As the balance of web traffic continues to shift toward mobile devices, operators of high-traffic websites are increasingly concerned about ensuring fast load times on these devices. Many of them are likely using content distribution networks (CDNs) to reduce latency and ensure quick- loading content. Many of these same web properties are looking at responsive design as a means to optimize content on the broadest array of devices, including mobile phones.
We’ve written before about how responsive sites tend toward excessively heavy page weights, resulting in page-load and performance issues. Our team recently investigated how we might accelerate page-load times at the edge of the network by sending device-optimized websites from a single code base.
Keep in mind that CDNs aim to push content that’s in high demand to dedicated servers at the network’s edge. Meanwhile, SNOW sits on the web server at origin to identify the client device and then intelligently serve the optimum set of images and other device-specific resources to that device. Could this be adapted for the CDN architecture, in which there are two servers involved: the origin server and the edge server?
The answer lies in special technology developed by the major CDN vendors: Edge-Side Includes (ESI). ESI is a simple markup language used to define Web page components for dynamic assembly and delivery of Web applications at the edges of the Internet. It provides a mechanism for managing content transparently across application server solutions, content management systems, and content delivery networks. The good news is that ESI is now compatible with SNOW, which means we can auto-generate ESI syntax for improved performance and device awareness for sites running on CDNs.
The new SNOW-ESI module is a great solution for device-optimized websites that leverage a CDN architecture. SNOW can be added as an optional plug-in on a desired web server, which provides direct communication with the edge server. This means we can implement all of the SNOW features at the edge of the network:
- Device-specific user experience (our taxonomy includes thousands of PCs, smartphones, tablets, phablets, smart TVs, etc.)
- Generation of HTML/CSS content that is optimized for the device.
- Context-based rendering (for example for broadband vs. 3G).
- Edge-level caching for the fastest possible performance.
SNOW-ESI offers many compelling benefits:
- The SNOW-ESI module delivers higher performance than that delivered by responsive techniques, improves the end-to-end performance for mobile devices by a factor of four, and reduces page-load time by as much as 25 percent.
- Web users, especially those with mobile devices, enjoy a fast, device-optimized website experience.
- For developers, there are productivity gains of 40 percent since ESI syntax is auto-generated.
We recently exhibited at the Akamai Edge conference in Miami to demonstrate SNOW-ESI to web professionals. Feedback was very positive: beyond the performance gains, attendees told us they like the easy set-up and deployment. We’ll report back once we have some specific use-cases to highlight. In the meantime, if you’d like to implement SNOW-ESI on your web architecture, please contact our team here.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who tracks the retail industry that IBM®, a long-time leader of in-store retail technology, offers one of the most advanced ecommerce suites available. IBM WebSphere® Commerce is a comprehensive e-commerce platform that gives enterprise retailers the ability to offer their customers a rich shopping experience integrated across online, mobile and in-store touchpoints.
IBM WebSphere Commerce places particular emphasis on the mobile shopper. It offers a high level of customization for the mobile user, and recognizes that the presentation layer on smartphones and tablets must be differentiated and optimized. Ecommerce sites built using WebSphere Commerce can also be rendered using responsive design techniques. As experts in ensuring optimum presentation of high-performance ecommerce sites on mobile devices, we’re very pleased to announce that Trilibis is teaming with IBM to accelerate the performance of responsive design websites across all device types — especially mobile devices.
We have successfully validated our SNOW® Image Optimization solution (SNOW IO) for use with IBM WebSphere Commerce, bringing instant performance improvements to thousands of retail websites built using this ecommerce platform. Trilibis is also now an IBM Business Partner and has joined IBM PartnerWorld as an Omni-Channel In-Store & Mobile solution to help IBM WebSphere Commerce users integrate SNOW IO with their websites.
What this means for IBM WebSphere Commerce users
The new technical integration gives IBM WebSphere Commerce retailers a simple and efficient way to ensure that their image-rich websites load fast across all smartphones and tablets. SNOW® IO is a lightweight image-optimization solution that automatically improves website performance and bandwidth utilization for responsive websites built with IBM’s leading commerce solution.
The combination of Trilibis SNOW IO and IBM WebSphere addresses a key objective for all online retailers: delivering the best possible customer experience mobile devices. And because SNOW IO is continually updated, we can ensure future compatibility with new classes of devices such as wearable technology and large-format displays.
