Velocity Europe: the highlights

It’s quite hard to attend a Velocity conference and not come away inspired. For me, Velocity Europe last week was no exception. However, this year the general atmosphere of enthusiasm that characterises these events was tempered by a certain realism. There was a recognition that we still have a long way to go and that there are still some performance problems to which there are no satisfactory solutions.

Of course, that’s part of what makes the world of web performance exciting and why I love Velocity. We weren’t just going over the same old ground, repackaging the same old messages. While some of those messages remain as valid as ever, a lot is changing.

Andy Davies, for example, asked which of today’s good practices might become tomorrow’s anti-patterns. Domain sharding may be one of the first casualties of HTTP 2.0. But there are other, less obvious, practices for which tomorrow has already arrived. For example, inline JavaScript, which is sometimes used to achieve performance enhancements, may fall foul of the increasingly supported Content-Security-Policy header.

Responsive web design is another trend that’s been moving the web performance goalposts. Displaying images at different sizes to suit different screen types and resolutions is relatively easy. But it often means sending mobile users large files that they don’t need and can ill afford to wait for. At a time when we have to cater for mobile devices with Retina displays along with their lower resolution counterparts, it’s no longer as easy as sending different content to mobile users.

Fortunately, a potential headache for some is an opportunity for others to come up with innovative ideas, and it was great to hear from Yoav Weiss from the Responsive Images Community Group. Yoav gave us a useful run-down of some possible solutions and their relative merits. Not all of them were things we could implement today – instead, this was a glimpse into a number of possible futures.

Speaking of images, Akamai’s Ido Safruti shared his experience of working with two relatively new formats: WebP and JPEG XR. While not yet widely supported, both offer big reductions in file sizes, and, hopefully, we can look forward to a time when image file size isn’t quite the brake on web performance that it is now.

Another highlight for me was Ilya Grigorik’s session on high performance browser networking. There was a lot to take in (a bit like swallowing a condensed version of his book) but it was all immensely useful. Ilya reminded us of the importance of latency and also that while web performance is mainly concerned with speed, there are other things to think about – notably, battery life on mobile devices (and how we might be killing it without even realising). Best of all, he offered plenty of solutions to the array of challenges facing us – both now and in the future.

I could go on. But the best way to get the most out of Velocity is to be there. There’s nothing quite like talking to the people who are working frantically to ensure that we have the necessary tools to deliver a great experience to end users.

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