By Erica Naone
Google wants to make the Web faster. As well as optimizing its own sites and services to run at blazing speed, the company has been helping to streamline the rest of the Web, too. Now Google has released free software that could make many sites load twice as fast.
The software, called mod_pagespeed, can be installed and configured on Apache Web servers, the most commonly used software for running websites. Once installed, mod_pagespeed determines ways to optimize a site’s performance on the fly. For example, it will compress images more efficiently and change settings so that more of the pages are stored in a user’s browser cache, so that the same data doesn’t have to be loaded repeatedly. The software will be automatically updated, notes Richard Rabbat, product manager for the new project. He says that this means that as Google and others make improvements, people who install it will benefit without having to make any changes.
“We think making the whole Web faster is critical to Google’s success,” says Rabbat. Making the Web faster should encourage people to use it more and increase the likelihood that they will use Google’s services and software. Rabbat points to the frustration that people feel when they click a link or type a URL and see a blank page for several seconds. “In many cases,” he says, “I’ll navigate away when that happens.”
Google already offers a tool called Page Speed that measures the speed at which a website loads and suggests ways to make improvements. “We asked ourselves, instead of just telling people what the problems are, can we just fix it for them automatically?” Rabbat says.
The software could be particularly useful to operators of small websites. Such people may not have the skill or time to optimize their site’s performance themselves. It should also be useful for companies that use content management systems to operate their websites and lack the technical capabilities needed to make speed improvements to Web server software themselves.
Google tested mod_pagespeed on a representative sample of websites and found that it made some sites load three times faster, depending on how much optimization had already been done.
Google is also making deals with other companies to ensure that mod_pagespeed is widely distributed. Hosting company GoDaddy, for example, plans to add the software to its Web hosting products. According to GoDaddy’s president and chief operating officer, Warren Adelman, the software will offer a way to “make it easier for our Web hosting customers to build the best website possible with the least amount of effort.” Google’s Page Speed tool, he notes, “required a certain degree of technical savvy for website operators to implement,” and he expects the new tool to have a broader impact.
Content delivery network Cotendo, which helps its customers distribute content quickly, is also integrating mod_pagespeed into its offerings. Misha Kuperman, vice president of operations, says that optimizing code on the fly, as the new software does, improves on the optimizations his company already does. Though people can install the software themselves, Kuperman says, having it as part of a content delivery network makes it easier to use for companies that don’t control their own servers, or that have Web resources scattered across the globe.
Google’s efforts to speed up the Web reach across many of its products. For example, it designed the Chrome Web browser to be faster than other browsers, and the company is giving very-high-speed broadband connections to a select number of towns in the United States. Earlier this year, Google announced that it would consider the speed of all websites when it ranks pages in search results, which could have a significant effect on how many visitors a company’s site gets.
Speeding up the Web has a clear financial payoff for Google. “If websites are faster, Google makes more money,” says Ed Robinson, CEO of Aptimize, a startup that also provides software that automatically optimizes Web pages, much as Google’s new offering does. Robinson explains that the faster a website is, the more pages users will view, and the more ads Google can serve—on its search pages or through its ad networks. Because the company’s reach is so wide, even small improvements can add up to massive revenue gains for the Web giant. He adds, “Making the Web faster is the logical next step for moving the Web forward.”