Obese News Sites

Frederic Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassee, Monday Note:

When I click on a New York Times article page, it takes about 4 minutes to download 2 megabytes of data through… 192 requests, some to Times’ hosts, most to a flurry of others servers hosting scores of scripts. Granted: the most useful part — 1700 words / 10,300 characters article + pictures — will load in less that five seconds.

But when I go to Wikipedia, a 1900 words story will load in 983 milliseconds, requiring only 168 kilobytes of data through 28 requests.

News websites need to generate revenue from their online properties so they display ads. Most ads suck: they are irrelevant, they are visually unappealing, and they take a while to load. (I too used to have those ads in the earlier days of DISPLAYBLOG; I apologize for making you wait and cluttering your reading experience.) That’s why I use AdBlock and recommend it to all of my friends. Getting rid of ads cleans up the website, makes it load quicker, and lets me get to the content I want to read with less delay.

Requests by a site like the Washington Post are impossible to measure since the site never stops downloading, endlessly calling data for auto-play videos; these megabytes are often rendered by Flash Player, well-known for CPU overheating (you can hear your laptop’s fans make a drone-like noise).

Using Google’s Chrome browser on a 64-bit Windows 7 laptop, I set the device to Samsung Galaxy S4 and network to GPRS (50 kbps) in Developer Tools. The Washington Post took 2.2 minutes to finish loading 731 KB (KiloBytes). (Read “Developing For A Slow Internet” to understand why I used those settings.) 2.2 minutes. We shouldn’t have to wait that long to read the news. Note: In addition to AdBlock, I use the Disconnect extension on my Chrome browser. Disconnect stops background tracking of your online activities. I’m guessing that’s probably why The Washington Post eventually finished loading. Just in case you were wondering, the Monday Note article I referenced for this article loaded in 1.1 minutes, transferring 332 KB. In my opinion, that is better than the Washington Post, but only by a little bit.

Speed isn’t everything, but when all you want is to get to the content, all the ads and background trackers that make you wait can get annoying, really fast.

So what’s the solution for news sites? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Custom: Amazon looks at my purchase history and recommends other products I may be interested in. Amazon is good at this. A news site can look at my reading history and recommend other articles I may be interested in. A news site could be just as good as Amazon. Imagine the entire front page of the New York Times, personalized.
  • Fast: No ads. No tracking, except for what I read so I can receive relevant recommendations. No photos either, unless they add significantly to the article. For instance, a photo of a bunch of politicians adds little toward the news of a nuclear deal with Iran. The new Acura NSX climbs Pikes Peak? Beautiful, professionally taken photos (and video) please! A clean, fast, and pleasant user experience is a must.
  • Data: News is not objective. Data isn’t either; it depends on what you collect and how you interpret data. But data cuts some subjectivity away and takes you a little closer to what is true. Add more data.

I’d pay for a ‘newspaper’ like this.