How it works
Installed as a simple plug-in on any IBM WebSphere Commerce server, SNOW IO automatically identifies images used on every web page and optimizes them for the thousands of devices tracked in our device library. At runtime, SNOW IO works in conjunction with the IBM WebSphere Commerce server to identify the type of device that is accessing the website, and to ensure it is served only images optimized for that specific device.
The resulting performance increases can be dramatic. During testing conducted with IBM, SNOW IO reduced the image weight of IBM WebSphere Commerce pages by 23 to 61 percent. While a number of factors contribute to the overall weight of a web page, in a recent survey of top responsive websites, we found that the size of website images is a significant contributor to lengthy page-load times on mobile devices. SNOW IO can reduce page weight from megabytes to kilobytes, and shave valuable seconds off overall page-load times.
Designing for optimal presentation of content on mobile devices is keeping website developers very busy. If you’re a publisher of dynamic news or manage a website on which people transact, ensuring it displays perfectly on every mobile device and all the major browsers (i.e. on tablets and mobile phones, as well as desktops) is essential. Responsive web design has emerged as a popular web design methodology to address this need.
But adopting responsive design is not without its challenges. For example, if you’re moving from an older website architecture, you’ll need to redesign the site from the ground up. Back in 2013, Forrester Research[i] reported that more than 40 percent of developers chose responsive design, or a variant of it, as part of their current web design approach. The same report also noted some degree of “hype and lack of understanding” associated with responsive design, especially with regard to best practices for its implementation. And, if best practices are not adopted, it’s quite likely a responsive website will not perform well on mobile devices across cellular networks — essentially defeating the purpose of using responsive design.
Optimizing website performance on mobile devices is a core focus of our development team, so we’ve been following the progress of responsive design with interest. A few months ago, we analyzed the performance of some popular responsive sites on smartphones and tablets and noticed some surprisingly long load times. Closer investigation revealed that large images were often the cause. This is the sort of problem that can be easily fixed with lightweight, server-based technology that can detect what sort of device is accessing the website, and then optimize accordingly.
That’s why we developed SNOW IO, which we just announced. SNOW IO is designed specifically for use with responsive websites, and can make a huge difference for your users if your site features a lot of images (think news blogs, ecommerce sites, etc.). When you add SNOW IO to your site, every image is automatically optimized for device, quality and speed. Then, when someone visits your site, device-specific, optimized images are served up for that visitor’s specific device. As a result, load time can be at least twice as fast because less network bandwidth and device CPU time are needed.
SNOW IO works with any responsive website development framework and requires minimal changes to your coding — generally, just the addition of some special tags to trigger the device-detection logic. Adding it is very easy since SNOW IO is a web server plug-in that’s compatible with Apache, Java and Microsoft servers. If you’re running IBM WebSphere, SNOW IO can be installed as a simple add-on module to IBM WebSphere Commerce. Commercial and OEM licenses are available.
To find out more, contact us and we’ll be happy to evaluate how SNOW IO can make a difference on your website.
[i] More Than Hype: Determining When To Use Responsive Web Design, Mark Grannan & Peter Sheldon, Forrester Research, November 2013
Akamai Edge 2014: Trilibis Previews One Web Technology That Makes the Edge of the Network Device-AwareOctober 2nd, 2014 by Trilibis Blogging Team
The combination of SNOW tags and Akamai ESI markup language boosts website performance on mobile devices that access the web via the Akamai CDN
SAN MATEO, Calif.—October 2, 2014: Trilibis, the company that makes websites device-aware, will preview new Akamai-specific technology at the upcoming Akamai Edge conference, next week in Miami. Trilibis has adapted its market-leading SNOW® website optimization framework to deliver server-side responsive web capabilities at the edge of the network, all from a single code base. As a device accesses a website, SNOW identifies its type and features, then serves up only the HTML, CSS, and images required by that particular device.
SNOW includes a new SNOW-ESI productivity module that intelligently auto-generates ESI syntax for any given SNOW-powered website. The ESI syntax instructs the Akamai CDN to cache SNOW-optimized front-end code to serve device-specific HTML code from the Akamai servers. This process yields three key benefits:
- Significantly higher performance than that offered by responsive design techniques. The SNOW-ESI module delivers higher performance than that delivered by responsive techniques, and improves the end-to-end performance for mobile devices by a factor of four and reduces page-load time by as much as 25 percent.
