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Velocity 2011 Web Performance Conference


Highlights from the 2011 installment of O’Reilly’s Velocity web performance conference, held in Santa Clara, CA in June. The author sums up the tools and tips from the conference as well as a book signing.

I’m back from my combined business and hiking trip out west, visiting the Velocity 2011 Web Performance Conference in Santa Clara, California. The second part of my trip was devoted to hiking and photography in the great Northwest, which we won’t review here. This year’s Velocity was bigger and better and yes, sold out again. Here are some highlights.

This year’s conference was well attended, with more of an emphasis on mobile web performance, although web performance certainly did not get a short shrift. Web-based tools were out in full force, with updated versions of tools making their debut, usually introduced by the authors themselves.
I attended as many web performance track talks as I could, including:

Performance Tools (June 14, 2011)
This session showed the various performance tools available, introduced by the authors. Steve Souders (Google), Patrick Meenan (Google), Alois Reitbauer (dynatrace Software), Sergey Chernyshev (truTV), Craig Conboy (Blaze) were the speakers. Patrick Meenan of webpagetest.org fame gave a great talk, and showed how to do a couple things including creating comparison video film strips to compare before and afters (advanced tab) and filtering out JavaScript (block textarea for .js) to show the effects of deferring or eliminating JavaScript. The difference can be quite dramatic in useful content and total load time. The dynatrace demo was interesting, some tips were if you see 100% CPU utilization, you should do a dynatrace to dig deeper into the code and look for bottlenecks. The dynatrace waterfall graph was especially helpful in isolating problem areas. To really get into the nitty gritty behind the scenes of web page performance, you can do a TCP dump to see how the packets are behaving, and use wireshark to open up your TCP dump.
iBlaze Mobitest
You can test your site on a mobile device now with Mobitest from iBlaze. Craig Conboy of iBlaze showed the new mobile performance project, which was built on top of the webpagetest.org codebase/instrastructure. The free service loads web pages on different mobile devices from different locations and shows you how they render, including waterfall graphs. Craig gave some details on how the new service works, it first polls a web page test instance, clears the cache, loads the web page, monitors loading of page and resources, using an embedded browser. As part of their development process for mobile optimization they wanted to automate the process and realized they had a good basis for a free service and decided to open it up to the public. Craig talked about how mobile OSes are locked down, so getting page load data is complicated and genearlly unsupported so there are some limitations, iphones, js optimizations/caching are not available in iphones and the tool does not support the full WPT feature set due to mobile limitations (waterfall graphs bars are not broken down, into their component parts for example). The program provides screenshots, loading videos, and waterfall graphs.
There are other projects built on same, such as Steve Souders’ HTTP Archive which tracks the performance and component size trends of web pages.
Sergey Chernyshev showed off the latest showslow.com, a free service that measures and tracks website performance over time. The tool
helps you track performance over time = goal is it getting your site faster. Sergey talked about the private label version (an instance) where you can set up your own instance to show your boss the website’s story, set up beacons, etc.
Nicole Sullivan
Nicole gave a great talk on CSS3 and HTML5 – Beyond the Hype! Nicole went over the new features of CSS3 including data URIs, border-radius, animations, gradients, offline storage, rgba, and aria roles. Two highlights were the gradient/pattern demo (she showed some backgrounds that looks like custom styled fabric), and Nicholas Zakas introduced CSSLink.net, a free open source tool that shows you what is wrong with your CSS.
Patrick Meenan of Google showed off the latest features of WebPageTest.org, which is based on AOL’s Pagetest software, which I helped convince Dave Artz to open source when I was working with AOL. Patrick has really taken the service far, adding PageSpeed results, multiple locations, and many useful features (loading progression videos, blocking components to test various optimization techniques).
Page Speed
Bryan McQuade and Joshua Marantz both of Google gave a great talk on “Web Site Acceleration with Page Speed Technologies” on Wednesday. They talked about the growing family of Page Speed technologies including mod_pagespeed, and its rapid adoption, and how the best practice rules that Page Speed checks web pages for has evolved as the browsers change (parallel downloads removed for IE8 for example). PageSpeed now helps optimize sites for mobile as well as desktop browsers.

Those were the highlights of what I saw at the conference. You really need a few people to see everything, there was a lot to see.

Book Signing

One big highlight for me was the official O’Reilly book signing (my second book signing). In the convention hall where vendors displayed their wares O’Reilly had a booth. I was invited to attend a book signing there with 5 other O’Reilly authors, including Nicole Sullivan, Nicholas Zakasm and Douglas Crockford. Each author was given 25 of their books (mine is Website Optimization Secrets) to sign and give away to lucky attendees. It was fun to watch people come up to me and ask about the book, saying they’ve read this or that chapter and asking questions. Many of them couldn’t believe that the book was free. My stack went away second fastest, with Crockford winning the prize.

Further Reading

Check your CSS to find and fix problems with this open source tool.
Free open source web page performance testing tool based on AOL’s Pagetest open source software. Useful for waterfall graphs, before/after videos, and accurate timings. By Patrick Meenan.
Velocity 2011 Web Performance Conference
The 2011 version of the annual web performance conference started by Steve Souders and Jesse Robbins. See the website for speaker videos and slide shows and the conference schedule. Highly recommended.

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