For a long time, two seconds was considered the maximum that
Internet users should be expected to wait. Google and other
companies find that now a barely perceptible delay isn't tolerated.
Wait a second.
No, that's too long.
Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a
computer to respond to a click on a Web site or a tap on a keyboard?
These days, even 400 milliseconds -- literally the blink of an eye -
- is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely
perceptible delay causes people to search less.
"Subconsciously, you don't like to wait," said Arvind Jain, a
Google engineer who is the company's resident speed maestro. "Every
Google and other technology companies are on a new quest for
speed, challenging people like Mr. Jain to make fast go faster. The
reason is that data-hungry smartphones and tablets are creating
frustrating digital traffic jams, as people download maps, video
clips of sports highlights, news updates or recommendations for
nearby restaurants. The competition to be the quickest is fierce.
People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a
close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a
thousandth of a second).
"Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is
close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,"
said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at
The performances of Web sites vary, and so do users'
expectations. A person will be more patient waiting for a video clip
to load than for a search result. And Web sites constantly face
trade-offs between visual richness and snappy response times. As
entertainment and news sites, like The New York Times Web site,
offer more video clips and interactive graphics, that depth can slow
But speed matters in every context, research shows. Four out of
five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading.
On a mobile phone, a Web page takes a leisurely nine seconds to
load, according to Google, which tracks a huge range of sites.
Download times on personal computers average about six seconds
worldwide, and about 3.5 seconds on average in the United States.
The major search engines, Google and, from Microsoft, Bing, are the
speed demons of the Web, analysts say, typically delivering results
in less than a second.
The hunger for speed on smartphones is a new business opportunity
for companies like Akamai Technologies, which specializes in helping
Web sites deliver services more quickly. Later this month, Akamai
plans to introduce mobile accelerator software to help speed up the
loading of a Web site or app.
The U.S. government recognizes the importance of speed in mobile
computing. In February, Congress opened the door to an increase in
network capacity for mobile devices, proposing legislation that
permits the auctioning of public airwaves now used for television
broadcasts to wireless Internet suppliers.
Overcoming speed bumps is part of the history of the Internet. …