The Loband option

by Jon Thompson on February 16, 2009

I am not sure how many of you are familiar with Loband but it is one of the best options for viewing websites over low bandwidth connections.  It strips out all images, formatting, etc and leaves you with a text only rendering of the page which is still quite legible.  You can view Aid Worker Daily over Loband HERE.  Loband is the offspring of the geniuses over at Aptivate.  (Of course, if you are using Firefox you can always go to Tools -> Options -> Content and deselect ‘Load images automatically’.)

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Miquel February 20, 2009 at 11:08 am

On our site, Maneno, we’re working on creating an extremely lightweight blogging and content system. Obviously, there is no way that it can be as small as something with all of the images stripped out, but pages are at the very least 25% the size of the other, big name platforms and in some cases even smaller. We’re building custom components to make all of this possible as well as having a system to handle multiple languages. You should take a look if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

Cheers

-miquel

Alan Jackson February 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Hi, I’m one of the “geniuses” at Aptivate (blushes), thanks Jon for your kind words about Loband and our apparent intellectual faculties! 🙂

We’re all happy when we hear of people putting Loband to good use. We originally wrote it for aid workers but soon realised it had a wider audience. We’re always interested to hear any feedback you have of using it in the field, any suggestions for improvements or any stories about the challenges you face trying to access the Internet over slow connections. Feel free to send any comments to info AT aptivate.org.

You’re right that you can disable images in most browsers, which is a great idea. Loband does a few other things too. One thing is that it forces compression on. Web servers can compress web pages (basically like zipping the page) before they send them to the browser and it’s a relatively simple configuration to turn that on, but most servers have it turned off by default. However Loband has compression turned on, even if the original site didn’t.

Miguel it’s great to hear about your lightweight blogging system. We’ve been thinking there was a need for something like that for a while. Are you going to release the code / templates open source? You might be interested in our web design guidelines where we go through various techniques for optimising the size of web pages. We came up with a target page size of 25KB using estimates of the bandwidth you get on the desktop in African universities.

The 50KB typical page size of Maneno is fantastic, especially when you consider the average web page size is now over 300KB (which would have a 2 minute download time on a 20Kb/s connection). If you’re interested in shaving off even more, you might want to have a look at converting RGB images to images with indexed palettes or reducing the number of indexed colours down to something like 32.

Did you run your CSS through a CSS optimiser? If so which one did you use? It looks nice and lean.

Miquel February 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

What kind of resources usage do you get on your server to turn those pages around? Since it looks like you’ve checked out the optimization of Maneno, you’ve seen that we’re compressing everything we can and I’m mostly concerned about how soon I’m going to have to upgrade the system once we start growing more readers and writers on the site.

Our home page will probably be about 45kb shortly. There’s a transparent ping for the BETA image that’s going to go soon as it hogs up 6kb on its own due to the gradients in it. Probably the biggest bandwidth saver was compressing the JavaScript files though. We’re using Mootools for our library and they’re a good group with a library that quite lean to start with, yet very, very full-featured, which allows us to build a proper, modern site as well as reduce bandwidth usage more through AJAX calls. Unfortunately Google Analytics hogs up about 9kb everywhere on the site and that isn’t cached. We have to keep it for the time being though as it’s been far more reliable in giving us usage and geographic stats.

And you’re right, this leaves images as our biggest bandwidth hog from the home page to the articles. Not much way around that one as we want to keep them looking somewhat decent. I could probably crank up the compression a bit on submission, but I’m a bit lax to go much more as the quality drops off quite fast.

In regards to the CSS, I use YUI for compression. That’s a handy site for running compression in a web interface. But, I think it mostly just takes out the whitespace and doesn’t do too much else to the actual code, that’s mostly just due to my manner of writing CSS based on many years of battling the high-bandwidth desires of the marketing folks out there >:) It doesn’t shave off all that much, maybe 10-15% of the size, but it helps and you guys would probably get loband even a bit smaller.

It’s cool to see that Maneno can get down to 5kb through loband, but unfortunately it does need the JS to work, so it shorts out our language selection options. So it goes I suppose… Maybe there is some way around that in our code.

By the way, I’ve been purely blackboxing development on this, since none of us have been to Africa since launching the site at the end of Fall last year. If anyone has any feedback on how long it actually takes to load, I’d be happy to hear it. Of course, we’ll also be over there this Summer, so we’ll see firsthand.

Oh yeah, we’re also going to be incorporating an SMS component in to the site as well for people to write from their phones. That’s going to be quite cool and eliminate one half of the bandwidth issue.

-miquel

P.S. Your Guidelines are quite solid. I need to write an article on Subsaharska about this as I think more developers really should pay attention to these items, although in the US, most ignore them due to being spoiled with bandwidth.

Miquel February 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Alan, sorry, I forgot to mention that yes, we’re planning to release an open source branch of the site down the road once it’s stable and we can have the system be a turnkey system for those wanting to run a low-bandwidth, multi-lingual site.

Jon Thompson February 22, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for the great dialogue. I just posted about Maneno up top.
Cheers,
Jon

Michael Kleinman February 26, 2009 at 11:50 am

John,

Just a quick one, and apologies for not writing sooner – though the post on loband was incredibly useful, and referenced it on my blog, with due attribution:

http://humanitarianrelief.change.org/blog/view/i_heart_internet_access_from_the_field

Best,

Michael

Chris Watkins March 31, 2009 at 1:30 pm

That’s a really nice application of “lean code” to the web. Some of us really love WordPress, though, and would have a hard time giving up its community support and extensions – and I assume that a lot of the extensions (like spam filters, that run on the server) don’t actually add to the band width, right?

I’m hoping someone builds either a “loband” extension for WordPress (I suspect it’s not that simple, but I’m not a coder), or a good clear guide on how to tweak WordPress for loband – I had a quick look for one, but haven’t found it yet. A guide on a wiki somewhere would be great.

When we installed WordPress at http://blogs.appropedia.org/ I hacked the skin to make it as clean and light as possible. (I don’t know CSS, but some it it I could figure out). Looking at one page, it’s a 23 kb HTML file, with 95 kb of other stuff. I have some ideas and questions – can anyone tell us the best place to take them?

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

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