Neil Macy

Software struggles on slow networks

Andy Bell experienced a power cut, and thought he'd check the UK Power Networks website to find out. But they forgot they were making a website for people who might reasonably be expected not to have Wifi, thanks to a power cut...

In this video, I tried to load the site. It took just under a minute to show any content, and then I ended up giving up completely after watching it load for 3 minutes. 3 minutes. Obscene.

There's a laziness among some web and app developers around performance on slow networks. They just assume your internet connection won't be slow. Because who even has slow internet these days anyway, don't we all have fibre?

I recently moved house, and spent two weeks tethering on my phone because our internet connection was slow to be transferred. Being an old house, I had terrible mobile signal, so I often found myself with websites and apps that behaved really badly.

The app we use to track our baby's sleep has a really slow and unreliable sync engine, so that became a disaster for two weeks. Plenty of websites would load headers and UI chrome, but fail to load any content for minutes. Apple's App Store was particularly slow, often with no loading UI. And I even found a game that wouldnt let me play until it had finished whatever API calls the developers thought were important enough to block play, even though levels were worked fine when offline completely.

There's no excuse for only building your product for people with fast internet connections. In the two examples here, Andy and I experienced downgraded network quality. And there are still a huge number of people for whom this is normal.

Published on 17 February 2023