Our Brains Need Better Web Performance

Fri, 06/15/2012 - 09:41

Nobody likes to wait. In the past several weeks, web performance has gotten a lot of attention because of the time some websites take to load. They take too long.

Why do we want faster pages? Slow pages cause web stress; poorer concentration and increased agitation. Why do we stress? It is mainly because of our short-term memory. Information stored in our short memory evaporates quickly. That is why we don't perform as well when we have to wait. Even after just ten seconds, we have lost our train of thought.

At any precise moment, there are three basic types of memory processing work in your brain. There are sensory memory, short term memory, and working memory. Sensory memory works in 100ms bursts. There are three types of sensory memory: iconic memory, sound memory and touch memory. With iconic memory, every time you see something this visual information is taken in by photoreceptor cells in your eyes and then sent to the occipital lobe in your brain.

Your short term memory can store information for 10-15 seconds, enough time for your working memory to process, manipulate, and control it. The goal is to get page load times down to 100 milliseconds to keep us from losing information through the cracks in our iconic memory. Also, this gives our short term and working memories time to soak up all they can before they start losing information.

That is where we get into flow. Human beings are hard-wired to perform tasks seamlessly. Our day to day tasks have been a series of minute actions that flow seamlessly into the next. We, as humans, are simply not wired to deal with the fits and starts of human-computer interaction. If you have ever walked into a room to get something and when you get there you have forgotten what you intended to get, that is what is called "the doorway effect." The doorway effect persists in computer simulations. The visual stimulus of watching a page refresh could erase the memory of a previous page.

The conclusion is clear: Yes, we need to speed up the web.

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