- Web users, especially those with mobile devices, are assured a fast, device-optimized website experience.
- For developers, productivity improves by 40 percent since ESI syntax is auto-generated.
To see SNOW edge-optimized technology at the Akamai Edge conference, drop by the Trilibis kiosk 13 in the exhibits area. To learn more about SNOW technology, visit Trilibis’ website or download the SNOW white paper.
Trilibis develops SNOW®, a markup-based RESS website optimization solution that uses a single code base to deliver a true “One Web” experience. SNOW makes websites device-aware and enables developers to design high-performance websites that work flawlessly on all desktop and mobile browsers, and to unlock device-specific features and functionality that make websites mobile-ready, delightful and profitable. Trilibis is a private, venture-backed company located in San Mateo, California. For more information, visit www.trilibis.com or follow @trilibismobile.
Copyright 2014 Trilibis Inc. All rights reserved. Trilibis and SNOW are trademarks of Trilibis Inc. Other trademarks are registered trademarks and the properties of their respective owners.
This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Internet Retailing
With mobile devices becoming popular for online shopping, mobile-friendly responsive design websites can deliver an excellent visual experience for visitors. However, Trilibis finds that operators of image-rich websites need to pay special attention to image weight and its effect on page-load times.
By Ted Verani
Has mobile caught your attention, yet?
In May of this year, e-tailers around the world eagerly anticipated the latest annual update from the oracle of the internet, Mary Meeker. This year’s report[i] by the influential KPCB analyst highlighted some of the major trends in Internet, social, mobile and digital media that e-tailers must factor into their web development strategies.
Mobile featured prominently in this year’s report. KPCB found that global mobile internet usage increased from 14 percent to 25 percent between May 2013 and May 2014. That increase was most pronounced in Europe, where mobile internet usage as percentage of total web pages views jumped from 8 percent to 16 percent (compared with growth of 11 percent to 19 percent in North America).
For online retailers, one very interesting mobile factoid in this year’s report concerns tablets: unit growth was 52 percent over last year, a massive jump that is surely reflected in this year’s server logs of any marketer. This mirrors the findings of comScore Inc., which reported that one-third of online shoppers at the top 10 retailers shop only on mobile devices.[ii] Your own website analytics are likely showing similar or even higher mobile traffic numbers.
What this means is that any company doing business on the internet must have an intense focus on ensuring their website performs well for mobile users, and especially users of smartphones and tablets. This is a big change from just five years ago, when many multichannel marketers were gradually rolling out mobile-specific websites.
Responsive design: an elegant path to “one web” architecture
Until recently, for many companies, a mobile website meant deploying an “m-dot” experience that was distinctly separate from the desktop version of their website. While this approach ensured an optimized experience for mobile users, its disadvantages were significant: a separate code base (development and maintenance costs); two websites to manage (content synchronization issues); and associated SEO issues. Consequently, many companies re-examined the “segmented web” strategy, leading to a major shift toward responsive web design (often called responsive design).
With responsive design, a website can configure its presentation to fit all screen sizes, ranging from a high-res desktop display to the smallest smartphone. Responsive sites are created from a single codebase and use a set of techniques that adapt the content to various screen sizes of tablets and smartphones.
The result is impressive: a website that smoothly adjusts its layout to any device, especially smartphones and tablets. It’s no surprise that marketers and e-business managers have embraced responsive design as a scalable way to deliver an excellent mobile experience from a single website code base.
There is a wealth of excellent guidance on designing websites that deliver a superior user experience on mobile devices. Using responsive techniques[iii] is generally considered a best practice for ensuring a consistent, “one web” experience across all devices. But online retailers should be aware that the ‘one size fits all’ approach—that is so appealing for website designers—also has some significant downsides.
- Development time: Responsive design typically requires a large-scale rebuild of a company’s web presence. From UI/UX design to the final testing phase, there are many things that go into the development of a good responsive site that ensures the experience is optimized for a wide variety of devices.
- Contextual challenge: While it addresses layout problems, and elegantly expands and contracts according to a screen’s width, responsive design is a one-size-fits-all-approach that makes it difficult to optimize for special design considerations or differentiated use-cases, such as offering the customer a mobile-specific shopping experience.
