What this year’s Fluent Conference means to me

What this year’s Fluent Conference means to me

Around eight years ago, when I started working in the web performance space, I knew nothing about performance. I’m not exaggerating or being falsely humble when I say that. I knew zip. Zero. Nada.

My first O’Reilly Velocity Conference, back in 2010, was a revelation. Not only was there this arcane-seeming niche inhabited by people who were dedicated to making web pages faster, but this niche was surprisingly big.

Since 2010, that performance niche has grown even bigger and vastly more complex (much like the average web page, but I digress). Companies both huge and tiny offer incredibly nuanced solutions to problems we barely knew existed a handful of years ago. As my father-in-law used to say, “It’s been a helluva toboggan ride.” It’s been my joy and privilege to be on this ride with so many talented, caring people.

Last fall, when the folks at O’Reilly told me that they were re-jigging Velocity to focus more on the engineering and operations side of things, and shifting the front-end focus over to Fluent Conference, the decision made immediate sense. When those same folks invited me to co-chair Fluent and help with the transition, of course I jumped at the opportunity.

In a completely random coincidence, just a month ago I joined Steve Souders and Mark Zeman at SpeedCurve. For those of you who may not know this, Steve is one of the co-founders of Velocity. Mark is the founder of SpeedCurve, the performance monitoring company he created that was inspired by things he learned at Velocity. Mark and Steve’s eventual partnership sprang up out of their connection at – you guessed it – Velocity. And Velocity was where I got to know Mark and Steve over the years that led up to them offering me a role. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings of delight and serendipity I have at the fact that here I am today, working with Mark and Steve while also helping chair Fluent. Eight years ago, if you’d told me that I’d be here… well, I don’t know what I would’ve thought.

As you might guess, I have a very sentimental attachment to Velocity. It’s been a touchstone of my working world for many years, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I take my role as a shepherd of the evolution of Velocity and Fluent very seriously. The performance community is an amazing group of people, and I want all of those people to know that their work is more important than ever.

Here’s why.

The theme of Fluent is “Building a Better Web”. When my co-chairs – Rachel Roumeliotis, Ally MacDonald, and Kyle Simpson – and I first discussed this theme months ago, it was pretty easy to agree on what a “better web” means to us.

A better web is:

  • accessible,
  • secure,
  • reliable, and
  • fast.

Obvious, right? And some might argue that, yeah, while the web isn’t perfect, it’s good enough. So we’ve more or less hit our goals, right? We can all go home? Not so fast.

Many of us are lucky to live in happy bubbles where the web is accessible, secure (well, reasonably secure), reliable, and fast (well, reasonably fast). We’re the web equivalent of one-percenters. And like one-percenters, we’re dangerously at risk of being oblivious to what the rest of the world experiences.

internet
Image: DAPD

The vast majority of people around the world – the 99-percenters – don’t live inside happy web bubbles. Yes, roughly half of all people worldwide have access to the internet (mostly via mobile devices), but their experiences are difficult, non-secure, unreliable, and slow.

From a purely user experience perspective, this sucks, especially given the fact that more and more vital services and information are migrating to live solely online. But there’s more at stake here than just UX.

The modern web is a mirror of the modern world. For too many people, it isn’t just the web that’s inaccessible, unsafe, unreliable, and slow – it’s everything. It’s education, governance, economics, food, and water. As technologists, we may not be able to fix all those problems, but we can fix the web.

The web has become a vital part of how we live and share this planet. When we talk about building a better web, what we’re really talking about is building a better world. We may not be digging wells or building schools, but our work matters. This is why, when you look at the Fluent program, you’ll see so many talks that focus on how to use existing and emerging technologies to make the web accessible, secure, reliable, and speedy – in real-world, non-bubble conditions.

I’m an optimist: I believe the world is getting better. But I’m also a realist: I know it takes a lot of hard work to make things better. I’m looking forward to working hard with you.

Woohoo! My book is out!

Time-Is-Money-hard-copy

If you know me, or if you’ve ever attended one of my talks or read any of the articles and blog posts I’ve written, then you know I’m fascinated by the impact of web performance on human behaviour. In hindsight, it was probably inevitable that I should finally sit down and pull all these stories under one roof.

I’m so very excited to share that my book, Time Is Money: The Business Value of Web Performance, has just been published by O’Reilly. (You can get it on Amazon and in the O’Reilly store.)

Why should you care about web performance?

Maybe you don’t care about performance (yet). But chances are, if you work on a website, you care about one or more of these metrics:

  • bounce rate
  • cart size
  • conversions
  • revenue
  • time on site
  • page views
  • user satisfaction
  • user retention
  • organic search traffic
  • brand perception
  • productivity
  • bandwidth/CDN savings

Yes? Then you should also care about web performance. Because performance has an impact on every single one of these metrics.

I have yet to find a metric that defied mapping. In fact, for me – and I know I’m not alone in this – the relationship between performance and online success has become so obvious that it comes as a bit of a surprise to encounter resistance to the idea. But there is definitely resistance out there – or, if not outright resistance, then at the very least a serious lack of education. Hence this book.

My hopes for this book

One of the topics that comes up a lot in the web performance space is the challenge of convincing other people in your organization to care enough about performance that they’re willing to invest some resources into fixing it. It’s tough fighting for resources to fix a problem that, until recently, has been largely a silent killer. One of my goals in writing this book is to give all the performance converts out there the ammunition they need to put together a strong business case.

If you’ve been in this space for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with some of the research and case studies — from Walmart to Aberdeen — that are mainstays of pretty much every speaker deck you encounter. These stories are great, and you’ll find them covered here for the benefit of performance newcomers. But I’ve also cast my net wide to include stories that will, hopefully, be new to you.

Performance is a human issue

Along the way, I’d also love it if readers put this book down and walk away having internalized the fact that performance is very much a human issue.

We are incredibly lucky that we have the tools to measure and analyze how these people use our sites and apps, but we shouldn’t fall into the trap of reducing those people to mere numbers on a dashboard. There are real people — millions upon millions of them — behind every study and statistic referenced in the pages ahead.

Ultimately, if we care about our businesses, then all those real actual human beings should be the first and last thing we think about every day.