Is a lazy website key to online success?

Speed matters. Once upon a time, if a business had a website, it was revolutionary. Now in many cases if a business doesn’t have a website, it will usually suffer as a result.

When the internet was in its infancy, speed wasn’t really on the agenda. If your site loaded super fast (remember we are still in the days of 56kbps/dial-up internet access here) great. If it didn’t, people would be prepared to wait.

Nowadays there are so many different websites offering such similar information, if your site is slow, your traffic (or as I prefer to call it visitor numbers, or even better: people) will suffer as a result. There are countless studies into this, almost all of which conclude that the slower a site is, the fewer visitors it has.

Furthermore, speed is starting to become an evermore important search engine ranking factor – if your site is slow, you are less likely to rank at the top.

Okay, you get the point: today speed matters.

The problem with many websites is that they have so much to load. When you load our homepage, it isn’t just a few lines of HTML that your browser requests from our server, it also fetches a handful of local CSS, JavaScript and PHP files, in addition to bunch of images and some large chunks of external code, which are used to generate social media buttons.

This all takes time, and every extra byte and file that is requested will slow down the page load time.

Slim Down

One way to reduce the size of the page is to reduce the amount of files – and the size of those files – that are fetched. We make every effort to ensure that our locally loaded scripts are as condensed as possible, so your browser doesn’t have to request dozens of files, just one or two.

We have also combined several images into one file (a CSS sprite), again, so your browser has to fetch fewer files. Take a look at the image below for an example.

CSS sprite social media

Technology Bloggers social icons CSS sprite.

The trouble is, we only have control over internal files. I can’t go and reduce the Tweet button script and add it to one of our existing files, as it is controlled by Twitter, and served via their servers.

Lazy Loading Images

Sometimes slimming down isn’t enough, so one way to prevent the initial load becoming verbose is to delay the loading of images not in view. We use a WordPress plugin called Lazy Load, which only loads images just before they come into view. So if the page has five megabytes of images to load, and four are below the fold, then when the page loads, you will only have to wait for one megabytes worth of images to load; if you don’t scroll down, the other four never get loaded.

Lazy loading images can significantly help improve page load time, as images are usually the biggest files that a website loads, so only loading the vital ones really speeds things up!

Lazy Loading Social Buttons

As I mentioned above, one of the biggest strains on loading is external code, specifically social buttons and sharing buttons.

For a long time now, the ability to offer you the potential to share content and follow us via social media has come at a high price – in terms of loading time. However after a lot of coding and hours of tweaking, our social buttons are now just a tiny (in size) image.

If you take a look at our sidebar, the social buttons sill look very similar to before – Facebook like, Twitter follow and Google Plus recommend all still there – however they now only load the external scripts if you mouse over them. This removes a huge delay when you first load a page, and means we can provide these buttons on every page of the site, with a much smaller speed loss.

At the top of articles, the social buttons there now also load lazily, and only fetch code from the networks when you mouse over the button images.

Lazy loading sharing buttons.

Technology Bloggers delayed loading social buttons.

Lazy loading social media buttons has dramatically improved the speed of Technology Bloggers, and still enables you to share content when and how you choose.

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What is your view on delayed loading?

Leap seconds

2012 was a leap year, 2016 will be too, as will 2020 – you get the picture.

Every four years, the Gregorian calendar observers what is known as a leap year, a year with one day extra than the previous three years, or than the next three. This is because the solar year (how long it takes the earth to complete an entire orbit of the sun) is almost 6 hours longer than the standard 365 days calendar year.

Solar vs Gregorian Time

There is however a small issue with leap years. The original rule of adding a leap day every fourth year ever so slightly overcompensates for the time difference, as the solar year is 365.2422 days long. With leap years the average year has 365.25 days, which is 0.0078 days too many! Also, our planets spin is slightly irregular, meaning that some [solar] days are slightly longer [as in milliseconds!] than others, whilst others are slightly shorter.

TimeYou might think that there really isn’t any point in worrying about 0.0078 days, as it would take over 128 years before all those tiny bits of days added up to make an entire day. However if we ignored the 0.0078 days, in 23,376 years we would have lost so much time, the seasons would have completely reversed, as there would be a huge 6 months of time distortion!

To solve the problem, clever scientists have worked out that if we miss out three leap days (omitting three leap years) every 400 years, then the average calendar year becomes 365.2425 days long. However this still leaves a 0.0003 day (or 25.92 second) difference each 400 year cycle – 0.0648 seconds every year. A relatively insignificant amount, but all the same, we want to be accurate, so a solution has been found!

Leap Seconds

Every so often we also get a leap second. Due to the irregularity of the movement of the earth, it is impossible to construct a precise schedule for these seconds.

23:59:60 - a leap secondLeap seconds are added in as and when they are needed, so the Gregorian measure of time should never be more than one second out of sync with the measure of time linked to the earth’s orbit.

Sometimes leap seconds are positive, meaning they add to time, and they can also [in theory] be negative.

Leap seconds are usually added to the end of the day, at the end of a year, or half year period. The most recent leap second was on July the 30th 2012, where one second was added to time, so it didn’t become the 1st of June the second after 23:59:59, it instead became 23:59:60.

Problems With Leap Seconds

Leap seconds are brilliant from a scientific perspective, as they help to keep time and the environment in almost perfect constant sync, year after year. However from a technical perspective, they pose some huge problems!

