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At the end of the second decade of the twenty first century, does data size really matter, when it comes to web pages? Did it truly matter after the last vestiges of the dial up era came to a close, and anything smaller than a Tolstoy novel took little time to load?
These are questions people often ask, when the subject of a page size checker tool comes up. This is a feature featured heavily in a lot of IT tools, design programs and other such things. Does the size of a page honestly matter so much? How big can text really be, anyhow? This is after all, the era in which entire e-books are downloaded in seconds to any smart device, and entire libraries of collected works can fit easily on storage media the size of postage stamps.
Furthermore, when a page size checker is analyzing something, what all is it measuring anyhow?
Really, the understanding of data sizes and scopes is shaky at best for most average users, even ones that could rightfully consider themselves somewhat “tech savvy”. It’s high time that this was demystified, along with how bandwidth is measured, and what impact one has on the other. By the end of such an analysis, it will become very obvious why measuring page sizes is still important as well as exactly what the ramifications of these sizes are.
Of course, to understand a topic like this, we must first once again journey back in time, to a point when severe space limitations shaped the way things worked. Looking at such a page from computer history helps in the understanding of file sizes and the impact different types of data can have on things.
The standard units of measurement for data of course came about quite some time before the dawn of the PC age. However, those bygone times were such a vastly different landscape that looking that far back for these purposes would be counterproductive.
The smallest standard measurement in computers is called a “bit”. Anyone who played video games during the console wars of the eighties and nineties has more than heard of bits. However, no marketing campaign ever made it clear what bits were – it simply made sense that a sixteen bit machine was superior to an eight bit machine. What’s a bit?
By itself, a bit doesn’t amount to much, nor does it have that much of a meaning behind it. However, these tiny pieces of information (very small-range numerical values) can permit larger numbers to exist, when strung together. Eight bits make a byte.
This, it turns out, is a significant thing to remember. Base eight (octal) units are the way data is measured in computers.
So, what can one byte do? A byte can store a UTF-8 or ASCII character. A single letter or other textual symbol, in other words, is a byte in size by itself. Past bytes, each larger unit of measurement is 1024 of the previous unit. Therefore, a kilobyte is 1024 bytes, a megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, a gigabyte is 1024 megabytes and so on. It stands to reason, then, that a kilobyte of text would equate to 1024 characters, so long as no additional space is needed for special formatting or other accompanying data. That sounds like a lot of text, doesn’t it?
It’s really not. It’s just short of four maximum-length tweets.
And yet, the earliest PCs that came around offered at most 64 kilobytes of active memory (many only 16). This was not just memory available specifically for text, graphics or program logic. All of it, every last bit of data for a given program, had to fit into that tiny space. In a time before hard drives and other devices suited for fast random access, the entirety of an object had no choice but to be shoved into memory simultaneously.
Of course, these ancient limitations themselves have no bearing on why modern size concerns are important, but it does help to put into context exactly how quickly size limitations can become problems. It also shows how big text and other simple data can actually be, when efficiency and the like are really on the line.
When the internet first became popular, most connections could only send and receive data at about 14.4kb per second. Lengthy text data, then, would actually take perceptible time to load. Messages (email, instant messages) would actually have unavoidable latency between the users. This was when the practice of measuring page sizes became part of design best practices by sheer necessity alone.
This meant that a very pretty page with a lot of text was actually quite the large chunk of data to send through such a slow and limited connection as dial up! But, broadband became a relatively standard thing by the end of the century in most places, didn’t it? Surely the number of dial up users in the first world must be in lower than four digits by now. Well, that’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean that the size of a page no longer matters.
Just as the speed of connections grew and browsers became capable of fancier tricks, the size and scope of pages grew right along with it. Modern web pages are huge, and even with the fastest connections, and the fastest web hosts, there’s still sometimes a perceptible wait time for a page to fully load and render.
The internet got faster, but the pages got bigger and the problem is still there, albeit less obviously than in the past. Even so, that’s not the biggest problem a page size checker is intended to address in modern computing.
