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Employ A Freelance Animator Services

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Improve Animated GIF Performance With HTML5 video

Improve Animated GIF Performance With HTML5 video

Improve Animated GIF Performance With HTML5 video

Ayo Isaiah

Animated GIFs have a lot going for them; they’re easy to make and work well enough in literally all browsers. But the GIF format was not originally intended for animation. The original design of the GIF format was to provide a way to compress multiple images inside a single file using a lossless compression algorithm (called LZW compression) which meant they could be downloaded in a reasonably short space of time, even on slow connections.

Later, basic animation capabilities were added which allowed the various images (frames) in the file to be painted with time delays. By default, the series of frames that constitute the animation was displayed only once, stopping after the last frame was shown. Netscape Navigator 2.0 was the first browser to added the ability for animated GIFs to loop, which lead to the rise of animated GIFs as we know them today.

As an animation platform, the GIF format is incredibly limited. Each frame in the animation is restricted to a palette of just 256 colors, and over the years, advances in compression technology has made leading to several improvements the way animations and video files are compressed and used. Unlike proper video formats, the GIF format does not take advantage of any of the new technology meaning that even a few seconds of content can lead to tremendously large file sizes since a lot of repetitive information is stored.

Even if you try to tweak the quality and length of a GIF with a tool like Gifsicle, it can be difficult to cut it down to a reasonable file size. This is the reason why GIF heavy websites like Giphy, Imgur and the likes do not use the actual GIF format, but rather convert it to HTML5 video and serve those to users instead. As the Pinterest Engineering team found, converting animated GIFs to video can decrease load times and improve playback smoothness leading to a more pleasant user experience.

Hence, we’re going to look at some techniques that enable us use HTML5 video as a drop in replacement for animated GIFs. We’ll learn how to convert animated GIFs to video files and examine how to properly embed these video files on the web so that they act just like a GIF would. Finally, we’ll consider a few potential drawbacks that you need to ponder before using this solution.

Convert Animated GIFs To Video

The first step is to convert GIF files to a video format. MP4 is the most widely supported format in browsers with almost 94% of all browsers enjoying support, so that’s a safe default.


Support table on caniuse.com showing browser support for the MP4 video format
94% of all browsers support the MP4 format (Large preview)

Another option is the WebM format which offers high quality videos, often comparable to an MP4, but usually at a reduced file size. However, at this time, browser support is not as widespread so you can’t just go replacing MP4 files with their WebM equivalents.


Support table on caniuse.com showing browser support for the WebM video format
Internet Explorer and Safari are notable browsers without WebM support (Large preview)

However, because the tag supports multiple files, we can serve WebM videos to browsers that support them while falling back to MP4 everywhere else.

Let’s go ahead and convert an animated GIF to both MP4 and WebM. There are several online tools that can help you do this, but many of them use ffmpeg under the hood so we’ll skip the middle man and just use that instead. ffmpeg is a free and open source command line tool that is designed for the processing of video and audio files. It can also be used to convert an animated GIF to video formats.

To find out if you have ffmpeg on your machine, fire up a terminal and run the ffmpeg command. This should display some diagnostic information, otherwise, you’ll need to install it. Installation instructions for Windows, macOS and Linux can be found on this page. Since we’ll be converting to is WebM, you need to make sure that whatever ffmpeg build you install is compiled with libvpx.

To follow along with the commands that are included in this article, you can use any animated GIF file lying around on your computer or grab this one which is just over 28MB. Let’s begin by converting a GIF to MP4 in the next section.

Convert GIF To MP4

Open up a terminal instance and navigate to the directory where the test gif is located then run the command below to convert it to an MP4 video file:

ffmpeg -i animated.gif video.mp4

This should output a new video file in the current directory after a few seconds depending on the size of the GIF file you’re converting. The -i flag specifies the path to the input GIF file and the output file is specified afterwards (video.mp4 in this instance). Running this command on my 28MB GIF produces an MP4 file that is just 536KB in size, a 98% reduction in file size with roughly the same visual quality.

But we can go even further than that. ffmpeg has so many options that you can use to regulate the video output even further. One way is to employ an encoding method known as Constant Rate Factor (CRF) to trim the size of the MP4 output even further. Here’s the command you need to run:

ffmpeg -i animated.gif -b:v 0 -crf 25 video.mp4

As you can see, there are a couple of new flags in above command compared to the previous one. -b:v is normally used to limit the output bitrate, but when using CRF mode, it must be set to 0. The -crf flag controls the quality of the video output. It accepts a value between 0 and 51; the lower the value, the higher the video quality and file size.

