A friend was suggesting that one can easily list the most popular stereotypes about a nation. With a little help from a friend – Google autocomplete. Simply type “why are the [nationality X] so …” in the old search box and enjoy.

After a few chuckles I thought: hm, I wonder what is the public’s consensus on my employer.

Wait, what – 3 out of 5 top searches are people wondering about performance! Surely these results must be customized to reflect some previous search history. Let’s try Bing and incognito mode (private browsing) just in case. Here are the first ten suggestions:

I’m not going to pretend I know how autocomplete suggestions are generated but it looks safe to assume that something like 7 out of 10 top searches come from people who are disappointed about the site/app being slow. We obviously have our work cut out for us.

But wait, how about some other popular sites out there?

Twitter? Probably a simpler app plus they recently moved from client-heavy rendering to server-side and now everything is much faster.


Ok, this is getting worrisome. But there’s got to be an exception. I know there is one site out there that has always claimed simplicity and speed is core to the experience. “Speed is #1 feature”. Everyone knows that Google is fast, right? Right?

Oh man, what we doing?! We, as in, the web developers.

Why is the web so slow?

And more importantly for us – the performance community – what are we going to do to fix this.

Web performance is absolutely number one complaint our users have. Hardly anything else in people’s searches is a complaint.

Clearly we have work to do! Studies unequivocally show that, online or offline, when you make people wait they get irritable and unhappy. Time is a limited resource, there are no refills, so people are understandably protective of how they want to spend it. Even when couples fight, if you really dig a little deeper, you’ll often find they actually argue about how they want to spend the time they have left on this planet, not about money or whatever it may appear on the surface. Speaking of money, you know the saying “Time is money”. Does it hold true? Not necessarily. Time can have much more value than money and people often gladly trade their money to free up some more time.

We may have accepted that web sites are slower than installed apps that have all the data they need on the hard drive. You know, network and all. But it would appear that our users have not accepted this as a fact. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we deliver on their expectations?


Stoyan (@stoyanstefanov) is a Facebook engineer, former Yahoo!, writer ("JavaScript Patterns", "Object-Oriented JavaScript"), speaker (JSConf, Velocity, Fronteers), toolmaker (Smush.it, YSlow 2.0) and a guitar hero wannabe.

24 Responses to “Why is the web so slow?”

  1. Derek Tonn

    Excellent posting, Stoyan! Keep fighting the good fight…and never forget that a majority of most web page content out there being transmitted from server(s) to end users is still imagery…most of which hasn’t been properly and/or completely optimized for on-screen display. :-) – Derek

  2. Andre

    Let’s shutdown the autocomplete.

  3. Marinus

    This site is slow as well.

  4. Jim Strathmeyer

    Pages are slow because you have to wait for three round trips from the advertising servers before the page will start to load. Anyone who ever used a 56k modem remembers how fast a page used to load after you click a link.

  5. Jake

    The web, and almost any UI is slow, because of cult programming and over abstraction.
    Programmers over-complicate trivial things, add tons of unnecessary libraries to satisfy an amateur boss, and then wonder why their application is slow.

  6. Mark Burns

    I think you’ve got some kind of bias in your choice of phrasing “Why is X so Y?”.

    I think slow fits in here, as would any extreme, so you’re preselecting extreme answers, and people have a tendency to complain and search for solutions to problems rather than say, praise the internet whilst searching for something.
    If I have a problem, I’ll search for it. If I think google is fast, then I just won’t notice it. Or may notice significant upticks in performance, but I’m unlikely to google about something that I have just grown to accept and isn’t bothering me.

  7. ajimix

    As you say, the suggestion is filled with the most used searches, and most of the users who are non “techie” may have browser toolbars, plugins, old computers, outdated software or even some type of malware/adware, etc.
    This can a lot of times lead to websites loading slow of working slow, even I’ve seen users downloading things and wondering why the websites were loading so slow…

    So yes, as web developers we should care about performance and I’m sure we do, but not all the performance control it’s in our hands, and the same happens with software.

  8. Alexander

    We should invent a technology that kills the modern web. Replace HTTP with Protocol Buffers and HTML (Text Markup Lang) with new application friendly language. All web data should be binary and tiny, not human readable and overloaded by expansive text entities. JS as well should be distributed as llvm bytecode. BTW, why JS? Bytecode can be generated from any language. Standards shouldn’t be treated by implementators as they want – each point in standard should be covered with conformance tests. And of course everything should be open source and public. Only then we’ll have blazingly fast web. How do you think?

