The Ethics of Web Performance

Tim Kadlec on the issues surrounding poor web performance and why it’s so important for us to care about making our sites as fast as possible:

Poor performance can, and does, lead to exclusion. This point is extremely well documented by now, but warrants repeating. Sites that use an excess of resources, whether on the network or on the device, don’t just cause slow experiences, but can leave entire groups of people out.

There is a growing gap between what a high-end device can handle and what a middle to low-end device can handle. When we build sites and applications that include a lot of CPU-bound tasks (hi there JavaScript), at best, those sites and applications become painfully slow on people using those more affordable, more constrained devices. At worst, we ensure that our site will not work for them at all.

Forget about comparing this year’s device to a device a couple of years old. Exclusion can happen on devices that are brand-new as well. The web’s growth is being pushed forward primarily by low-cost, underpowered Android devices that frequently struggle with today’s web.

As Tim mentions at the end of that piece though, it’s easy to forget web performance and it’s sometimes hard to make the case for making a website fast. It’s often seen as a nice-to-have instead of as a core feature in and of itself, like semantic markup and accessibility compliance.

I’m optimistic that the conversation surrounding this topic is improving things though. Having tools like Lighthouse built straight into the browser makes things easier and the abundance of testing tools such as Calibre gives us insights into exactly what and where issues might be. But we also need to remember that this isn’t solely a technical problem — it’s an ethical one, too.

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