- Performance: Responsive design forces the browser to handle the bulk of the processing work so that content is rendered appropriately on the device. The client is sent all elements of a web page, irrespective of local device capabilities, and the client must determine which layout and assets to present. For mobile devices, the result can be longer load times and Web pages that perform poorly.
Responsive design and mobile retail: do images impact performance?
We decided to take a hard look at how responsive design affects a mobile website’s performance, since load time directly affects user experience and ultimately whether a sale is made or not. Radware recently tested the load times of the top 500 retail web sites[iv] and found that pages are heavier (measured in bytes) and slower than they were just one year ago. This correlates with our own experiences. Moreover, through our work with online brands to eliminate performance issues on their websites, we noticed that the design attributes of responsive techniques were frequently the reason for slow page-load times on mobile devices.
While a number of factors can determine the overall weight of a web page, images are generally the principal contributor. This is particularly true for responsive websites, which generally serve the same content to all devices. This can lead to overly large images being served to mobile devices.
To see whether poor performance is often associated with responsive design, Trilibis conducted a survey to measure the image weight of the top responsive websites. We wanted to know:
- How much do images contribute to page weight on responsive websites?
- How much does this affect load time for different types of users?
- Is it possible to automatically reduce page weight (and, therefore, load time) while maintaining an excellent user experience?
- 69 percent of the responsive sites we sampled were image-heavy, with images contributing to more than 50 percent of overall page weight.
- The responsive sites we looked at generally loaded slowly on mobile phones:
- Only 32 out of the 155 responsive sites (21 percent) responded with acceptable load times of less than 4 seconds.
– Only 32 out of the 155 responsive sites (21 percent) responded with acceptable load times of less than 4 seconds.
– 48 percent performed poorly with load times of between 4 and 8 seconds.
– 32 percent took anywhere from 8 to 48 seconds to load, which is unacceptable for most users
We then evaluated a technique to automatically reduce image size for responsive websites. Our goal: improve the overall user experience for some real-world examples, and achieve the target load time for RWD sites on mobile devices of no more than 3-4 seconds. We selected three RWD websites: boldandnoble.com, engadget.com, and starbucks.com. For each site, we replicated each site’s content on our own webserver. We then optimized all the images used on the home page of each website, calculated the image weight savings for both desktop and mobile devices, and then calculated load times both before and after optimization. The results were noteworthy:
Images accounted for 2.2MB (49 percent) of the total 4.5MB home page weight. Optimization results:
- Reduced mobile page weight from 2.2MB to 212KB (90% savings).
- Shortened load time from 6.63 seconds to 3.912 seconds (41% reduction).
Images accounted for 0.9MB (53 percent) of the total 1.7MB home page weight. Optimization results:
- Reduced mobile page weight from 861KB to 362KB (58% savings).
- Shortened load time from 11.814 seconds to 5.45 seconds (54% reduction).
Images accounted for 0.9MB (53 percent) of the total 1.7MB home page weight. Optimization results:
- Reduced mobile page weight from 892KB to 90KB (91% savings).
- Shortened load time from 4.454 seconds to 3.206 seconds (28% reduction).
Our research shows that delivering a truly exceptional user experience on the Web requires more than simply redefining layout and styling for the screen width of a particular device; it’s crucial to keep the overall page weight low. In the case of images, designers have several options:
- When designing a responsive website, ensure images are of an appropriate size for mobile devices.
- If using a web content management system, design different templates that address the wide range of devices that might access the website.
- Automate the image-sizing process using server-side processing techniques.
Let the server do the heavy lifting
To deliver an excellent website experience for mobile users, server-side technologies can be used in conjunction with responsive design techniques. This approach enables detection of the device characteristics of the smartphone or tablet that the visitor is using, and then fine-tuning of the user experience for that visitor.
Server-side logic enables a complete swap of crucial page elements and enables custom functionality based on local device characteristics. For example, a retailer can ensure fast presentation of a product catalog with images optimized for the accessing device. Or a content-heavy site can deliver entirely different ad placement based on device and user context.
These server-side technologies are simple to implement and use abundant server-side computing resources to optimize the image size for the accessing device before it is sent to the client. As our research shows, this approach can deliver much faster load times — and a far better experience for the user.
Trilibis is focused on creating server-side technologies that simplify multi-device development. By marrying server-side technology with responsive design techniques, your website can offer your mobile visitors the best possible mobile user experience.