  9. JP

    I agree that there’s may be some bias in the wording, so I tried the same with a bit more balanced “Why is x”.

    In that case you can also see results such as, “Why is x down” or “not working”. Slowness is still in the high top five, with the notable exception of Twitter. So props to the Twitter crew for the lack of searches. :)

  10. Rosh

    I don’t think they are showing slow because there is a lot of real searches that all the services mentioned above is “slow” . It may be because google predicts that slow is the most natural thing to follow after the question why is my [something] and then they extrapolate it to all the [something]. On a lighter vein, maybe google should put a pòst filtering module that just removes “why is google so slow”..-:)

  11. Mike Schoeffler

    Cool technique for uncovering how much speed bugs people. Might also reflect the mystery of speed.

    Fewer people wonder why Google is so sparse or why Facebook has ads. The answers are pretty obvious.

    Many users also might be looking some action that can affect speed. I’m betting they would love a plug-in to nail down “actionable steps”:

    - “Your netflix connection is sucking up 99% of your connection; Change X setting”
    - “A faulty ad is blocking this site from loading; try reloading”

  12. Nicolas Chevallier

    It’s really strange to see such queries… except for Twitter :)

  13. Sergio Lopes

    Nice results! But in the end you say that web apps are slow because of network and native apps have better performance. So I tried the “why … so” queries with famous desktop apps and got a lot of “slow” responses too.

    Try “why is microsoft office is so” or “why is adobe photoshop is so”.

    The user always complain about performance, even in native desktop programs

  14. max

    It’s due to all the surveillance, ads, and trackers that Facebook and the rest of the big, greedy, and powerful deploy on the web

  15. Acaz

    This needs to change the web architecture.

  16. Arun

    I think this is more to do with psychology of the user who is getting into restless mode (or are we always in that mode constantly?) and cannot wait for things to happen. There are quite a few steps involved before a query in the brain to get translated to a solution/response. And there are another n number of steps before you get a favourable solution. So there are two factors – the ‘unknown’ and ‘sequence’ of steps which create this restlessness. This is well researched (I guess) and employed by Google for predictive text and nothing more. Actually speaking, the world has improved from being able to serve a page in nothing less than 10 seconds to couple of seconds – unfortunately it has not kept up to the pace of our mind.

  17. jwalker

    If we stop making things so complicated things will speed up. Because money men have moved into the arena in a big way they seem to more and more want to track us, cookie us and trap us. More and more complicated coding with ajax, java, ruby etc etc has also resulted in a more confused arena too and this trend is pushing out home coders and the average website builder. It seems to me that there is a movement to make things so complicated that only really intelligent top people, regulated people, can make websites. There is a move to eradicate all these amateurs making sites in their homes by increasing the technology to a point that you need 5 years in Uni to do it. Take a look at how Flash has gone! one day it was quite easy to do little animations or even interactive ones and now you need an age to learn their over complicated mess of a language!

  18. webbing

    trackers don’t help

  19. BBBThunda

    Try the following and note the results:

    Why is windows…
    Why is os x…
    Why is iOS…
    Why is android…

    Then try:
    Why is Linux…

    Google doesn’t lie, right? lol

  20. Exploring Stereotypes With Google Autocomplete | Björn Wilmsmann

    […] This post by Facebook engineer Stoyan Stefanov suggests Google Autocomplete as a fun way for exploring clichés about nations: […]

  21. Remi Grumeau

    Autocomplete really Is based on what most people using X search about. The smallest or the less public this user base is, the less complains or critics you’ll get. That explains “why is Linux so” or “why so Windows Phone so” and “why is foursquare so” results: public don’t use them, just a happy few.

    Looking at stats & metrics is always a half-filed / half empty glass position: you see what you want to see. It might just be those services are mostly used from a mobile device aka mobile network. That could explains why people feels even Google is slow.

    [troll]or perhaps it’s just because slow-and-broken Android’s popularity :)[/troll]

  22. Performance Calendar » The real challenge: making the entire web fast

    […] are being sped up so much. But let’s not forget about the millions of other websites. As Stoyan Stefanov so elegantly & empirically demonstrated: users are frustrated by the entire web being slow, not just the web […]

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