Websites and web pages are constantly growing in size and today it’s not unusual for the average page to be a few Megabyte in size. There are even websites around with single pages in the tens of Megabytes. While this might not be a major issue for people with a fast or unlimited internet, there’s still a huge proportion of people that don’t have a reasonable speed internet connection. If you include people using mobile broadband dongles or metered internet connections it becomes a major issue and a drain on bandwidth when pages are not properly optimized.
Optimizing a web page can be as simple as compressing images and using HTML code and scripts that have no unnecessary code. The page will load faster for everybody especially for those on slower connections because less data needs to be downloaded. Below is the same web page in its original form (top) and after optimization (bottom). As you can see, optimization reduced the amount of data downloaded and therefore the time to load the page by a sizable amount.
You can of course do several things yourself to help reduce the amount of data that needs to be downloaded. Blocking images, blocking flash videos, blocking scripts and blocking ads can reduce bandwidth usage. Those methods all have an effect on the page though and at best you are not seeing the whole page as intended, at worst the page can break. Fortunately there’s something you can do instead of disabling page elements which is to have the page automatically optimized before viewing it.
Bandwidth Saving Web Browser Extensions
1. Google Data Saver Beta (Chrome)
Once installed you can see how much data has been saved over the last month by clicking on Data Saver’s icon. The icon is also used for disabling and enabling the extension. One issue with the data saving graph is it becomes inaccurate over time because downloads which cannot be compressed like videos, music files, archives and executable files will also be counted in the data. This skews the numbers if you download those types of files often. One advantage of using Data Saver is you know the Google servers will be quick and pages will be served at good speeds.
2. SkyZIP (Chrome and Firefox)
Once installed the extension functions slightly different depending on your browser. In Firefox the options are available from the icon, they are to enable/disable SkyZIP globally and select the rate of compression. The higher the compression mode you choose, the more data savings you should get at the expense of page load speed. The Chrome version has its own settings window where you can additionally choose to exclude specific IPs and provide authentication (presumably for Nynex customers only).
3. Network Bandwidth Saver (Firefox)
This Firefox extension is a little different and does not involve compression or web proxies. What it actually does is lazy load images on every webpage, a technique that’s well known to webmasters. What lazy loading does is delay the downloading of images you cannot see on the page until they are scrolled into view. If you only view the top half of a page, the images in the lower half will not be loaded, saving bandwidth, especially on image rich websites.
Once installed the extension is enabled automatically and you will notice it working when scrolling down a webpage with images, they will load only when scrolled into view. Network Bandwidth Saver can be disabled from the icon but a per site option would’ve been quite useful since lazy loading is not perfect across all sites. It’s still a quick and easy option to try and doesn’t disable page content while still offering some bandwidth savings. You can also use lazy loading along with something like SkyZIP to increase data savings even further.
4. Data Compression Proxy (Chrome)
This extension uses the same Chrome Compression Proxy as Google’s Data Saver, but ironically was released a year or so earlier. Because it uses the same proxy the savings will be the same as Data Saver although there are a couple of useful options such as a basic ad blocker and a bypass list to exclude specific websites.
Although we didn’t notice anything during our brief testing, there’s a worrying amount of reviews on the Chrome store page saying the extension is injecting its own advertising into web pages. For this reason we would recommend that if you install the Data Compression Proxy extension, you do so with caution.
Web Browsers With Built in Bandwidth Saving
1. Opera Browser
Opera is very well known in this field and has had page compression in Opera and Opera Mini for a long time, it was one of the first to enable the bandwidth saving compression feature in mobile browsers. They also have an Android app called Opera Max that offers media compression across other apps on your device.
In Opera browser for Windows the Turbo option is now more basic than it used to be and has no options at all and no information or statistics to show you how much data has been saved. All you have to do is turn it on via the settings and control menu > Opera Turbo option and HTTP pages will be sent to the Opera servers and compressed from then on. HTML and images are compressed while video content is optimized for lower bandwidth connections.
UCBrowser is a very popular and well known mobile browser with hundreds of millions of downloads to its name. UCWeb also have a PC version of their browser based on Chromium. While UCBrowser does offer a compression method to save bandwidth and reduce the amount of data downloaded, it is quite specific and may not be as effective as other methods here.
Cloud Boost needs to be enabled to use it but you can easily do that by clicking on the small rocket icon in the address bar and pressing the “Enable boost now” button. With Cloud Boost only images are sent to UCWeb servers to be compressed and reduced in size with minimal quality loss, the icon will animate while images are being compressed and served. A few statistics are available in the popup such as amount of data saved and page load time improvement.
3. Yandex Browser
Yandex Browser is based on Chromium and integrates a feature that enables page compression, which is a modified version of Opera’s own Turbo mode. The Yandex version is a bit more advanced and can automatically enable Turbo when the download speed is under 128 Kbit/s, if the speed goes above 512 Kbit/s Turbo will turn itself off. HTML content is Gzipped, JPEGs are converted to WebP and the transfer is done via the SPDY protocol direct from the Yandex servers.
Alternatively you can leave it always on to compress all HTTP pages. Turbo will also disable on page multimedia content such as video and audio, clicking the placeholder will play the media. An additional setting is compressing video clips to try and save extra bandwidth during playback. To see how much bandwidth has been saved click the tiny rocket icon in the address bar, this will show how much has been saved today in addition to an option to show all disabled media content at once as well as the option to disable video compression for full quality viewing.
Final Note: As you might expect mileage with this type of function will vary greatly from site to site and it depends mostly on how well the site you visit has been optimized that will decide how much bandwidth saving there will be. For example, Raymond.cc has a number of optimizations to serve pages as quickly as possible to all users, so a bandwidth saver would not produce much saving. Other sites will get big savings because they aren’t well optimized, somewhere like TMZ.com can be compressed by over 50% saving several Megabytes on a single web page.