Welcome!

AJAX & REA Authors: William Schmarzo, Liz McMillan, VictorOps Blog, Elizabeth White, Tom Kemp

Related Topics: Java, AJAX & REA

Java: Article

Performance as Key to Success

How Online News Portals could do better

What factors make you think a web page is good or not? What keeps on that page longer than others? On the one hand it is the content on the page and whether this content is of interest to you. On the other it is the velocity with which you can navigate through the individual pages. High-Speed internet and performance-optimized pages make our day-to-day browsing easier when accessing our emails, tweets, latest updates on sports or news. With all the changes in the recent years in Web Performance Optimization (WPO) we’ve been spoiled by those sites that follow all these Best Practices and boosted their web site experience. No wonder that we start losing our patience with a site that doesn’t respond as fast as we’ve come to expect.

For this particular reason Google modified their ranking algorithm to now also include web performance as one of their metrics. The speed of a web page – the time from entering the URL in the browser until the page has been fully loaded – has now become one factor that defines whether your site shows up on the top or on the bottom of a search result. A good reason to pick “fast by default” as the main theme for this year’s Velocity 2010 Conference. Steve Souders – the driving force behind Web Performance Optimization – hosted this conference and it became clear the significant impact Web Site Performance has on end user behavior and thus the success of a web site.

At last year’s Velocity the first results on Business Impact of Performance were presented to the public. Microsoft, Yahoo and Google presented their results of their internal tests that showed that slower pages have a direct impact on banner clicks – and therefore generated revenue. On the contrary – Shopzilla presented the results of a web site overhaul showing how a faster web site positively impacts the number of users, time spent on site, number of clicks and generated revenue.

Who is faster? Who is better? Bild.de or Spiegel.de?

Similar to my analysis of the FIFA World Cup Website, the Golf Masters or the web site for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver I wanted to take a closer look at the two biggest German news portals: Bild.de and Spiegel.de.

Based on Alexa, these are the top two news portals in Germany. Both portals probably have a very different reader community as both publishers have a different way to “present” news. My analysis focuses on how well these pages follow the Best Practices on Web Performance Optimization – therefore the actual content doesn’t matter, as it is all about how to deliver the content. Both pages deliver high-volume, multimedia content. Both pages make money with online ads and therefore it is in their interest that many users visit their site, stay as long as possible on their site and click as many ads as possible. We’ve learned from Google, Bing, etc… that speed is a critical factor in keeping user on the page – now let’s see how these two sites do:

There are three great and free tools available that we can use for an analysis like this:

All three tools analyze individual web sites based on the Best Practices from dynaTrace, Yahoo and Google and provide a nice overview on whether the rules discussed in these documents were met or not.

The Test scenario
On both sites – www.bild.de and www.spiegel.de – I looked at two individual pages: the start page and the overview page for politics. Important for my testing is to start with a cleared browser cache in order to analyze the page as a First Time Visitor. It is recommended to run the same test again – this time with a primed browser cache – and then compare the timings.

The Result
Using any of the three mentioned tools is rather simple. dynaTrace AJAX allows me to record a complete browser session which includes all 4 pages I am testing. The following screenshot shows the Performance Report that is opened when double clicking on the recorded session showing the four tested pages:

dynaTrace Performance Report shows all 4 pages in performance comparison

dynaTrace Performance Report shows all 4 pages in performance comparison

We can make the following interesting observations:

  1. Both sites have a First Impression Time of less than 2 seconds. This means that it takes less than 2 seconds until the user gets a first visual impression of the website – which is considered acceptable
  2. The Fully Loaded Time of both start pages is very high – both take about 14 seconds to fully load. The main reason for this is the amount of multimedia content (mainly images)
  3. Bild.de requires 289 HTTP Requests to fully load – that’s 113 more than Spiegel.de
  4. Bild.de uses JavaScript and XHR (XmlHttpRequests) to dynamically load content
  5. The full page size of bild.de is 4.6MB. That is 2.5 times more than Spiegel.de which “only” has 1.8MB

Lifetime of a Web Page
One of the nicest features of dynaTrace AJAX is the Timeline View. This view shows all activities (HTTP Requests, JavaScript execution, Rendering, XHR Requests and page events) that happen on a single page in chronological order. We can also see all requests split up by domain which makes it easy to spot which domains serve a lot of content or which domains serve the content very slowly. Especially on pages that include external 3rd party content, e.g.: Ad-Banners, it is interesting to see how this type of content slows down your page. Google’s PageSpeed has a new feature in their latest version which allows you to focus on your own or external content when analyzing page performance.

