Users with high-speed connections are less tolerant of web site delays

On the Internet, few things affect a user's perception of a web site more than its speed. This has had a profound affect on the design of web pages.

At the peak of the initial Internet boom, it was common for companies to create web sites that were very graphic intensive. Many companies thought that an attractive user interface would draw users. Within a very short time, though, most companies found that users are very impatient. Users abandoned slow sites.

Many designers thought that as users adopted cable and dsl connections this issue would go away. A recent study suggests that just the opposite is happening. Users that connect with a high-speed connection are actually becoming less tolerant of delays.

Researchers at Wichita's Software Usability Research Lab looked at three common WWW tasks: information retrieval, purchasing, and downloading files. These tasks were chosen because file sizes differ significantlyfor each of these tasks.

They found that:

* High-speed users are signicantly less tolerant of delays than dial-up users.

* There was no connection between the type of task or user experience level.

* Older users were more patient than younger users.

The implications for e-business sites are significant. Broadband adoption may make users less tolerant of slower pages. In addition, users increasingly crave speed, and don't appear to care if pages are html or generated dynamically.

One of the most attractive demographic groups, young well-to-do users, is the least tolerant of delays of any group. The report recommends that sites targeting these consumers restrict page size to optimize speed. According to the report's author, Paula Selvidge, "high-speed users leave web sites faster and switch sites more frequently. If web designers are targeting young adults, home page size should be small and download quickly, since young adults frequently abandon sites on the home page."

For many companies, there are few incremental gains left to be had from cutting down on page size. This will increase the need to optimize other systems that contribute to slow pages, especially back-end processing. It is increasingly important to measure performance from an external user perspective with a tool that can report on each aspect of a web page's speed. Some of these aspects include DNS lookup time, connect time, the delay before the first download begins and download time.

Companies that have optimized their page designs for speed will want to look more closely at minimizing the delay times before content begins to load. This typically represents the processing time on back-end systems. Companies that have focused on improving web application availability will need to consider raising performance management to similar importance.

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