Unbelievably, in much of the world, internet service providers still meter bandwidth usage, and often to ridiculous extremes. Customers are allotted a specific amount of data per month that they can use. Exceeding this limit can incur extra fees or even threats of accounts being terminated if the excess is severe enough. It’s really hard to believe that any non-mobile internet connection would do this so far into the twenty first century, but greed is a powerful thing. That will likely never change.
Of course, people are more accustomed to mobile internet connections being not only slower but also limited in total data permitted per month. While in recent years, unlimited data plans have become more common and more affordable, the “unlimited” aspect of them is kind of a myth – there remains a hard cap that’s simply not made obvious unless a user crosses that line.
So, the bigger a page is, the more bandwidth it’s going to use, right? Users that have had run-ins with their bandwidth limits tend to be pretty conscientious about their online habits thereafter as well. Since many users prioritize their streaming and gaming over leisurely browsing websites when forced to make a choice, this means that heavy web pages are going to lose a lot of traffic when things are down to the wire.
Loss of traffic is, of course, not a great thing for a business.
Obviously, the bigger impact is, once more, the mobile viewing experience. Not only do larger pages use more data, they also take longer to load on slower 4G connections. On top of this, while mobile devices have skyrocketed in power over the past couple years, the limitations they still contend with mean that the bigger the content, the more difficulty they have in displaying it in a timely and smooth fashion as well. Things have kind of come full circle, as far as that’s concerned!
So, that’s the most immediate set of factors pertaining to page size and the ramifications of such. But, they’re not the only things to consider. Modern page size checker tools also factor in other forms of data besides the page’s code and text included in it. They also measure other multimedia data linked into the page’s design such as graphics, sound and embedded videos as well.
These things, of course, are bigger data and space gobblers than the page code and text.
SEO also depends on having a good grasp of a page’s size. Since key word position and frequency aren’t the only factors in a search engine determining relevance – the other being percentage ratios – knowing a page’s size is important in ensuring that the pages perform the way intended.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the bandwidth usage and footprint of pages also matters as hosting is concerned. Web hosts often place limitations on the amount of space available for an account as well as the bandwidth per month they are permitted to use. While, again, unlimited accounts for either or both of these aspects do exist, they can be prohibitively expensive.
In a world where consumption of web-sourced data is a day in and day out task for most people and most businesses, it’s easy to think that the size of data is a bygone concern. Sure, in most circumstances, if things are handled the best way for all aspects of this, these sizes are often not an issue. However, they quickly become issues when dismissed as never being a concern in the first place.
Realistically, this will never change. Storage capacities are far from being maxed out at this point, but eventually, things will reach a bottleneck where no more storage can be coaxed out of a millimeter of material. This will at best happen when storage is done on an atomic level. Similarly, there will come a time when bandwidth reaches a maximum speed practically achievable. The latter is known as signal crunch, and it’s bearing down on the tech industry so very much faster.
The point is, no matter how big storage gets, no matter how fast the internet becomes and no matter how powerful devices are in the future, data sizes will forever be something to be mindful of.
Page size checker tools are plentiful, and even take the form of libraries and extensions easily integrated into other things. As said before, a lot of web design and composition suites already feature such size checking capacities out of the box. The better ones can measure specific size influencers as well as the cumulative results as well.
At the end of the day, web content is basically software now. And like any other software, it needs to be as efficient as possible while still delivering the best possible user experience. Considering it’s a networked design, size and bandwidth are the biggest influencers of performance in this case.
With customers becoming increasingly aware of user experience, good or bad, this has only become more difficult and painstaking to stay on top of. This is why the modern computing world is so full of little tools like page size checker designs, and why those in the know are so adamant that they be taken seriously and truly appreciated.
The public are very unforgiving, especially when it comes to technology anymore. Whether or not this means consumers have become too entitled is a matter of opinion, but it is what it is. Is it worth risking being seen as incompetent, inefficient and wasteful of their time and bandwidth, simply to avoid dealing with size concerns? Is adding a single logistic, so easily handled by simple and free tools, really such an inconvenience? The answer to both of these is unequivocally a strong and vehement “no”.