The following two screenshots show the dynaTrace Timeline for the start page of Bild.de and Spiegel.de:

Bild.de loads most of their images from a dedicated image domain. Rendering activity seems to very high as well

Bild.de loads most of their images from a dedicated image domain. Rendering activity seems to very high as well

Spiegel.de serves all images from its primary domain. It also hardly uses JavaScript or excessive rendering

Spiegel.de serves all images from its primary domain. It also hardly uses JavaScript or excessive rendering

There are some fundamental differences between the two start pages:

  • Bild.de uses multiple domains to deliver multimedia content, e.g.: bilder.bild.de or newscase.bild.de. Splitting content on multiple domains is a Best Practice that is called Domain Sharding. It has the advantage of letting the browser use more physical network connections to download more content in parallel
  • Spiegel.de delivers most of its multimedia content from the primary www.spiegel.de domain which is the bottleneck of their deployment. A browser has a limited number of physical network connections to a single domain, e.g: IE 7 uses 2 connections. If there are more than 2 resources to be downloaded from a domain they need to get queued up and have to wait for a connection to become available. Domain Sharding solves this problem by splitting content on multiple domains
  • both pages have individual resources that take extraordinarily long to load, e.g.: initial HTML page and CSS files on spiegel.de or 2 Flash components on bild.de
  • Bild.de shows a constantly high rendering activity – caused by animated images as well as the large number of images on that page

Key Performance Indicators
Additionally to the performance metrics as shown in the dynaTrace AJAX Performance Report Overview the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tab shows a set of additional important KPI’s:

Key Performance Indicators for Bild.de - showing high load time, server-time, wait time and number of requests

Key Performance Indicators for Bild.de - showing high load time, server-time, wait time and number of requests

As mentioned earlier, bild.de requires many HTTP Roundtrips (289) in order to load the full page. The number one rule in Web Performance Optimization says to minimize HTTP Roundtrips. 289 roundtrips from browser to server is definitely too much. Every roundtrip needs to wait on a free physical network connection (read more on The Two HTTP Connection Limit Issue). Every roundtrip includes the overhead of network latency between browser and server as well as the overhead of the HTTP Protocol itself (HTTP Headers very often contribute a large percentage of the total roundtrip size).

The KPI Report also shows how many resources (images, CSS, …) are being cached or have to be retrieved from the server every time. The first table shows that 80 resources do not use any browser cache headers. That means that these resources have to be re-downloaded on every subsequent visit of the same user.

Usage of the Browser Cache
The Browser Caching Tab on the dynaTrace AJAX Performance Report performs a detailed analysis of HTTP Cache Headers on every downloaded resource. It is recommended to read Best Practices on Browser Caching which explains available browser caching options.

Bild.de and Spiegel.de don’t make optimal use of the browser cache. The following illustration shows a list of all resources that have no cache setting, a cache setting with a past date or a very short cache expiration date:

Many resoures on the page will not be cached at all or have a very short expiration date

Many resources on the page will not be cached at all or have a very short expiration date

Obviously it doesn’t make sense to cache every image on a page. Images that have a short life time should not fill up the local browser cache unnecessarily. If we have a closer look at some of the images on these pages here it seems that at least some of them could be cached for a longer time as they won’t change that frequently. The following section of the website shows images that are cached only shortly (< 48 hours):

Some examples on images that can be cached longer as they won't change that frequently

Some examples on images that can be cached longer as they won't change frequently

These logos will probably not change every 2 days – therefore it makes sense to specify a Far-Future Expiration Header. This reduces the number of roundtrips for revisiting users.

