In Today's High-Speed World, 250 Milliseconds Is Too Long To Wait
March 2, 2012

In Today’s High-Speed World, 250 Milliseconds Is Too Long To Wait

John Neumann for

Back in the old days (younger readers may roll their eyes here), waiting for web pages to load was expected and uneventful. However, in this day and age of always-on high-speed data connections, we dislike waiting any longer than necessary for any web page to open.

Even slow broadband these days will open a page filled with photos within 1 or 2 seconds, but even that isn´t fast enough for most web users, reports Shane McGlaun for SlashGear.

According to Arvind Jain, a Google engineer and resident speed maestro, “every millisecond matters.” A scant 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second) slower than a competitor is enough to send users away. Mobile web surfers expect a bit longer wait time, however, “subconsciously, you don´t like to wait.”

On a mobile device a web page takes a up to 9 seconds to load, according to Google, which tracks a huge range of sites from the homes of large companies to the legions of one-person bloggers.

Download times on personal computers average about 6 seconds worldwide, and about 3.5 seconds on average in the United States. The major search engines, Google and Microsoft´s Bing, are the speed demons of the web, analysts say, typically delivering results in less than a second, writes New York Times´ Steve Lohr.

The slower a web page loads, the less often it will be visited Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft, told the New York Times reporter. “Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the web,” explains Shum.

Tom Leighton, co-founder and chief scientist at Akamai, who is also an MIT professor told Lohr: “users´ expectations are getting shorter and shorter, and the mobile infrastructure is not built for that kind of speed, and that´s an opportunity for us.”

Google, harvests more internet ad revenue than any other company and stands to benefit more than most if the internet speeds up. In 2007, for example, after the company added popular new offerings like Gmail, things slowed down enough that Google´s leaders handed out plastic stopwatches to its engineers to emphasize that speed matters.

Still, not everyone is in line with today´s race to be faster. Kurtz, the Dartmouth computer scientist who is the co-inventor of BASIC, is now 84, and marvels at how things have changed. “Computers and networks these days,” Kurtz told Lohr, “are fast enough for me.”


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