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Script-Heavy Websites are Slowing Down the Internet

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Posted June 17, 2015

Many people have noticed that websites take markedly longer to load these days – some of this, of course, has to do with browser issues, operating system lag, network congestion, processing power and any number of other pesky problems, but the main culprits, apparently, are today‘s websites themselves.

It has been estimated that the average website is now 2.1 MB in size, or twice as clunky as the average site from just 3 years ago.

As websites grow larger in size, the loading bar or the all-too-familiar “spinning-wheel-of-death” are likely to become an ever more prevalent part of our online experience. At least until the advent of quantum computers, that is. Image credit: Bede Jackson via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

As websites grow larger in size, the loading bar or the all-too-familiar “spinning-wheel-of-death” are likely to become an ever more prevalent part of our online experience. At least until the advent of quantum computers, that is. Image credit: Bede Jackson via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

According to CNN, this is mostly down to websites adding ever-more attention-grabbing videos, images, interactivity plug-ins (comments and feeds) and other script-heavy features that clog up broadband pipes and wireless spectrum.

For instance, inserting third-party data trackers, which many websites use to learn more about the preferences of their visitors, not only add more “weight”, but also increase the number of separate data-fetching tasks which lead to slower loading times.

Photos and videos comprise around two-thirds of the size of an average site – a ratio that holds up even after controlling for the growth of total size over the years. Scripts are approximately 16%, fonts around 5% and HTML code a meager 3%.

Another reason for the growing amount of digital bloat is the increasing number of devices built to go online – from tablets and phones to smartwatches and a host of other gizmos, every platform requires a specialised version of a particular website, forcing some of the larger ones to have up to 50 different image sizes ready to be called upon at any time. This additional complexity requires more code to run, and adds to site‘s “waistline”.

“The shift from desktop to mobile requests and consumption have had the biggest impact on website performance,” said Craig Adams, VP of Web Experience Products at Akamai, a content delivery network that services 15% to 30% of all online traffic daily.

On top of all this, websites have also begun using stronger encryption protocols to guard themselves against unwanted cyber-attacks, and yes, this also adds a rather hunky amount of extra code.

As for the element that has ballooned the most – it’s fonts. Yup, fonts. This seemingly light-weight part of a website has been relied on more heavily by developers in recent years wanting to set their online real estate apart from that of their competitors. According to the data tracked by HTTP Archive, 3 years back, font transfer size was only 1%, whereas now it’s closer to 5%.

All other relevant factors notwithstanding, the web is getting slower. And even though it’s happening by a matter of seconds, every moment we’re forced to idle in front of a stuttering screen, waiting for all the flashy content to load, makes us more likely to throw our hands into the air and leave for the website of a competitor, who’s been smart enough not to overload it with tons of glamorous – and often useless – content.

Sources: money.cnn.com, nwahomepage.com, httparchive.org.

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