Web Services

Rant: Ashes Websites Lab-Tested

The Great British Summer, seen in recent times approximately as often as a Centaur being ridden side-saddle by Medusa, is finally here and, glory of glories The Ashes has begun with a victory for us Poms. That is to say, the historic cricket series between England and Australia has commenced with a win for the former team and, if you don’t like games that go on for several days where not much happens for hours on end, then you should probably move on to another story now.

The challenge is that most of us have jobs to do and, for locals, Test cricket is scheduled to take up the vast majority of our working hours, beginning as it usually does at 11am and only concluding after 6pm. And, inconsiderately, when we take our lunch break, so do the players.

So there we slave, sweating over our lathes (OK, keyboards) and an unreceptive audience of colleagues when we suggest putting the radio or TV on. Fortunately, cricket is a wonderful sport to follow online, satisfying our geeky thirst for stats and updates. But who has the fastest coverage? To find out, we recruited the help of Keynote Systems, a website performance and availability monitoring specialist.

Keynote took the first week of the Ashes series as its sample, connecting from four locations and using four backbone routes over Tier 1 connections and using Internet Explorer as its browser. So the numbers reflect a best-possible scenario in terms of connectivity based on the browser that’s most likely to be used in a corporate environment in the UK.

All of which, as a precursor, is a bit like you asking me who won the game and me taking you through the pitch conditions, weather and quality of light. And so to the results…

In our first analysis, taking the day before the Ashes and first day’s play, Eurosport Cricket got panned by Keynote’s Robert Castley for “lack of best practices” including too many images depending on independent calls, resulting in page load times in the four-second region. ESPN Cricket provided 99.5% availability but suffered from slow-ish page load times of over 5.3 seconds; third-party tags and video-heavy page sizes of up to 5MB don’t help. Going direct to ESPN Cricket Live Scores was faster at just over four seconds and availability was 100%. “Disappointing” was Castley’s verdict on Telegraph Cricket with the slowest page loads of the lot, weighed down by 168 objects in total and way back off the pace at over 6.5 seconds for page loads. The Torygraph also had the lowest availability at 99.51%. Guardian Cricket wasn’t in the runs either, coming second last in both performance and availability with pages taking almost 4.6 seconds to load and availability down to 99.76%.

On the first day of the Ashes itself, ESPN, the Telegraph, The Guardian and Eurosport all had significant problems with availability with the Telegraph dropping to 75% availability at 10.30am and again at 3.30ppm. At lunch, the Guardian cricket page took up to 23 seconds to load at 1pm and suffered just 75% availability at 12.30. ESPN Cricket also dropped down to 75% availability at 5pm.

And the winner is…

ECB Cricket’s official coverage was very sound both overall and at the peak frenzy of the first day of the Ashes. Availability was at 100% while pages loaded at 1.83 seconds, again both overall and at peak moments.

But the number one all-rounder was BBC Cricket which loaded pages in 1.26 seconds on the opening day, improving its average even over the entire time monitored and with perfect availability. Page sizes of under 1MB helped and Keynote’s Castley praised a “fantastic job” by the Corporation.

On the second day of the first Test, the Beeb did even better, loading pages at under 1.19 seconds on average while ECB nudged over two seconds. By comparison, ESPN Cricket, Guardian Cricket and Telegraph Cricket all averaged over five seconds, and The Guardian kept fans waiting almost 16 seconds for pages to load at one point. The good news was that everyone was up to speed with availability, delivering 100% scores.

Lessons? Well, let’s face it; performance and availability are just two metrics. Some people will tune into a web page for the commentary, archive data, competitions or other bits and bobs. I deem ESPN Cricinfo the Daddy of all the cricket websites, for example, and also like the Telegraph and Guardian coverage (and The Times too if it weren’t for that pesky paywall). But if you want the fastest coverage, go with the BBC.


Martin Veitch is editorial director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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