user experience

Slow Paced Conversation Pieces

In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Page Load plays an instrumental part. Conversation Pieces is one such excellent example of a web product with Delayed Page Load Time.

image_thumb254A company can have the best product around, but if the pages are too sluggish, if the product suffers recurring outages, if the user-product interaction is varied and inconsistent, the product’s overall Usability can, and does, suffer.

Quick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). Among the various components that define a product’s Usability, as well as Quick-UX‘s, are Accessibility, Consistency, Recognition, Navigation, and Page Load Time.

In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Page Load plays an instrumental role. Page Load, often obfuscated or connected with other perceived causes of a product’s dissatisfaction, ultimately, either positively or negatively, presents an unquestionable influence on a product’s overall Usability.

Example: Delayed Load Time (value = 0.5)

Conversation Pieces is a web product that provides an online venue from which indie designers can sell their creations. This product has also earned a Quick-UX Page Load Time variable value of 0.5, Delayed Load Time.

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According to a report that Akamai released in 2009…

40% of consumers abandon the site after 3 seconds of load time

23% of consumers stop shopping due to long page loading time

These are 2 concerns that Conversation Pieces would be well served to pay attention to.

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Store, Set Up

Bandwidth utilization resulting from the speed of the product’s server(s) plays a critical role in the understanding, and consumer’s perception, of a product’s Page Load Time. However, Page Load Time, the Quick-UX variable, is a quantification of the perceived time it takes to load the page, content, or complete an action. If the product’s page downloads everything in 100ms, but does not show anything to the user for 5, 10, or more seconds, then the page has a Page Load Time problem.

As far as bandwidth utilization is concerned, going beyond the basic hardware of the servers…

unoptimized images
Resizing the used images, reducing the number of colors used, and selecting the proper compression algorithms (GIF, PNG, JPG), can have a tremendous impact on the final file size delivered to the consumer.

uncompressed files
Using products like YUI Compressor or Google Compile on files containing the likes of JavaScript and CSS can remove whitespace and restructure your underlying code to be compact and small in file size.

no HTTP compression
Compressing HTTP requests and responses are very common on many servers and typically demonstrate as much as a 70% reduction in response size, a.k.a. the files the consumer is receiving via their browser. note: depending on your server setup there may be CPU overhead

uncombined files
The more file requests that are made, the more overhead that is involved in the process, and the slower the Page Load Time. Various methods can be used to reduce the files, from using sprites to combine many images into one, to concatenating CSS and JavaScript files.

… all use up unnecessary bandwidth, resulting in superfluous seconds wasted in Page Load Time. Some more best practices to optimizing Page Load Time can be found at http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html .

Minding the Store

The Conversation Pieces product exhibits occasional, inconsistent delays, everywhere from the initial home page load to the display of various purchasable content .

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These delays are most likely caused by the way the Flash and the caching of images has been coded. The resulting experience created is a very real concern in the product’s Usability, with the consumer sometimes waiting, sometimes instantly getting what was requested, with no apparent pattern to the behavior.

Such inconsistency of Page Load Time does more than wreak havoc within the online shopping experience. Beyond the impact on the product’s Usability, there is enough inconsistency present to assuredly have an impact on the actual pocketbook of the company; resulting from consumers leaving to go elsewhere, to a more stable, more consistently usable website.

Should Do

Perceived page load time is the ‘real’ Page Load Time as far as the consumer is concerned. With that in mind, specific steps can be taken to improve the Page Load Time of the Conversation Pieces product.

  • Focus the product on providing content in manners empowering the rapid actions and decisions of its consumers.
  • Whether sticking with a full Flash web product, or not, further optimize the dynamically loaded images and perform smarter caching and, especially, preloading of content with better user feedback as to what is actually going on, e.g. image X of Y loaded, W% loaded, Q time remaining.
  • A good deal of what can be accomplished in Flash can be done in a much more lightweight and prompt fashion via the latest techniques of HTML and JavaScript. With the availability of very powerful JavaScript libraries (MooTools, YUI, jQuery, …) companies are hard pressed nowadays to justify the absolute requirement of Flash over that of HTML.

Next…

Over the next several weeks I will be providing real-world examples of Page Load Time values…

Poor Load Time (value 0) [Twitter, Twine]
Delayed Load Time (value 0.5) [Conversation Pieces]
Prompt Load Time (value 1) [Facebook]

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Page Load Time of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy, Discuss & Tweet!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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