I started writing software in the outstanding music decade of our time: The Seventies. In those days good software performance was instilled in me early on. System calls and disk I/O were to be kept to the absolute minimum. When I started building websites in 1994 performance was still a big deal to me. In those days static HTML was prevalent and when I set out to build a 100% dynamic CGI site it was quite rare. For speed I used compiled “C” and the site (Garden.com) was feature rich and very fast. Over the last fifteen years there have been many hardware and software innovations to make processing dynamic pages faster. In fact, for many sites we don’t even have to think about it. However, I’m amazed how slow some large and influential sites often are.
You really need to render pages in less than a second to keep people from noticing. Certain pages (e.g. order checkout and account creation) can take longer without losing people’s interest, but for the most part clicking around from page to page should take a second or less. 0.1 to 0.5 seconds are better. You can certainly notice the difference between a second and half a second.
What happens is that developers get so enamored with adding all these “cool features” to a page that they fail to keep an eye on the clock. Or they keep an eye on the clock for the single instance and don’t take into account that 100’s or 1000’s of clicks are competing for the same resource.
I have heard on more than one occasion developers say “Performance doesn’t matter anymore.” Well, performance does matter. Without it you can’t add all the features you need to keep people coming to your site and if you do your site will be so slow that people will leave even quicker.
As we constantly change and fragment the ways we get to deliver content over the web our servers will continue to get pummeled with requests and I don’t see a time when performance will ever be irrelevant. What is more likely is that if we don’t start really thinking seriously about performance at the lowest levels we will build systems that just topple over with the load.
Performance is more relevant today than ever.