Running the above command on the test GIF, trims down the video output to just 386KB with no discernable difference in quality. If you want to trim the size even further, you could increase the CRF value. Just keep in mind that higher values will lower the quality of the video file.

Convert GIF To WebM

You can convert your GIF file to WebM by running the command below in the terminal:

ffmpeg -i animated.gif -c vp9 -b:v 0 -crf 41 video.webm

This command is almost the same as the previous one, with the exception of a new -c flag which is used to specify the codec that should be used for this conversion. We are using the vp9 codec which succeeds the vp8 codec.

In addition, I’ve adjusted the CRF value to 41 in this case since CRF values don’t necessarily yield the same quality across video formats. This particular value results in a WebM file that is 16KB smaller than the MP4 with roughly the same visual quality.

Now that we know how to convert animated GIFs to video files, let’s look at how we can imitate their behavior in the browser with the HTML5 tag.

Replace Animated GIFs With Video In The Browser

Making a video act like a GIF on a webpage is not as easy as dropping the file in an tag, but it’s not so difficult either. The major qualities of animated GIFs to keep in mind are as follows:

  • They play automatically
  • They loop continuously
  • They are silent

While you get these qualities by default with GIF files, we can cause a video file to act the exact same way using a handful of attributes. Here’s how you’ll embed a video file to behave like a GIF:

This markup instructs the browser to automatically start the video, loop it continuously, play no sound, and play inline without displaying any video controls. This gives the same experience as an animated GIF but with better performance.

To specify more that once source for a video, you can use the element within the tag like this:

This tells the browser to choose from the provided video files depending on format support. In this case, the WebM video will be downloaded and played if it’s supported, otherwise the MP4 file is used instead.

To make this more robust for older browsers which do not support HTML5 video, you could add some HTML content linking to the original GIF file as a fallback.

Or you could just add the GIF file directly in an tag:

Now that we’ve examined how to emulate animated GIFs in the browser with HTML5 video, let’s consider a few potential drawbacks to doing so in the next section.

Potential Drawbacks

There are a couple of drawbacks you need to consider before adopting HTML5 video as a GIF replacement. It’s clearly not as convenient as simply uploading a GIF to a page and watch is just work everywhere. You need to encode it first, and it may be difficult to implement an automated solution that works well in all scenarios.

The safest thing would be to convert each GIF manually and check the result of the output to ensure a good balance between visual quality and file size. But on large projects, this may not be practical. In that case, it may be better to look to a service like Cloudinary to do the heavy lifting for you.

Another problem is that unlike images, browsers do not preload video content. Because video files can be of any length, they’re often skipped until the main thread is ready to parse their content. This could delay the loading of a video file by several hundreds of milliseconds.

Additionally, there are quite a few restrictions on autoplaying videos especially on mobile. The muted attribute is actually required for videos to autoplay in Chrome for Android and iOS Safari even if the video does not contain an audio track, and where autoplay is disallowed, the user will only see a blank space where the video should have been. An example is Data Saver mode in Chrome for Android where autoplaying videos will not work even if you set up everything correctly.

To account for any of these scenarios, you should consider setting a placeholder image for the video using the poster attribute so that the video area is still populated with meaningful content if the video does not autoplay for some reason. Also consider using the controls attribute which allows the user to initiate playback even if video autoplay is disallowed.

Wrap Up

By replacing animated GIFs with HTML5 video, we can provide awesome GIF-like experiences without the performance and quality drawbacks associated with GIF files. Doing away with animated GIFs is worth serious consideration especially if your site is GIF-heavy.

There are websites already doing this:

Taking the time to convert the GIF files on your site to video can lead to a massive improvement in page load times. Provided your website is not too complex, it is fairly easy to implement and you can be up and running within a very short amount of time.

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SmashingConf New York 2018: That’s What It Was Like

SmashingConf New York 2018: That’s What It Was Like

SmashingConf New York 2018: That’s What It Was Like

Bruce Lawson

As you may know, Smashing Magazine runs a conference — four a year, in fact. Last week saw me, Vitaly, Amanda and Mariona from the Smashing Team in New York, joined by our friend from Beyond Tellerand Marc Thiele, our amazing DJ, Tobi Lessnow, who wowed the crowd with his ‘sketchnotes to music’. And, of course, there was a full house of our Smashing Family from around the world: the Arctic and Antarctic were the only continents unrepresented.


