SPDY, a protocol Google revealed in late 2009, dramatically speeds up Web page loading by changing the way that browsers communicate with servers. Until now, Google has only tested the research project internally and deployed it on a few of its own sites. But today, the protocol launches as a commercial product.
Website optimization company Strangeloop has built SPDY into its flagship product Site Optimizer, software that sits in between a website and its users, and adjusts the site’s code to make pages load more quickly. Strangeloop’s customers will have the ability to turn the protocol on easily; in tests, the protocol has sped up websites by 10 to 20 percent.
At first, this will only make a difference for people who visit websites using Google’s Chrome browser (the only one that supports SPDY), but Strangeloop expects that it could end up having a big impact on mobile devices as well, since Google is likely to build SPDY into browsers designed for Android.
The speed with which a website responds to users is an increasingly important technical and economic issue. According to the content-delivery network Akamai, people only give a site three seconds, on average, to load before giving up and navigating away. Better performance often means more page views, and thus more interaction with users. For online shopping sites, this translates to higher sales.
It’s not just individual sites that have an interest in speeding up the Web. Google has been working to make the Web as a whole faster, reasoning that the entire experience needs to be lightning-quick and smooth to keep people happily using its many services. Google also hopes to entice people to use more Web services and less desktop software (see, for example, its Chrome OS), and the company knows this won’t be possible if they struggle with performance.
There are a lot of ways to speed up a website. Changing the protocols that determine how information gets sent over the Internet is potentially the most rewarding but also one of the trickiest. These protocols are fundamental to communication between websites and servers, so they can have far-reaching effects on website performance across all devices. However, to roll SPDY out to the entire world, all browser manufacturers would have to adopt it, and every server would have to support it, says Joshua Bixby, Strangeloop’s president. This is a tall order, and so SPDY has “real implementation challenges,” he says.