Remember the huge fuss about the Millennium bug, the problems the turn of the century was [thought] to cause and the money that was thrown at it? Ultimately, nothing major happened. Leap seconds pose a similar sort of technological issue, but the threat much more real.

The most recent leap second, caused major technical issues for firms all around the world. Just before the leap second, there was a solar storm, which disrupted technology, especially websites, needless to say this didn’t help the leap second scenario in the slightest!

One of the most high profile victims of the June 2012 leap second was social network Reddit. Due to the nature of its activates Reddit relies heavily on synchronised operations, as do Foursquare, LinkedIn, Gawker, and StumbleUpon, who were all also affected. When the time on the servers of these services was thrown out of sync by one second with the time Apache Cassandra and Java were displaying, their technical systems went into meltdown!

After a few hours, most of the technical blackout was over, and the majority of services were back up and running.

Six months notice is given prior to a leap second, and for many firms they are not a problem. Measures do need to be put in place, however if they are, there are [usually] no issues.

Should We Abolish The Leap Second?

From a scientific perspective, the leap second is a fantastic idea; it keeps time perfectly synchronised. However from a technical perspective it is a bit of a costly annoyance.

In January 2012, there was a meeting by the ITU, who discussed whether or not to drop the leap second. We could just ignore these time adjustments altogether, or we could add a leap hour every few hundred years. Despite hopes, the ITU were unable to reach a consensus, so have put off making a decision until 2015 – at the earliest.

The story of the online auction monopolist eBay

eBay. A firm which in 2011 had a net income of more than 3.2 billion. A website which almost everyone has heard of.

In an article I recently posted which explored whether there is really that much diversity online, I noted how eBay owned four websites in Alexa’s top 100 ranking – eBay.com, eBay.de, eBay.co.uk and PayPal.com.

There is no doubt that eBay holds a monopoly on the online auction market. But how did it get there? On September the 2nd 1995, eBay didn’t exist. One day later on September the 3rd it did, and after just over 3 years and 6 months, the site made its first major acquisition, the auction house Butterfield & Butterfield which it purchased for the price of $260,000,000 USD. A spend of 260 million after less than four years trading? eBay’s rapid early growth set it up to become a global internet phenomenon.

eBay kept buying up smaller firms, but not spending nearly as much as it had on its first purchase until mid-2000 when it forked out 318 million (USD) to buy Half.com. This was an amazing investment at the time, as even today it stands as eBay’s 6th largest ever investment, and it has made hundreds.

PayPal's logoThat said, the purchase of Half.com was to prove small fry to PayPal, which the now giant auctioneer purchased 2 years later in July 2002 for an astounding $1.5 billion. PayPal integration with eBay is (in my opinion) one of its greatest ever business moves. eBay is now able to seamlessly integrate processing credit card payments without having to pay millions every year to third parties. Fees eBay would have lost to PayPal are now extra revenues.

eBay wasn’t done though, going on to make the biggest purchase in its history, by buying Skype Limited for more than $2.5 billion. The auction site purchased the Luxembourg based company in 2005, only to sell 70% of its shares in 2009 for $2 billion – a healthy profit. Later, in May 2011, Microsoft bought Skype in its entirety for $8.5 billion, an investment which I am not sure it will see great returns on in the near future at least.

Skype's LogoeBay started to turn into a Microsoft and a Google. It was fast becoming an internet giant which bought up pretty much anything it could see turning it a bigger profit, or anything which posed a threat – in terms of competition. Just some of its purchases include StumbleUpon, Bill Me Later and Magento, the ecommerce web application.

Many say that eBay is one of the most notable successes the dot-com bubble, and I have to agree. Without the internet, eBay would be nowhere. It got in early and grew from the start, giving its competition very little chance.

Like it or hate it, eBay is an internet phenomenon, and also an internet giant. In my opinion it is successful down to luck: a good idea at the right time. Had it been thought of a year later, eBay might not be what it is today, had the internet not really taken off as it has and still is doing, eBay would again might not be where it is today.

What are your views on eBay? Were you aware of how much it owns and how rich it is? Is its monopoly unfair, or don’t you mind?

Which social buttons do you want on the blog?

Technology Bloggers is a community blog, therefore it is only right that the community are consulted on the decisions made.

My question to you is which social networks do you use, and which would you like to be able to connect with on the blog?

There are four main places you can get social on our Technology Bloggers at the moment: the first is the social icons in the header; the second is our social buttons on the sidebar; the third is the social buttons at the top of articles; and the forth is the social icons at the bottom of articles. Check out the image below to see them all.

Social Icons

Technology Bloggers social icons and buttons

My worry is, that we are not providing the buttons/icons you want. I just assume that everyone wants Facebook and Twitter, but do you use them?

In the image above you can see all of the buttons we provide you with. I never really thought we had that many, but putting them all together, there are a lot!

If I know what everyone uses, I can get rid of any unnecessary buttons, and potentially add some more useful ones in.

Which social buttons do you want? Let me know in the comments.

Here are some ideas:

  • Google: Google +1; Google+ Share; Google Buzz
  • Facebook: Facebook Like; Facebook Share
  • Twitter: Twitter Follow; Twitter Tweet; TweetMeme
  • Buffer
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • DZone
  • StumbleUpon
  • Topsy
  • Digg
  • Delicious
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • DesignBump
  • Serpd
  • TheWebBlend
  • BlogEngage
  • Pinterest
  • Flattr