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Ask The Post
Posted at 04:16 PM ET, 04/30/2012

How the Post is improving site performance

If you’ve noticed that the Washington Post Web site has been loading faster lately, you’re not the only one.

As noted by media Web site, Poynter, SEO and PR strategist Adam Sherk recently compared the speed of various news organizations’ homepages and found that the Post Web site page speed rating has improved 32.4 percent over last year.

Regular readers of the Post likely remember this column by Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton. In it, he detailed reader frustrations with the Post Web site.


Screenshot of the Post's homepage.
Now, according to Sherk’s analysis, the Post’s homepage is as fast as other sites such as The Economist and Mashable and ranks higher on the list than the likes of The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

As the Post’s Chief Information Officer, Shailesh Prakash noted on Ask The Post earlier this year, site performance has been a priority for the Post’s developers.

So what’s behind the improvement? Ashish Agrawal, Director of Technology, said the IT department has rolled out several updates addressing site performance across all browsers. “While we know our site is very fast in Chrome and later versions of Firefox, a good deal of effort has been devoted to issues plaguing users of Internet Explorer, versions 7 and 8,” Agrawal said, noting that updates also addressed older versions of Firefox.

Agrawal said, the Post IT team has implemented some industry standard techniques — including “lazy” — or sequential — loading of images, deferring JavaScript using controlJS and optimizing the use of various JavaScript libraries such as JQuery and YUI. IT also worked with the newsroom and digital advertising teams to make content decisions that reduced page weight.

In addition, developers built a monitoring framework to constantly monitor page performance, using open-source tools such as Graphite, Nagios and WebPageTest. As a result, performance issues are quickly identified.

Being able to monitor page performance on an ongoing basis has proved helpful in identifying exactly what is slowing down a page, whether it’s code from an outside vendor or the order in which items on a page are loading, said Lead Developer Stephanie Clark.

As updates were made, Post IT staff took a proactive approach, working with the newsroom to identify readers who had frequent issues with the site, and then contacting a group of readers to get feedback on the changes. “We received positive responses back from users,” Agrawal said.

When the site launched a new navigation design a few weeks ago, a number of readers noted that the site was loading more quickly. Still, others said they had trouble loading certain pages and wondered whether new designs were overshadowing work on site performance.

Not so, said Agrawal: “We are not saying that this has resolved all problems, but there's been noticeable improvement.We know there are other parts of the site that are not as optimized. Now that we have the ability to monitor these, we are actively working on improving them.”

Clark said developers are being trained on coding with performance in mind and page performance teams consult with vendors to ensure that new features and site performance go hand-in-hand.

And reader feedback continues to be an important part of the improvements. “We get the e-mails [from readers],” Clark said. “We talk to them.”

Tip from Post developers: If you haven’t tried our site in Chrome or later versions of Firefox and IE, we urge you to give those browsers a try if you’re able to upgrade.

If you have feedback on the Post’s Web site, please e-mail ideas@washpost.com or leave your thoughts in the comments below.

By  |  04:16 PM ET, 04/30/2012

 
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