Eric Schurman (Microsoft/bing), Jake Brutlag (Google)


  • Server delays (MS and Google)
  • Page weight variance
  • Progressive rendering

They have platforms for experimentation which allow fractional experiments

  • Divide users into small buckets
  • use good methodology (control group, experimental group(s))
  • Way better than usability tests

Server Delays

  • Goal [missed all of this due to an IM. Lesson learned]


  • No statistically significant change @ ~50ms delay
  • Observable and fairly linear impact on delays 200/500/1000/2000ms.
  • Time to first click took ~2x delay—theory: user has opportunity to get distracted

Google Search Delay Experiment

  • Varied type of delay, magnitude, and duration (number of weeks) per user group
  • Pre-header delay: pause server processing upon receipt of req
  • Post-header delay: pause after sending on header, but before sending results
  • Post-ads delay: (ads are structurally first in page, can render before search result) put ads in separate http chunk, delay between ads and search results


  • Measure average daily searches per user
  • 50ms pre-header delays show no significant impact
  • 100ms pre-head, 200ms post-heads, 400ms post-head, 200ms post-ads (and others) showed linear progression in decreased avg daily searches
  • Also saw increase in internally monitored “abandonment rate”
  • Active users are more sensitive
  • drop-off continued to trend down linearly beyond 4 weeks; effect becomes more pronounced over time, and additive—200ms and 400ms groups diverge more strongly
  • Stopped injecting delays at week 7; recovery was significant immediately, but not fully realized at week 12—there was still a drop in activity for these groups

Page weight experiments

  • injected incompressible comments into various places of page
  • varied size of comments from 5% of page to 500% (most of larger loads were below the fold)
  • small payloads weren’t worrisome (tho stat’ly significant)
  • perf suffered slightly, but was US only experiment; global exp planned, will likely show significantly larger drop in perf
  • Click metrics were hurt more than query metrics

Progressive rendering experiment

  • Goal: determine impace sending visual header before results
  • Build page in phases, send using HTTP 1.1 chunked transfer encoding
  • Results: Large improvement due to parallelization. Time to first click was ~9% faster, more likely to refine query, more clicks, more likely to page thru results

HCI may state that 100-200ms isn’t perceptible; it still has effect.

Getting something to your user quickly is more important than when they receive their last byte

Experimentation platforms make all this research and hard numbers possible.

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23 June 2009