Reducing HTTP Roundtrips
I talked about this several times now – the top rule is to reduce network roundtrips. Besides making use of the browser’s cache there are other ways to reduce the roundtrips for every user (not just revisiting). dynaTrace AJAX has the Network tab that shows those roundtrips that are considered “unnecessary”:

7 unnecessary HTTP Redirects, CSS, JavaScript and Images on this page

Seven unnecessary HTTP Redirects, CSS, JavaScript and Images on this page

HTTP Redirects allow implementing some important use cases, e.g.: authentication, short memorable URLs or end-user monitoring. Too often though HTTP Redirects are caused by wrong configuration settings on the web server. Redirects that can be avoided are a great way to improve web site performance. On the start page of spiegel.de we have 5 redirects – bild.de has 7. A redirect means an additional HTTP Roundtrip as the browser needs to follow the redirect and request another URL in order to get to the originally requested resource.

Great savings can also be achieved on CSS, JavaScript and image resources. All 3 types can potentially be merged into fewer resources. The Best Practice on Network Requests and Roundtrips talks about CSS and JavaScript merging and compression. It also talked about CSS Sprites. CSS Sprites is a technique to combine multiple images in a single resource and use CSS styles to show the individual images on the correct location on the page. Check out the Best Practices on CSS Sprites.

Reducing resources not only brings the advantage of fewer roundtrips. It also means that fewer resources need to be downloaded from the same domain which reduces waiting time (remember the limitation of 2 connections per domain on IE7 mentioned earlier in this blog?).

On all pages of the two sites (Bild and Spiegel) we can observe too many JavaScript, CSS and image resources. It is not possible to merge all of these files – as this is technically not always feasible. It looks like some of these files could be merged and would therefore greatly enhance load time.

Dynamic content
Even though the majority of the content on a news site is static for at least a while (new news doesn’t arrive every second) there is enough content that needs to be generated dynamically for every user. Examples for this are any type of ticker information, weather or personalized ads.

dynaTrace identifies dynamic content based on the rules defined in Best Practice on Server-Side Performance. All these requests are listed on the Server-Side tab in the Performance Report. The Server-Time is the time also known as Time-To-First-Byte. It is the time from the last byte of the HTTP Request sent until the first byte of the response is received. This also includes network latency between the browser and the server – it is however the closest you can get to the server-time without actually measuring the time on the server. The following illustration shows the dynamic resources of bild.de:

dynaTrace shows slow running server-side requests - both on bild.de as well as Ad-Service domains

dynaTrace shows slow running server-side requests - both on bild.de as well as Ad-Service domains

The slowest requests are stock information requests, the initial page request itself as well as the weather information. We also see some requests to an external ad-service and requests to a web-tracking service (not visible in the screenshot above). Server-side performance mainly becomes an issue for dynamically generated content – and usually only in a scenario where many users want to access data from the server. In this case it becomes an even bigger problem because it prevents a larger number of users to actually click on those ads that generate revenue.

Top 10 Performance Problems taken from Zappos, Monster, Thomson and Co lists the typical server-side performance problems and shows how to prevent them.

Conclusion: Who delivers the fastest News?
In our tests, neither site does particularly well. Both sites deliver lots of content without following the Best Practices on Browser Caching or Network Roundtrips. The fully-loaded time of both pages is very high with 14 seconds each (obviously this also depends on your connection speed). Both sites deliver an acceptable first visual impression (<2 seconds).

dynaTrace, PageSpeed and YSlow allow uploading performance results to ShowSlow. ShowSlow is an Open Source Platform and can be used as performance repository for web metrics. ShowSlow.com hosts a public instance of the ShowSlow server and allows you to upload and compare results:

Performance comparision between the sites using all available Web Performance Tools

Performance comparison between the sites using all available Web Performance Tools

The difference in ranking and grading is that every tool puts the focus on different rules. dynaTrace puts its focus on load time first and then on rules such as browser caching or network roundtrips. YSlow and PageSpeed focus more on the Best Practice rules. A good mix of tool usage is therefore recommended – especially because no tool supports every browser anyway.

