W3C Defining New Metrics to Measure Web User Experience

What will we do will all this Web metric data?

The W3C's Web Performance Working Group is working on a specification to define 20 very fine-grained metrics to measure the duration of just about every aspect of a website user's "navigation" experience imaginable. The W3C's working draft of the Navigation Timing Specification is in the "last call for comments" phase, and once it is finalized, it will specify 20 measurements for every page rendered. That's a lot of measurements!

We spoke about this recently with Strangeloop's President, Joshua Bixby. He told us that all these new measurements, which his company and others are implementing, are creating a tsunami of data that will sorely challenge those who must understand the wave of additional data and make it useful . He told us that companies are scrambling to nab PhD students to correlate the data to determine which of the 20 metrics really matter. In his words, "We are rich in data but poor in conclusions. We're struggling to keep up with the data collection, but can't keep up with the analysis--we have just touched the surface of the data."

You may ask why these new metrics are needed? As the W3C explains it, "While JavaScript-based mechanisms can provide comprehensive instrumentation for user latency measurements within an application, in many cases, they are unable to provide a complete end-to-end latency picture. To address the need for complete information on user experience, [the Navigation Timing specification] introduces the Performance Timing interfaces. This interface allows JavaScript mechanisms to provide complete client-side latency measurements within applications. "

This is yet another aspect of the cosmic shift to client-based assembly. The data center may be moving to cloud-based computing/storage but the user experience is clearly being orchestrated at users' devices. The ability to tap into the increasing intelligence and power of devices will be a powerful means for understanding the user experience. We wonder if the current performance measurement players can adapt, or if they be swept away by the shift and resulting data tsunamis.

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