During the early hours of Sunday April 1, some website visitors reported mysterious events and strange sightings on our websites.
Some were just confused, while others later reported their experience in words like “It’s full of stars!”.
If you happened to experience this mishap, I would like to express my apologies.
Root of the issue found
After investigating the matter we have now found the root of the issue, and I must say that I’m as surprised as our website visitors who witnessed these strange phenomena.
Casual visitors to our websites reported strange distortions
As it would appear, our website speed optimization efforts have been taken just one step too far. Last night we unknowingly crossed the zero-line, giving negative page load times!
Following the page load time over the last years, it is now obvious that the zero-line would be crossed eventually
In other words our web pages would show on users screens before they actually clicked to open them. For most visitors this resulted in an inferno of near simultaneous page views, as pages loaded just by the user thinking of them.
One could say that it is nice to have web pages appear just by thinking of them, but we are clearly crossing the line of good usability here.
Too much of a good thing
In some rare cases it seemed like the pages were loaded even before the user was thinking of them, resulting in an endless accelerating loop of page views appearing before the eyes of the surprised visitors:
The sightings that met some surprised visitors
to our web pages Sunday night
Laws of physics seem to not apply here (or maybe someone need to rewrite those laws: Just 6 months ago, new findings suggested that it is possible to travel faster than light).
Martin Stub: “We should have seen this coming”
Martin Stub, Media Developer in the e-conomic Online Team and formerly responsible for speed optimization, says:
“This whole thing turned counter productive. We should have seen this coming and it is a little embarrassing just taking for granted, that page load times cannot be negative.
It is of little comfort that no one in the speed optimizing community has ever talked about the risk of negative page load times before. In hindsight, this is just like when some thought the speed of sound barrier could not be crossed.”
Negative page load times, how is that possible?
You might have heard about some of the classic optimization techniques like caching, limiting the number of requests, load order etc. I recently did a blog post about some of these basic page load optimization areas.
While these optimization techniques can give you very fast web pages, a new combination of aggressive pre-loading, caching with far future Expire headers and zero-latency Dark fiber carriers have resulted in below zero page load times for some.
At his point, I cannot reveal the exact specifications that did this, as I will not be responsible for the Internet imploding (or what’s worse). No one yet knows what happens from continuous use of below zero page load times, just like no one knows what is on the other side of a Black Hole.
And frankly, I will leave it to others to find out. RIPE will be informed and urged to take action, and leading advocates of speed optimization will be advised to optimize with caution in the future.
Situation rectified – we are back to normal
In any case, the unfortunate situation has now been solved. We added some slow running code to our web pages, which will guarantee at least a 0.1 second page load time. The interweb is safe again.
Happy Easter 🙂