thetrainline.com @ Velocity EU 2012


The Velocity EU conference was held in London this year during the first week of October. thetrainline.com sent a contingent to see the latest and greatest ideas and concepts in high performance web sites and operations.

Velocity, for those who don’t know, is “the best place on the planet for web ops and performance professionals like you to learn from your peers, exchange ideas with experts, and share best practices and lessons learned.” The conference is chaired by Steve Souders (Head Performance Engineer @ Google) & John Allspaw (VP of Tech Operations @ Etsy), so people who know their stuff then. It has been running since 2008 and now happens 3 times per year in China, the USA and Europe.

So then, what did we learn and how are we going to use it?

Don’t just focus on the Homepage!

Firstly, and this may be familiar to those of you who have experienced Velocity before, the mantra of Performance = Money was being broadcast loud and clear.

But it was tempered with some very useful lessons learned by the brave engineers at LonelyPlanet.com.  At the LP they had been experimenting with speeding up the main page on their website (the home page), but had found that no matter how much faster they had made it, there was no measurable effect upon their business: sales rates, conversions, etc. remained the same. This made their job of ‘selling fast’ to their internal customers (the people with the money) very difficult.

This rang true with me, as we have also invested effort recently in improving our home page to make it load quicker and had an experience similar to the one the guys from LP were describing. So what they said next was a great thing for us to hear. The home page is just the tip of the iceberg: you have to make the whole user experience quicker for your users to get the benefits. One slide in particular from the LonelyPlanet slide deck explained the issue very well:

Velocity EU 2012 LonelyPlanet slide

The slide shows that an improvement in home page speed does not always result in increased conversions. Their key message was you have to keep trying, keep experimenting to find ways to improve your systems not just technically but in ways the help your users to get what they want from your site. This is something I’ll be championing here at thetrainline.com in the next couple of weeks to see what we can do to speed things up and make buying tickets even easier.

Josh Bixby on Mobile Performance

Another really interesting presentation was Joshua’s Mobile Performance State of the Union. Josh went into detail about the different factors that affect mobile users in particular and the best ways to help those users to browse your site, even when they might have a slow or unreliable connection whilst on the move. Basically, reduce the amount of data they have to download to view the site as much as you can, and also use as few requests to get a job done as possible. We recently launched a site specifically for mobile users (m.thetrainline.com) that is not only optimised in terms of data etc. but also tries to simplify the way the users interact with us to allow quicker and easier interactions via mobile devices.

As the person responsible for web performance at thetrainline.com I’m going to be reviewing our site again soon to see if we can squeeze even more performance out of it, and make using our site even better via mobile devices.

This really is just my own top two things from Velocity this year. We learnt so much more than this about all kinds of things from caching between app tiers, NoSQL Data solutions, Real User Monitoring, the importance of good DNS solutions, avoiding SPOF and the value of APM and internal monitoring too.

Velocity and WebPerfGroups

I highly recommend anyone serious about high performance for their sites, specifically e-commerce make the effort to attend Velocity next year. You can find links to slides and videos from this year’s conference here: Velocity Slides

But just in case you can’t make it, you definitely should join your local WebPerfGroup too, as these are a great way to find out the latest info and tech trends from performance people in your area. If you’re a Londoner then you can join London Web Performance Group, or you can check http://www.nywebperformance.org/ to find a group near you.

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