Tech Tuesday Episode 1: What's the Deal with Website Speed?
Mia Major
Tech Tuesday is a vlog series for directors of technology. Every other week Finalsite's tech expert, Rob Rawcliffe, will discuss the details on a variety of topics in the education technology space. In this episode of Tech Tuesday, Rob and Christina talk about website speed, how schools can better utilize their internet speed, how design choices impact speed, the impact of Google Maps, and how a CDN like Cloudflare can help.


Cristina: Welcome to Tech Tuesday, a video series for directors of technology working in education my name is Christina I've been with Finalsite for about two years now and I'm currently finishing up my cybersecurity masters at Denver University. I'm here with Rob Rawcliffe, our resident expert in tech

Rob:  Hi everybody my name is Rob Rawcliffe have been with Finalsite now for eight years and before that I worked in technology at a middle school in Connecticut and then a high school for a number of years and that's done me really well in this current position that i'm in with Finalsite.

Cristina: So as you know, Finalsite is all things websites for schools and today we're going to discuss what the deal is with site speed, what exactly is it, what makes it slower or fast, how do we control it and do site sites speed tests really work so the
first question is what exactly is site speed and what does it mean?

Rob: So site speed is really a measurement of how quickly I can get my website from my server to my desktop and view it so that's in a simplest form.

Cristina: There are a lot of variables that come into play with that though. Can you talk a little bit more about what those are and how they affect the speed?

Rob: Sure, so with all computers it's going to matter what your local network looks like. Then obviously if you go outside of your local network, you're into the whole cloud computing, what that looks like and how everything is interconnected and things like that and. If we talk about your local machine, you're really talking about wired or wireless. If you're wired, you're probably getting a pretty good connection to the outside internet via your modem. If you're on a wireless connection, then it really depends on how many devices are sharing that bandwidth. Then you get into the outside world. How good of a connection does your ISP have? Are you on a major backbone so that you've got a good connection to New York or one of the major data centers that connect all the continents. So, there's a number of different factors just like you would if you were driving somewhere: Are you on a dirt path, or are you actually on a highway that's got you know five lanes or something? So a lot of variables um come into play with the network.

Cristina: That seems like a lot of things that schools aren't able to control — so why should schools care about site speed and what can they do to affect it?

Rob: So site speed important because the way that our attentions are nowadays. Back in the early days of the Internet you know you really didn't mind waiting too long for a page to load. But nowadays as we've got more graphics and videos and things like that the web pages are taking a little bit longer to load. But we want to try and make it the best experience and quick for people so that within two or three seconds if you've not got that page your attention is starting to go somewhere else so you're thinking "oh maybe this is broken I'm going to try something else." So you really want that page to be loading in less than two seconds so that you can get to the information and you're not losing people and people stay interested in finding what they're trying to find.

Cristina: What decisions can schools make in order to affect that?

Rob: It's really about what you want your page to look like. If you have a lot of video because you feel that's important to you. How long are those videos? Have you got a minute video on your home page? Because you may not need that people are not coming to your home page to watch a video necessarily. Maybe cutting that down to 15 seconds and then having a link to the full video is a better way of going. Or, do you really need to have 50 images on your home page for people to scroll through in a slide? Maybe you can cut that down to five and if people are interested you can do a call to action saying "come here and view more" — so there's definitely  things you can do. Your homepage doesn't want to be something that is taking a long time to load it really wants to be almost like a splash screen where you can engage people but then direct them to somewhere else in the site and guide their attention elsewhere.

Cristina: When they're making these design design decisions, how can speed tests help them if at all?

Rob: So speed tests are great up to a certain point, but they can be a little bit misleading because when you're loading a page, some pages do what is called lazy loading and they will just load exactly what you see on the screen. Initially, everything that is below the fold is kind of tricked into saying "well, this is loaded now, this is what your page looks like," which is great but it's not necessarily a true test of your full site speed load. So, once you start scrolling down with lazy loading, that's when content starts to get loaded in a second time, and so it really depends on how big your page is, how much data you have, and then how much tracking is going on in your page.

Christina: Do you have Google Maps on your page that is going out and tracking fonts and things like that?

Rob: So there's a lot of variables that can come into play. What makes Finalsite different in loading their web pages is that we've got two really nice things going for us. Number one: we've partnered with Cloudflare, and so we can work with Cloudflare, a CDN or content delivery network, and they also do a lot of DDOS mitigation, which is basically like making sure the traffic is legitimate traffic. We'll go into that in another episode, but the CDN network that they have is really quite expensive, and so what it means is, if I am in another country, let's say I'm in England and I want to get information from a website that is in Connecticut, I would then go try and load that website for Connecticut, and obviously that's taking quite a long time because it's got to go over the ocean to visit me.

With a CDN, what I'm doing is actually going to cache something in England so that when I visit that website I'm not going all the way to Boston every single time for every single little asset. What I'm going to do is, I'm going to pick up a ton of my information from my London computer or my London server, and then maybe there's a couple of items that I need from Boston that I can then pull from Boston, so this way it's a lot faster experience because the computer that I'm pulling all this information from the server is local to me, and with with Cloudflare you have over 200 CDN locations which means you're really never too far away from a server, which means I'm going to get my data extra quick.

So that's that's the first piece. The second piece is the way that we handle images and videos is really nice because we have Resource Manager which you can upload a 5,000 pixel image to Resource Manager, put it on the page, and maybe scroll it down, make it a little bit smaller. If i was to view that page on my mobile device, it already knows that i'm viewing on a mobile device, so on my iPhone I don't need to see this massive 5,000 pixel image. The system knows that i'm only going to need a 250 pixel image, so it's going to send that to me, which may end up like 72k, and not the five or six megabytes that I'd originally uploaded. So that way I'm getting a really good web experience, but I'm also being very cautious of my bandwidth and my speed of my internet and getting a really good experience on my mobile device, and it does all that in the background without you having to resize and re-upload and do all that fun stuff. So it really takes that management piece away from you as the user and puts it on the server so that the server can deal with that.

Christina: You've done a great job at summarizing a really large topic. Is there any last tidbits that you'd like to add?

Rob: I don't think so. No, I think HTTP3 we'll be learning about in the future. That is going to be a huge increase in speed for people once that gets standardized and used as more often as it can. So yeah that's going to be coming up in a future tech Tuesday.

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