We set up a world map against the wall where attendees could put a pin into it to show from which part of the world they were traveling from
Pins show where Smashing Conf attendees come from.

Although I’ve spoken at many Smashing Conferences, and attended even more, this was the first time as a member of the team. So I worked the Smashing booth with our amazing volunteer Scott Whitehead so I could meet attendees, and find out what they do, what they’re interested in and what drives them.

I didn’t attend all the talks, as there were many conversations to be had at the booth — but as usual, the audience collaborated on note-taking; here are the notes from Day 1 and notes from Day 2. And, of course, the videos are all online. Smashing Members got early access (as well as other benefits, such as a free monthly webinar and access to e-books, from USD $3 a month).


A view onto the Smashing audience taken from the stage
Our lovely Smashing audience enjoying the talks.

I was struck by how friendly the audience were, to conference staff, speakers and each other. I overheard strangers forming little huddles at our booth and giving each other career and technical advice, and during the breaks people were lining up to ask questions or simply chat with the speakers.

At Smashing Conferences, we don’t big up speakers to be Idols On A Pedestal — they’re developers just like the audience, who happen to have solved a problem that we think others face, so share that knowledge. We even managed an impromptu book signing session, as one of the speakers, Chiara Aliotta, designed the cover and illustrations for Smashing Book 6.


Cover designer Chiara Aliotta holding Smashing Book 6 in her hand in front of the Smashing books stand at SmashingConf NY
Chiara shows off her work for the cover of Smashing Book 6

It was great fun to meet so many passionate web professionals from all around the globe, some old hands and many just beginning their careers. Thank you for being there, thanks for supporting us, and thanks for buying all our books so I didn’t have to carry them home!

Conference Sketchnotes

We were blessed with having Gary Shroeder make live sketchnotes during the conference, and here are some of them:

A live-sketchnote from Dan Mall’s talk on collaboration between designers and developers, and how to overcome the dead drops by doing really brief design and prototpying cycles
Sketchnotes from Dan Mall’s talk. Image credit: Gary Schroeder
A live-sketchnote from Debbie Millman’s talk on branding and brands experience
Sketchnotes from Debbie Millman’s talk. Image credit: Gary Schroeder
A live-sketchnote from Josh Clark’s talk on how to use AI as design material in your everyday work.
Sketchnotes from Josh Clark’s talk. Image credit: Gary Schroeder
A live-sketchnote from Paul Boag’s talk on how to Encourage Action Without Alienating People
Sketchnotes from Paul Boag’s talk. Image credit: Gary Schroeder

You can also find a lot more sketchnotes on Twitter.

Conference Videos

Linked below are some of the videos recorded at Smashing Conf NY. If you’d like to be in the room with speakers like these next year, take a look at what we have planned for 2019!

Our Upcoming Conferences in 2019

Smashing Conferences are friendly, inclusive events for people who care about their work. No fluff, no fillers, no multi-track experience — just actionable insights applicable to your work right away. With live interactive sessions, showing how we all can better design and build for the web. Here’s the schedule for the next year:

🇺🇸 San Francisco, USA (Apr 16–17)
Better estimates and pricing, applying psychology to UX, design workflow, refactoring, moving to a static site setup, CSS Grid techniques, performance and deployment patterns for HTTP/2.
Explore all speakers and topics ↬

🇨🇦 Toronto, Canada (Jun 25–26)
Better contracts, naming conventions, security audit, responsive art direction, front-end architecture, rendering performance, CSS Grid Layout, PWA, Vue.js, Webpack.
Explore all speakers and topics ↬

🇩🇪 Freiburg, Germany (Sep 9–10)
Design process, better conversion, performance, privacy, JavaScript architecture, PWA, scalability, Webpack, multi-cultural design, AI.
Super early birds are now available ↬

🇺🇸 New York City, USA (Oct 15-16)
CSS Grid, Accessibility, Front-end Performance, Progressive Web Apps, HTTP/2, Vue.js, design workflow, branding, machine learning.
Super early birds are now available ↬

Smashing Editorial(ra)
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The 101 Course on Crafting 404 Pages

The 101 Course on Crafting 404 Pages

The 101 Course on Crafting 404 Pages

Shelby Rogers

Why Your 404 Pages Might Be The Unexpected Hero Of Your Content Marketing Strategy

A lot of people toss around the phrase, “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.” And those people are telling the truth — until they hit a roadblock.

Missed turns or poorly-given directions can cost someone hours on a trip. When you’re on a mission, those hours spent trying to find what you need could ruin the entire experience.

