Saturday, January 20th, 2007

How perceived speed matters, and can kill you

Category: Editorial

I am a fan of NetNewsWire, and since I use multiple computers, I thought it would be nice to use the NewsGator syncing capability. I have used this before, way back when I used the Newsgator Outlook plugin.

I ran into some issues (it had created a bunch of empty folders, which I remember happening a few years ago) and I decided to go to the web-based version to try to clean it up.

Now, this isn’t meant to be “pick on newsgator” day, but the entire experience was painful. First, if I selected more than a couple of folders to delete it would take an eternity to do the deletions, and in fact a few times it just timed out. That made me have to go back and de-select a few until it would go through. Extremely frustrating (especially when you are trying to clean up!).

The interface itself consists of the typical tree view on the left, and content opens up on the right. For me, the app is painfully slow as every click on the tree is a full page reload which has to render the entire tree, as well as getting the content for that node. If I am on a site that has a normal link, I expect a page reload. When I click on a tree node, I am trained to be in “desktop mode” and expect it to happen pretty darn quick. It is this perceived effect that makes everything feel so slow.

I also glanced at my status bar and would see what seemed to be mini requests for each feed from my browser. I have a fair few feeds, so this made things even worse.

This type of design choice will make people think “ajax sucks and is slow”. Compare it to Google Reader and others, that feel a lot faster, and do not do refreshes in places you wouldn’t expect.

Newsgator Online

Posted by Dion Almaer at 9:07 am

3.4 rating from 24 votes


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completely agree. I was a longtime bloglines user because it was fast and usable, but I was never happy with the interface – it’s just plain ugly and very 1998ish feeling. I went over to Newsgator and tried it out and was impressed with the interface, but was annoyed at how sluggish it was to do even the simplest of tasks. I used it for about 2 weeks because I really WANTED to like it, but I just couldn’t – it simply took too long to read my feeds and perform mantainance. I was literally within 1 day of going back to Bloglines when the new Google Reader came out. I immediately switched to them and haven’t looked back since.

Comment by joe — January 20, 2007

I find the windows live mail (new hotmail) horribly slow. Also, deleting things is a real pain. trying to maybe 5 or more emails at once sometimes they suddenly all dis-select etc.

I hate it.

Comment by Dougal Matthews — January 20, 2007

Same situation as by joe. I hope NewsGator folks will read this blog entry.

Comment by sas171 — January 20, 2007

I made the switch yesterday (from newsgator to google reader)

Comment by baldo — January 20, 2007

I was expecting to read a “moral of the story: don’t drink and code” joke (zing!) here, but I found it sorely missing.. ;) Ah, nerd humour.

Perceived performance becomes crucial when you have an expensive operation to run (either client or server-side, the former being usually more complicated) and have to show loading/progress of some sort. Sometimes I think it’s efficiency of client-side code which can be improved, and others it’s changing the routine such as loading and processing less data at a time, rendering bits of the page incrementally, etc and showing feedback to the user which can make the difference.

Comment by Scott Schiller — January 20, 2007, fast, usable and beautiful. Definitely my reader of choice.

Comment by Spencer Akers — January 20, 2007

The people over at Yahoo! have obviously been concerned with improving percieved performance as indicated by their well-researched articles recently on browser-caching and concurrency issues of downloading webpage assets. Just adding AJAX will not provide the silver bullet. You should start with effective caching both client and server-side and also analyze the cost of downloading a page’s assets with a tool such as Firebug.

Comment by wioota — January 20, 2007

Bloglines is really, really ugly but it’s fast, reliable, and gives support to multiple languages. I hope that the newsgator guys take note, because this market is really hard.

Comment by Roberto R. — January 21, 2007

Talking about perceived speed, I’ve also noted that (excessive) use of graphic effects (fades, spinners, etc) tends to create a much less snappy interface. I believe they should be used only when really necessary. For example, indicating an asynchronous save after reordering sortables is often useless (its the expected behavior anyway) and just makes the application feel not very responsive.

Comment by Tobie Langel — January 22, 2007

I find the same problem with istockphoto..

ajax doesnt have to do EVERYTHING….

in istockphoto when i click on a lightbox to display its really slow… its the ajax display thats slow…

its not for generating pages guys!

Comment by Hubris Sonic — January 22, 2007

also this friggin tipco ad is slowing this site down… geez… flash blob much?

Comment by Hubris Sonic — January 22, 2007

Hi guys,
I’m a developer for NewsGator. I’m not on the product reviewed here (NewsGator Online), but I am on IM with the manager of that team right now. So I’ve got a bit of insight. :)

First off, we do appreciate the feedback, even if we wish it were better. Admittedly the site can be a bit slow, especially when you have a large number of feeds. It’s something we’ve been working on for a while, but unfortunately we’ve got a lot of irons on the fire (some of which we actually get paid for ;) so this hasn’t gotten as much attention as it maybe should.

That said, the Online team has some very cool stuff in the pipeline that should fix the problems mentioned in the article. I can’t give a timeline, and even if I did it would surely change. But hopefully it’ll be out “Real Soon Now”, so please come back and check us out in a little bit.

Comment by Brian Reischl — January 26, 2007

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