DSL) and software (IE) let you in.


 9:26 am on Dec 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Has anyone explored the issue of how you define page size if you have a guideline which states that pages must be less than x Kb?

You might think this is easily found and unambiguous. However this is not necessarily the case. For example:

Some Web based checking services (e.g. NetMechanic.com) respect the robot exclusion protocol (REP) and won't measure the size of images in a /images directory if banned by the REP; other tools ignore the REP (old version of Bobby, when it reported on file size).

Some Web based checking services (e.g. NetMechanic.com) will measure the size of external files such as JavaScript, CSS, etc.; other tools ignore the REP (old version of Bobby, when it reported on file size).

How do you measure the size if you are using user-agent negotiation or other types of personalisation?

What is a page if you have a redirect, a splash screen, pop-up windows, etc.?

Brian Kelly


 12:00 pm on Dec 6, 2002 (gmt 0)


For instance, follow the W3C Accessibility Guidelines and produce text-only commentaries for your videos. Add alt text for images, etc.

Follow the W3C Guidelines, but not all. I think that putting and alt text for most images like blank.gif or writing their width and height (like their guidelines say) is not only unnecessary but also a loss of bandwith for the site owner and for the surfer.


 12:27 pm on Dec 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think that putting and alt text for most images like blank.gif or writing their width and height (like their guidelines say) is not only unnecessary but also a loss of bandwith for the site owner and for the surfer.

Alt text should be for *every* image because it helps screen readers understand what they represent. Otherwise, how does a blind person know the difference between a spacer and a really important image?

Adding width and height to an image stops the effect you see sometimes where an image appears much enlarged for a second, before the browser resizes it. It should also increase loading time as the browser already knows the size of the image to put into the layout.

Any loss of bandwidth is minimal and overruled (in my book) by the benefits of accessibility. (Which is, after all, the law now, for businesses in the UK.)


 4:32 pm on Dec 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

The loss of bandwidth from using alt, height, width and anything else you should use to make your page better for the visitor is so minimal that you can probably count it in a few tens of bytes for a 20K page.

Back when I designed the first version of our main site with a 28K AOL dial-up and very slow notebook I was so intent on keeping page size small that I abbreviated everything to save a byte here and a byte there. Then I noticed all the foreign visitors. Will a guy from Kyrgistan really understand what the heck I'm talking about? So I now spell everything out at a cost of maybe 50 bytes per page.

And I don't think there is any one ideal page size. As said before in this string it's a matter of knowing your market. In any given month somewhere about 50% of our visitors come through AOL, I assume most probably through 56K, some still 28K and a small number of DSL. I try for all text downloaded in less than 5 seconds at 56K (I get antsy after 3) with the few images in place a second or so later.

Of course, if I were to design a high-end gaming site I'd throw all this out the window and just go for it.



 5:52 pm on Dec 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Regarding the alt attribute - decorative images only need an empty alt text, like this: alt="", with no space between the quotes. Without it screen readers will read out the whole image file name. Images that convey meaning important to the use of and/or functioning of the site should have relevant alt text included so that people surfing with a browsing device without images (screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, some PDA's, etc.) can still use the site reasonably well.


 11:27 am on Dec 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

Another school of thought says the alt text for display items should represent what they look like. Eg: a line would be alt="-", a dot alt=".". I notice that the Royal National Institute of the Blind [rnib.org.uk] are using alt="*" for their spacer gifs!


 9:04 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

I am new user of this forum and this is 2nd post regarding the similar topic. I never thought of making webpage for people who are on 56k modem because my website is mostly to provide visitor with video file of certain band from Olympia, WA, and each video file is around 30mb/song. Then the last Firday the label of the band mentioned my site and I had really large number of visitor (to my site's standard that is. oh god, I get excited if there are more than 50 people come to the site/day).

I thought people who visit the first page and leaves are doing that because they aren't into the band, but someone from other band who I make webpage for said how many of people are still on the modem and he mentioned my website being one of bandwidth hogger site.

So... I used size checker and it said my site is 81 kilobytes. I checked the band's homepage for reference and theirs was 30 kilobytes, one of the interview they did with spacecityrock.com is about 400 kilobytes. I can't even remember how long it would take for 80kb page to load on 36.6 modem. Is that big? Too big? I am afraid if I turned off bunch of graphic and make my site text base with one logo only, people might think it looks so ugly and leaves.


 9:21 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

80kb on a 33.6kb modem, dependant on traffic would max at 4KBS, so at tits fastest around 20 seconds, at its slowest, probably closer to a minute.

Though a 30mb download file for a small video, is very large, even for quicker connections.


 11:11 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)
I didn't realize that 80k would take as much as 1 min to load. Gosh darn.

30meg video runs around 2 min 30 seconds and resolution of video is around 512 x 480 MPEG1 @ 1100kbits/s

I'm worried that if I turn everything text, people might think its not cool and stop coming. What do you think?


 1:09 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

Penguinsnob...I'm still a punk at heart...I think blindingly fast IS cool...so in your situation I'd go for an index page with a single blindingly impressive but simple image...a stylish colour scheme and some pretty css "rollovers" for navigation...and try to make something very simple but striking...then the graphics can come in on the "inside" pages when people have made a specific choice to see them

I try to keep index pages below 20k including images and css...normally I'm not so worried once people are into the site...though fast is ALWAYS good [1]

[1] we used to do a version of the Bill Broonzy somg Key To The Highway in my first band back in 77-78...same number of verses as Eric Clapton did on the Layla album...he took around 6 minutes to do it...it took us a little over two and a half

IMO fast is cool :)

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