It doesn’t always have to end in disaster. This more optimal scenario could occur: you take a wrong turn, but after stopping at a nearby gas station, you leave with more than accurate directions to your final destination. You’ve also managed to score a free ice cream cone from the sweet old lady working behind the gas station’s register because she saw you were lost… and wanted to cheer you up.

Often, website visitors can wind up getting turned around. It’s not always their fault. They could’ve typed in the wrong URL (common) or clicked on a broken link (our mistake). Whatever the reasoning, you now have confused people who only wanted to engage with your website in some way and now can’t. You hold the reins on their navigation. You can guide them back to where you wanted them to go all along or you can leave them frustrated and in the dark. Do they need to make a U-turn? Did they get off at the wrong exit? Only you can tell them, and the best way to do so is through a 404 error page.

Your website’s 404 error page can deliver either of these scenarios with regard to getting your visitors back on their buyer’s journey. A lackluster 404 page irritates your visitors and chases them away into the hands of a competing website that better guides them to what they’re looking for. That lackluster 404 page has bland messaging with minimal visual elements. It might include a variation of the same serif text: “This page does not exist.” That’s like your web users asking you for directions and telling them nothing more than “well, what you’re looking for isn’t here. Good luck.” Nothing more.


black, boring text about a 404 page on a white background
Even brands with seemingly clever branding can neglect a 404 page! The owner of this sad excuse for an error page will remain anonymous (but it rhymes with Bards Tragainst Bubanity). (Large preview)

Unfortunately, even some of the world’s best brands use these 404 pages. No navigation. No interesting text. Nothing that reflects their brand messaging. Visitors are left even more disappointed in their encounter than before.

However, there are some 404 pages that go above and beyond. Rather than the stark white of a standard 404 error page, these pages take an opportunity to speak to users in a more personal tone. Excellent 404 pages are exactly like getting an unexpected treat from a friendly face. Well-crafted 404 Pages can redirect your pages’ visitors away from being lost and confused and to a much happier mood and onto a more helpful page on your website.

Take Amazon, for instance. On Amazon Day 2018, Amazon learned firsthand the importance of a decent 404 page. Sure, buyers were still frustrated upon reaching a 404 page — even if it included a puppy. However, could you imagine how much more irritated buyers would’ve been had the 404 page looked clinical, cold, and not helpful?

Regardless of what tone you want to take or what visuals you want to use or what copy will best engage your readers, a great 404 page does one thing above all else: Makes website visitors okay with not finding what they need — if only for a moment — and directs them to where they need to go.

While 404 pages vary greatly, the best ones all seem to do two things well:

  1. support the company’s overall brand and messaging;
  2. successfully redirect website visitors elsewhere on the page through clear navigation and support.

Thematically, there are a few ways to accomplish the ‘perfect’ 404 page:

1. Nail Down The Overall Tone

If content isn’t your brand’s strong suit, this could be a struggle. However, if you have a sense of your brand’s voice and messaging, you can quickly identify where you can offer something unexpected. Visitors are already going to be disappointed when they hit your 404 page; they’re not getting what they wanted. Your 404 page is an opportunity to show that your brand has humans behind its marketing rather than robotic, cold, automated messages seen elsewhere. In short, move beyond the “this page is unavailable” and its variants.

Regardless of the tone, good 404 pages work like magicians. The best illusionists often acknowledge they’re magicians; they don’t pretend to be something they’re not. 404 pages own up to being an error page; the copy and visuals often reflect that. And then, like any good magician, 404 pages pull the attention away from the problem and put that attention elsewhere. Typically, that’s done with copy that matches the visual elements.

Here are some themes/moods that successful 404 pages have leveraged in the past used to succeed.

Crack A Joke

A joke (even a corny one) can do wonders for alleviating awkwardness or inconvenience. However, unless your brand is built on crude humor (i.e. Cards Against Humanity which ironically doesn’t have a good 404 page), it’s best to make the jokes either tongue in cheek or punny rather than too crass. This example from Modcloth makes a quick pun but keeps the mood light.


Light pink background with dark pink text saying Oops! You were lookin' for love on all the wrong pages
Happy and snappy, this 404 page aligns with the rest of the brand’s fun copy. (Large preview)

Get Clever

It might not be outright funny, but it’s something that gets a visitor’s attention shortly after arriving on your page. It can be a little sassy, snarky, even unexpected. This 404 page from Blizzard Entertainment does a great job at flipping the script both with its visual tone and its copy.


