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Velocity 2010 Web Performance Conference


Highlights from the Velocity 2010 conference on web performance. This sold-out event explored the latest technique for fast websites, and is a must-see for performance engineers.

I just got back from the Velocity 2010 Web Performance and Operations Conference in Santa Clara, California. Now in its third year, the conference is a must-see if you are a web performance or network operations engineer. And engineers were aplenty this year, the conference was sold out with more than 1500 attendees.

Founded by Steve Souders (author of High Performance Web Sites, Even Faster Web Sites) and Jesse Robbins (founder of Opscode and Amazon’s “Master of Disaster”) the Velocity Conference is devoted to helping you make your web pages and web applications faster. The conference this year covered many related issues, including mobile web performance, cloud computing, HTML 5, metrics, and network latency. It is a must-see if you are a web developer interested in making your site faster. And with Google’s recent announcement of factoring speed into web page rankings, everyone should be interested in making their pages faster.

The Web Performance Track

What follows are some highlights from the talks, keynotes, and workshops I attended. As a web performance engineer, I was most interested in the web performance track, leaving the network operations talks to the sysops.


Metrics 101: What to Measure on Your Website Sean Power (Watching Websites)
The best speaker I saw, Sean Powers made metrics interesting, which is no mean feat. Averages are out, percentiles are in. Talked about boiling down metrics into meaningful form, while still retaining enough granularity to be meaningful. Four kinds of sites, transaction, collaboration, SAS, and media, each has its own set of metrics.
The Top 5 Mistakes of Massive CSS Nicole Sullivan (Consultant), Stoyan Stefanov (Yahoo! Inc)
Nicole Sullivan talked about modular CSS, where you boil down the common interface features (media block, headers, etc.) and use only classes and classes that extend those classes plus the cascade and inheritance to build minimalist stylesheets. Using infinitely nestable grid systems like Yahoo’s YUI, Nicole showed how she significantly reduced Facebook’s CSS and HTML (by 50%). This and the Metrics talks were the two best I saw.
Speed Matters Urs Hölzle (Google)
Gave a good talk on navigating web pages as fast as you can turn pages in a book. Talked about changes to the building blocks TCP, DNS, etc. One interesting statistic, the average web page is 320K with 44 requests and 7 DNS lookups, taking 4.9 second to load. The average bandwidth is 1.8Mbps. This is close to the Average top 1000 web page which we estimate is 350K as of 2010.

Other Highlights

The Browser Performance Toolkit – Matt Sweeney (Yahoo!)
Matt provided a good overview of the performance tools available to developers, including YSlow (of course), PageSpeed, Firebug, and others
The Psychology of Performance – Stoyan Stephanov (Yahoo!)

This should sound familiar to readers of my books, Stoyan showed how to tweak web pages to increase their perceived speed. Talked about flushing the page 2-3 times at key points in the render. The speaker was a bit hard to understand.
Building Performance Into the New Yahoo! Homepage Nicholas Zakas (Yahoo!)

This was a well-attended and interesting talk. Nicholas talked about what Yahoo! did when adding features to maintain fast performance. He went beyond the usual suspects of caching, splitting payloads, and minification.
Twitter and Facebook talks
Engineers at both Facebook and Twitter talked about how they scale to millions of users.
Mitigating Advertising Impact on Page Performance Ismail Elshareef (Razorgator Inc.)
Ismail talked about how his team reduced the impact of display ads at Edmonds.com using a JavaScript loader function at the end of the page.
Speeding up Ads
The folks at Meebo (toolbar) had an interesting talk about how they loaded ads asynchonously with a hidden iframe and attaching a node with JavaScript. We’ll explore the details in a future tweak.

It was well worth attending this conference, met some great people and learned a few things. Being an O’Reilly conference there was an O’Reilly booth equipped with the latest performance-related books, but my book (Website Optimization, half of which is about performance) was not there for some reason. I recommend going if you are interested in web performance.

Further Reading

You can see the speaker’s slides (most of them) and videos of speakers at the official O’Reilly Velocity website, which also has talks/slides from the previous two conferences.

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