Speed up slow web pages with this simple trick

Scientists say this counter-intuitive idea will speed up the loading of web pages: increase the size of images and text

Speed up slow web pages with this simple trick
Mrcool240 (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Increasing the size of images and text will speed up web page delivery, say scientists. This counter-intuitive idea has been put forward as a solution to latency in browser page loading.

The reason the idea works, in theory at least, is that the larger image pushes subsequent, following images farther down the page and out of the browser’s work area. Consequently the browser has less to do, pulls less data and provides a faster delivery of content.

The researchers, who are from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, say this fiendishly simple idea will work particularly well for developers working with airplane networks, where it will stop browsers struggling to load a page. Airplane Wi-Fi can be hindered by latency, they explain.

“Most websites are crammed with images, fonts, videos, social sharing buttons, links, and more,” the researchers say in their announcement.

And on the whole, one doesn’t notice them—except when you’re on an iffy network.

“Whether the plane uses satellite or cell towers, the signal latency—the time it takes to travel from your computer in seat 22B to the ground and back, increases dramatically,” the researchers say. 

That distance causes noticeable latency. Reduce the amount of stuff the browser has to render, and speed should improve.

Chrome extension, ScaleUp, alters web pages

The team has developed a Chrome extension plugin that it claims will provide the supposed magic. The extension measures and dynamically alters the pages as the browser tries to load them. By “passively” measuring the network behavior, ScaleUp, as the scientists call the tool, “transparently adapts the content loaded.”

It also works on text, they say. Simply increasing the size of the fonts also pushes web assets down the page—and speeds things up.

ScaleUp, behind the scenes, functions by analyzing time-to-first-byte (TTFB). That’s the amount of time it takes a website to deliver the initial byte of data after the request is made, and it is a good judge of network speed, the team says.

The tool can also function by blocking certain weighty specialist fonts, substituting them for less heavily rendering fonts but retaining the look and feel.

Thirty-thousand-feet scenarios is where the researchers see their product working best. In fact, they say you’re not going to notice the difference in a normal ground-based network.

However, latency can also be experienced on the ground in “developing regions,” they explain. And indeed I’ve seen it in ground-received satellite-provided internet data, too—with the kind of modem rigs that are used in remote environments, such as oil and gas exploration and adventuring.

ScaleUp is one of a few attempts by developers to improve delivered internet. Opera Mini, available for smartphones and designed for mobile networks, lets one delay downloading of larger files until the user is back in Wi-Fi territory, for example. Ad blocking is another trick employed by others, although arguably unethical.

“Travelers are paying a lot of money and getting [slow] modem-like performance,” says Fabián Bustamante, ScaleUp developer and professor of computer science at Northwestern.

ScaleUp will draw a multimedia-intensive CNN page four times faster than normal, saving 60 seconds, the researchers claim.

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