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Want pain? Try loading today’s websites over dial-up

phone line

Even today, in 2012, some people don’t have broadband Internet connections, relying instead on phone lines and those good old dial-up modems. By today’s standards, those connections are extremely slow. Not only is the transfer speed slow, the latency is worse too.

On top of that, today’s websites are generally not designed for such slow connections. Surfing the web on a dial-up modem today is character building. That’s what you say about excruciating, painful experiences, right?

We wanted to see just how bad the situation is today. How long do regular web pages take to load over dial-up?

Slow, slower, slowest…

For this survey, we tested the top 50 sites in the United States with our Full Page Test in Pingdom Tools. That let us find out exactly how big these websites are, which helped us estimate how long they would take to load over a 56 kbit/s dial-up connection.

us dial up load times

Did you think it would be this bad? For example, loading the front page of the English version of Wikipedia would take in excess of 30 seconds. And that page isn’t in any way big by today’s standards, weighing in under 250 kilobytes.

According to the HTTP Archive, as of this June the average web page size is just over a megabyte. That takes more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds to load over dial-up.

Even a minimal site like Google.com takes in excess of 10 seconds to load. Today’s sites simply are not adapted to slow Internet connections, and the resulting loading times can often be quite extreme.

Some standouts:

  • Go.com: 10 minutes (half of which is to load videos)
  • Pinterest.com: 4 minutes, 46 seconds
  • Cnet.com: 4 minutes, 46 seconds
  • Tumblr.com: 4 minutes, 3 seconds
  • Amazon.com: 2 minutes, 51 seconds
  • CNN.com: 2 minutes, 37 seconds
  • IMDB.com: 2 minutes: 37 seconds
  • Walmart.com: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

So which of these 50 sites is the fastest? The minimalistic Craigslist.org. At a mere 44.7 kilobytes, it should take around 6 seconds to load on a 56 kbit/s connection.

What makes it so slow?

It’s mostly a matter of download size. The number of requests it takes to load a web page matters (because each has overhead), but on these slow connections, the actual transfer size quickly becomes a major factor.

For example, Go.com has 2 megabytes of video content, which makes up half the size of the page. On many other sites, images make up most of what is loaded. The web is a lot prettier today, but that comes at a cost.

To give you an idea of how much size affects load time on slow connections, 100 kilobytes of data takes more than 14 seconds to download on a 56 kbit/s connection.

Conclusion

The important thing here isn’t really the individual load times of these sites, but to point out this larger phenomenon: web design today gives none or very little consideration to people with poor internet connections.

Part of this discussion is a bit tongue in cheek, but we’re not solely joking around with this post. There’s a reality to consider here. Do we care about dial-up users?

Around 3% of US Internet users are currently on dial-up. Internationally, that number is often much higher. That’s a significant chunk of Internet users who you ignore at your own risk.

We’re not saying this is necessarily bad. It’s just the state of affairs, and maybe the price of progress. However, we wanted to shine a spotlight on this because many of us simply don’t think about it anymore. We’re so used to our fast Internet connections that we often forget that not everyone has them.

Broadband users get frustrated when they have to wait a few seconds for a page to load. Imagine what your experience would be on dial-up.

Detailed test results (for you data enthusiasts)

For those of you who want to dig into the data a bit more, and perhaps explore why these pages are so large (or small), we’ve added this list which also includes links to saved tests in Pingdom Tools. Tip: In Pingdom Tools, the Page Analysis tab will show you a handy breakdown of what is loaded.

Load times for the top 50 US sites over dial-up and basic 3G
Site Page size (kB) Details Over 56 kbit/s modem (s) Over basic 3G (384 kbit/s) (s)
google.com 234.1 Saved test 33 4.9
facebook.com 248.4 Saved test 35 5.2
youtube.com 419.6 Saved test 60 8.7
yahoo.com 601.8 Saved test 86 12.5
amazon.com 1200 Saved test 171 25.0
en.wikipedia.org 247.7 Saved test 35 5.2
ebay.com 641.2 Saved test 92 13.4
twitter.com 749 Saved test 107 15.6
craigslist.org 44.7 Saved test 6 0.9
linkedin.com 193.9 Saved test 28 4.0
blogger.com 52.8 Saved test 8 1.1
live.com 90.9 Saved test 13 1.9
msn.com 362.5 Saved test 52 7.6
go.com 4200 Saved test 600 87.5
bing.com 538.8 Saved test 77 11.2
pinterest.com 2000 Saved test 286 41.7
tumblr.com 1700 Saved test 243 35.4
paypal.com 206.4 Saved test 29 4.3
aol.com 805 Saved test 115 16.8
cnn.com 1100 Saved test 157 22.9
espn.go.com 815.4 Saved test 116 17.0
netflix.com 173.5 Saved test 25 3.6
wordpress.com 608.5 Saved test 87 12.7
huffingtonpost.com 1200 Saved test 171 25.0
bankofamerica.com 479.1 Saved test 68 10.0
weather.com 713.1 Saved test 102 14.9
apple.com 517.5 Saved test 74 10.8
imdb.com 1100 Saved test 157 22.9
imgur.com 918.3 Saved test 131 19.1
chase.com 334.9 Saved test 48 7.0
nytimes.com 1000 Saved test 143 20.8
microsoft.com 661.3 Saved test 94 13.8
ask.com 500.2 Saved test 71 10.4
flickr.com 512.9 Saved test 73 10.7
about.com 619 Saved test 88 12.9
wellsfargo.com 235.6 Saved test 34 4.9
walmart.com 1000 Saved test 143 20.8
comcast.net 763.6 Saved test 109 15.9
yelp.com 546 Saved test 78 11.4
foxnews.com 708.8 Saved test 101 14.8
godaddy.com 334.7 Saved test 48 7.0
hulu.com 937 Saved test 134 19.5
avg.com 646.8 Saved test 92 13.5
ehow.com 1100 Saved test 157 22.9
reddit.com 218.9 Saved test 31 4.6
pandora.com 893.9 Saved test 128 18.6
etsy.com 462.7 Saved test 66 9.6
cnet.com 2000 Saved test 286 41.7
target.com 718.4 Saved test 103 15.0
groupon.com 316.8 Saved test 45 6.6

This list is slightly sanitized. We removed a couple of, shall we say, NSFW sites. Also, we only tested the home page of these sites. For some sites that is just a simple login page. The actual page after the login will in many cases be bigger.

Some ISPs compress content to dial-up users so their experience is sometimes slightly less frustrating than what you see here. On the other hand, we haven’t included the extra time multiple requests usually take, plus the fact that phone line noise often lowers the effective transfer rate to around 40-50 kbit/s.

We’ve measured how large the websites are when you first visit them, i.e. loading everything on the page. The second time, some of the content will usually be cached, something that is hugely important on these slower connections.

Image credit: Top image via Shutterstock.

And here is a higher-resolution version of the chart, if you want one.



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