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Performance

Which is Worse: a Slow Website or a Website With Errors?

The thirst for speed may be a result of our desire to consume information and communicate whenever and wherever we are at an ever-increasing pace. While the desktop CPU GHz race has lost the spotlight, the speed race is running at a feverish pace elsewhere. Speed is great, but what about errors? Website errors frustrate users just like website slowness does. The question is, which is more aggravating for a user in 2011: web performance problems or errors on webpages?

Let’s Look at Speed First

When a company as disciplined with products, features and benefits as Apple is, announces evolutionary releases that are primarily about performance, it becomes clear that speed and responsiveness are so important they are worthy of a keynote. First we had the Apple iPhone 3G vs. 3Gs, and now we have the iPad vs. iPad 2. In both instances, one of the key benefits being touted was speed. With characteristic cleverness and his classic showmanship, Steve Jobs used phrases like “it’s dramatically faster” and “up to nine times faster” when he launched the iPad 2 this month.

In summary on speed: Apple is always at the forefront of the user experience, and Apple is signaling that speed is a key component to delivering products that delight users.

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Now Let’s Consider Webpage Errors

While there are plenty of errors on the Web, most web developers have access to a variety of tools and QA processes to detect and correct them. Supporting the wide variety of browsers out there can be tricky, but in many cases errors are masked by the browser. JavaScript errors are often not surfaced, and more and more developers are incorporating the best practices of progressive enhancement or graceful degradation for various error conditions. Looking at Apple once again, iOS users encounter total failure when they encounter Adobe Flash content. Errors are also user-induced, e.g. when users fail to type a CAPTCHA or password correctly.

In summary on webpage errors: today’s users are somewhat forgiving of little errors, and today’s technology often masks some errors and therefore users often overlook them.

Summary

I propose that it’s speed that kills the user experience. Slow site speed that is. Users have a decreasing tolerance for not seeing anything on the screen and for waiting for the browser to display their content at the pace they expect. Users expect to be able to click links and get a result, fast. Many younger people, who never had to endure a 33.6K or 56K modem line, don’t even really understand what”waiting for a page to load” means. They want their applications, whether they are native or browser based, to be very, very responsive. Errors which are real show-stoppers are encountered far less often than slow websites. In the end, I believe that slow website speed is more aggravating for users than all but the most egregious website errors.

What do you think? Does the increasing market share of Google’s Chrome browser also signal a desire for speed over broad compatibility with IE optimized applications? Have you ever taken the time to compare the page load times for your website vs. the competition?



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Image Source: Tim Gilliam
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