Home Make Those Web Apps Run Fast! (Or At Least Fake It)

Make Those Web Apps Run Fast! (Or At Least Fake It)

Back in February at the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) conference in Miami, Union Square Ventures‘ Fred Wilson presented on his 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps. For those not fortunate enough to attend the conference, a video and transcript of the talk and subsequent Q&A session with Wilson is now available online for the general public to learn what one of the leading east coast investors advises startups do to succeed on the Web.

So what does Wilson say is the single most important feature of the Web apps that win? Speed. He says that while more dedicated users will provide some leeway for speed issues, the average user (his go-to users are his wife and kids) will make quick and lasting judgements of a Web app based on its speed.

“When we see some of our portfolio company’s applications getting bogged down, we also note that they don’t grow as quickly,” Wilson said. “There is real empirical evidence that substantiates the fact that speed is more than a feature. It’s a requirement.”

This reminds me of an idea I’ve been pondering from time to time about Web apps, and that’s the perception of speed. The design of a Web app can go a long way in how users perceive its speed. Luke Andrews of Dabble DB spoke about this very topic at last year’s mesh conference, a Canadian Web conference.

In his talk, Andrews mentioned how Google just feels faster than Yahoo because the homepage isn’t as busy with supplementary items. When the design of a Web app is slick, clean and uncluttered, it translates as speed in our brains. If you saw a Corvette sitting at a red light next to a boxy station wagon, you would assume the Corvette is the faster car just by looking at it (even though the engine could be poorly maintained and slower than the possibly souped up station wagon).

Aside from a well designed site, Web apps can also implement small features to their site to bump the perception of speed. Another item Andrews pointed out in his talk was how when we as humans are asked a question, before we begin to respond, we make it clear that we have acknowledged the question with either a nod or a stroking of our beard. Web apps need to do the same thing; if something takes some computing time to complete, let users know with a “Loading…” animation.

By providing users with an immediate visual response to their input, you boost their perception of the speed of your Web app, but nothing can truly substitute the real thing. Clean design and well thought out UI can only go so far, so as Fred Wilson advises, make sure speed is not just a feature, but a requirement.

Photo by Flickr user Nathan Bittinger.

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