In what can only be a happy coincidence, yesterday’s RSS feeds brought up a post in Appfrica on designing low-bandwidth websites, while TechRadar offered a number of tools that you could use to speed up website loading times. For anyone working in Kenyan tech, especially those who hope to sell via their websites, this is especially important. The undersea cables may have made landfall, but they are not connected yet, and it is important to remember that many consumers who currently have internet access may not have the internet speeds that their counterparts in other countries enjoy.
While the Appfrica piece is fairly brief, Mike Williams’ piece for TechRadar makes a useful companion article, offering five tools on how webmasters can go about speeding up their websites to help consumers. I’d suggest reading Appfrica before TechRadar, and reading both before you go making any radical changes to any of your websites, but make changes to your website you may have to, if you want will be concentrating on readers and consumers in low-bandwidth regions.
One of the wonders of the web is its versatility: you can have websites incorporating social media, live streaming, downloads, user editing… or you can have a static page with barely an image. In our haste to show off our designing chops, however, those of us who dabble are in danger of forgetting that not everyone will appreciate our efforts. I’m not entirely happy with this blog, for instance. I know it takes far too long to load at low internet speeds, but I am currently constrained in any remedial action I’d like to take.
While it is tempting to throw all of the bells and whistles at your disposal at your website, to demonstrate that you are up to speed with the latest technologies and your own talents as a designer, remember that all of those gizmos and widgets do take time to load, time that on a painfully slow – potentially shared – connection can leader to users abandoning your website because it is almost impossible to work with. Far better to design for the capabilities of the worst connection you can imagine than to aim for super-high speeds and alienate potential audience members.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go for Trappist minimalism. You can have interactivity while still having fast-loading pages, it just takes a little more care in your coding and presentation. More than anything, it requires you to be aware of the limitations of the machines and the bandwidth your readers will be using. Sensitivity to those who may be labouring under less-than-optimal connections will not only make your website more accessible to them, but make it even faster to load for those who enjoy better connectivity. The Appfrica and TechRadar articles are both very good starts for getting this right.
[Image by Ian Hampton]