I’ve long been skeptical of quoting global browser usage percentages to justify their usage of browser features. It doesn’t matter what global usage of a browser is, other than nerdy cocktail party fodder. The usage that matters is what users on your site are using, and that can be wildly different from site to site.
That idea of tracking real usage of your actual site concept has bounced around my head the last few days. And it’s not just “I can’t use CSS grid because IE 11 has 1.42% of global usage still” stuff, it’s about measuring metrics that matter to your site, no matter what they are.
Let that sit for a second.
There are other analytics we can gather on a site, like usage analytics. For example, we might slap Google Analytics on a site, doing nothing but installing the generic snippet. This is going to tell us stuff like what pages are the most popular, how long people spend on the site, and what countries deliver the most traffic. Those are real user analytics, but it’s very generic analytic information.
Now apply that to performance tooling.
Rather than generic synthetic tests, why not measure things that are actually important to your specific site? One aspect to this is RUM, that is, “Real User Monitoring.” So rather than a single synthetic test being the source of all performance testing on your site, you’re tracking real users actually using the site on their actual devices. That makes a lot of sense to me, but aside from the logic of it, it unlocks some important data.
Another Web Core Vital is “Largest Contentful Paint” which is a fascinating attempt at a more meaningful performance metric. Imagine a metric like “start render” or the first page paint. Is that interesting? Sorta. At least it is signaling to the user that something is happening (probably). Yet that first render might not be actually useful content, like the headline and body copy of a news article. So this metric makes a guess at what that useful content probably is and measures that. Very clever.
But, why guess? I get why Google has to guess. They have to measure LCP on a bazillion sites and provide generically useful measurements. But on your own site (again, where the focused analytics actually matter) we can tell performance tools which elements matter us and record when they render. Personally, I’d care about when the article itself renders on this site. With SpeedCurve’s hero rendering time, I could do something like:
<main elementtiming="article"></main> <!-- or focus on the top of the page, like the "hero" timing suggests --> <header elementtiming="hero"></header>
Now I’m measuring what matters to my site and not just generic numbers.
Editors.init(); performance.mark("Editors are initialized.");
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