Now – who is the winner of this analysis? Let’s hope it is us – the readers of these online news portals. With the result of this analysis, with the help of the tools and with the help of people like Steve Souders, Web Site Performance is put in the spotlight and will ultimately lead to better and faster websites:

Performance == More Users == More Revenue

Related reading:

  1. How better Caching helps Frankfurt’s Airport Website to handle additional load caused by the Volcano Along with so many others I am stranded in Europe...
  2. Hands-On Guide: Verifying FIFA World Cup Web Site against Performance Best Practices Whether you call it Football, Futbol, Fussball, Futebol, Calcio or...
  3. Video on Common Performance Antipatterns online [caption id="attachment_1020" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Parleys - Common Performance Antipatterns"][/caption] Last...
  4. Thomson Reuters on How they deliver High Performance Online Services We have had some great Webinars with our customers in...
  5. www.utah.travel in minutes">How to analyze and speed up content rich web sites likes www.utah.travel in minutes One of my daily activities is checking interesting blog posts...

More Stories By Andreas Grabner

Andreas Grabner has been helping companies improve their application performance for 15+ years. He is a regular contributor within Web Performance and DevOps communities and a prolific speaker at user groups and conferences around the world. Reach him at @grabnerandi

@CloudExpo Stories
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the...
DevOps Summit, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long developmen...
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
As cloud gives an opportunity to businesses to buy services externally – how is cloud impacting your customers? In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Fabio Gori, Director of Worldwide Cloud Marketing at Cisco, provided answers to big questions: Do you see hybrid cloud as where the world is going? What benefits does it bring? And how does Cisco connect all of these clouds? He also discussed Intercloud and Cisco’s investment on it.
Database apps on mobile devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Bradley Holt, a Developer Advocate for IBM Cloudant, will discuss how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again), whenever an Internet connection is available. He will demonstrate techniques for replicating cloud databases with mobile devices in order to build offline-enabled mobile apps that can provide a better,...
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immed...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch ...
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on T...
SYS-CON Events announced today Isomorphic Software, the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Isomorphic Software is the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications. We develop, market, and support the SmartClient & Smart GWT HTML5/Ajax platform, combining the productivity and performance of traditional desktop software ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CenturyLink, Inc., a leader in the network services market, has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications company in the United States and is recognized as a leader in the network services market by technology industry analyst firms. The company is a global leader in cloud infrastructure and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and eas...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, a...
What if, during a snow emergency, an on-the-ground sensor could automatically trigger a relevant emergency notification related to snowfall and road impact. And then, after it’s triggered, that notification is delivered intelligently to individuals based on an extensive set of rules designed to alert the most available and capable responders. This “what if” question about “smart highways” is short-sighted. We are already there, and we are only getting started. While mainstream attention is pai...
There are 182 billion emails sent every day, generating a lot of data about how recipients and ISPs respond. Many marketers take a more-is-better approach to stats, preferring to have the ability to slice and dice their email lists based numerous arbitrary stats. However, fundamentally what really matters is whether or not sending an email to a particular recipient will generate value. Data Scientists can design high-level insights such as engagement prediction models and content clusters that a...
In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Simone Brunozzi, VP and Chief Technologist of Cloud Services at VMware, will review the changes that the cloud computing industry has gone through over the last five years and share insights into what the next five will bring. He will chronicle the challenges enterprise companies are facing as they move to the public cloud. He will delve into the “Hybrid Cloud” space and explain why every CIO should consider ‘hybrid cloud’ as part of their future strategy to a...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover ...
Avnet, Inc. has announced that it ranked No. 4 on the InformationWeek Elite 100 – a list of the top business technology innovators in the U.S. Avnet was recognized for the development of an innovative cloud-based training system that serves as the foundation for Avnet Academy – the company’s education and training organization focused on technical training around top IT vendor technologies. The development of this system allowed Avnet to quickly expand its IT-related training capabilities around...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using ...
A new definition of Big Data & the practical applications of the defined components & associated technical architecture models This presentation introduces a new definition of Big Data, along with the practical applications of the defined components and associated technical architecture models. In his session at Big Data Expo, Tony Shan will start with looking into the concept of Big Data and tracing back the first definition by Doug Laney, and then he will dive deep into the description of 3V...