Google ponders shaming slow websites inside Chrome

In a bid to push website developers to speed up their site response times, Google may start flagging those that load slowly.

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Google this week said it may identify slow-loading websites in Chrome, shaming their developers to up their game.

"In the future, Chrome may identify sites that typically load fast or slow for users with clear badging," wrote a trio of Chrome developers - Addy Osmani, Ben Greenstein and Bryan McQuade - in a post to the Chromium blog. They used the term badging to refer to on-screen cues and clues. "This may take a number of forms and we plan to experiment with different options, to determine which provides the most value to our users."

According to Osmani, Greenstein and McQuade, Chrome will spotlight sites that "are authored in a way that makes them slow generally, looking at historical load latencies." Molasses-slow sites, for example, may come with messages as the page forms up, warning waiting users that it "usually loads slow." Presumably, that would give users a chance to abandon the intended destination, or - for those of the glass-half-full persuasion - the patience to wait. Fast sites could be tagged with a color-coded progress bar - Google suggested green - to "reward sites delivering fast experiences."

The three engineers said that the move to highlight slow and fast sites would be conducted in "gradual steps" and the definitions of each would be "based on increasingly stringent criteria."

Google's rationale for the effort? "We're constantly working to give users an experience that is instant as they browse the web," wrote Osmani, Greenstein and McQuade.

Yet this won't be about Chrome, as are most Google initiatives. If Google goes through with this, Chrome won't become faster (or slower). Instead, it's a way to deflect criticism. When users encounter a slow site, the browser - any browser - gets the first blast of condemnation. (Some may wonder if their network speed suddenly sank, perhaps because of a flaky ISP or even competition for consumption.) By pointing out that Site Y "usually loads slow," Google preempts any carping about Chrome.

The longer play, of course, is to use Chrome's dominance - last month it accounted for 67.4% of global browser activity by the tally of analytics vendor Net Applications - to pressure sites to become objectively faster. Along those lines, Osmani, Greenstein and McQuade offered site designers and developers some tips, including pointers to tools for measuring site performance.

Google has made a career out of pressuring the web to adopt its "advice," leveraging the popularity of Chrome to get its way, whether that meant shifting to HTTPS or extending the lifetime of aged OSes, such as Windows XP, by supporting them long after their own makers dropped them. In most instances, cases could certainly be made that while the initiatives benefited users, they also did Google.

Chrome announced this "you're slow" project Monday at its Chrome Dev Summit, which wraps up Tuesday. Neither the company nor the three developers who authored the blog hinted at a timetable for including slow-fast site labeling in the browser.

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Google may have Chrome label slow sites as a warning to users and an incentive to website developers to make their pages load faster. Google also plans to acknowledge faster sites.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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