Broken and cracked screen with copy that says Grats. You broke it.
Sarcasm pays off well for the gaming giant’s 404 page. (Large preview)

Be Friendly

Prime example would be LEGO Shop’s 404 page with a friendly customer service rep (albeit a LEGO rep). The friendliness can come from an inviting design or warm copy. Ultimately, it’s anything that culminates in a sense of “oh hey, we’re really sorry about that. Let us try to fix it.”

“If your company’s brand excels in customer service and customer care, maybe taking a tone of genuine friendliness would be most appropriate to carry over brand messaging. If that’s the case, treat your 404 page like an extension of your guest services window.”


smiling LEGO figure behind a LEGO block with a computer
(Large preview)

Integrate Interactivity

People love to click on things, especially if they’re engaging with the 404 page on desktop. And if they’re engaging with your website, all the better! One of the best examples online of interactivity on a 404 page is from Kualo. The site hosting provider gamified its 404 page into a recreation of Space Invaders, complete with the ability to earn extra lives as you level up. Even more impressive is that Kualo actually offers discounts on its hosting for certain thresholds of points that users reach.


dark background with small ships aligned to spell the word KUALO
The gamification of Kualo’s 404 keeps users coming back for more chances to win. (Large preview)

Be Thought-provoking

Yes, your 404 pages can even be educational! 404 pages can offer up resources and links to other helpful spots on your website. It’s an unexpected distraction that could easily keep guests entertained by more information. National Public Radio (NPR) does this exceptionally well. The media outlet provides a collection of features with one major similarity: the stories are about things which have also disappeared.


White background with pictures of Amelia Earhart, Watergate hotel, and Jimmy Hoffa referencing articles about lost things
(Large preview)

Topical/pop-culture Based

Use this one with caution, as there’s a very good chance you’ll have to change your 404 message if you’re going to be topical. Pop culture references move fast; if you’re not careful, you’ve spent too much time developing a 404 page that will be irrelevant in two weeks. (And this is a cardinal sin for any organization with a target market of Millennials or younger.) The Spotify 404 page above recently underwent a shift to keep up with trends. Prior to doing a quick play on Kanye West’s “808 and Heartbreak,” the 404 page featured lyrics from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”


pink background with record player spinning
(Large preview)

2. Craft Visual Elements To Match That Tone

Once you have an idea of the proper tone for your 404 page, visuals are an important next step in the process. Visuals are often the first element of a 404 page people will note first — and thus, it’s the first representation of that page’s desired tone.

Static visuals help emphasize the page copy. Adding in light animation can often collaborate with the text to further a message or tone. For example, Imgur’s 404 page brings its illustrations to life by making the eyes of its characters follow a visitor’s cursor.


portraits of animals with googly eyes on a red wall
(Large preview)

Interactivity among the visual elements give people an opportunity to do what frustrated internet users love to do — click on everything in an attempt at making something useful happen.

3. Nail Down The Navigation Options

You know what tone you want your business to strike. You’ve got an idea of the visuals you’ll use to present that tone. Your website visitors will think it’s great and fun — but only for a moment. Your website still has to get them to what they’re looking for. Clear navigation is the next big step in directing your lost website visitors toward their goals. A 404 page that’s cute but lacks good navigation design is like that sweet old man who is kind but he gives you the world’s worst directions.

“After making a good first impression with your 404 page, the immediate next step should be getting website visitors off it and to where they want to be. There should always be clear indications on where they should go next.”

For example, Shutterstock’s 404 page offers three distinct options. Visitors can either go back to the previous page, which is helpful if they clicked on the wrong link. They can return to the homepage for more of a hard restart in their navigation, or maybe they came in from a search engine and found a broken link, but they’re not quite ready to give up on the website and want to look around. The final option is to report a problem. If someone has been scouring your website for minutes on end and they have an idea of what they’re looking for, they can report that they might have found an issue. At the very least, it gets your web visitors involved with your company and your development team gets feedback about the accessibility of your website.


Little girl with mouth open wearing glasses
(Large preview)

In addition to clear navigation, these other navigation-based elements could help your visitors out even more:

  • Chatbots / live chat: Bots are often received one of two ways. Users either find them incredibly annoying or relatively helpful. Bots that pop up within a second of landing on a page often lead visitors to click out of a site entirely as the bot seems intrusive. However, your website can use bots by simply adding a “Click to chat” option. This invites lost visitors who want your help to engage with the bot rather than the bot making a potentially annoying first move.
  • Search Bars: This element can do wonders for websites with a high volume of pages and information. A search bar could also offer up answers to common questions or redirect to an FAQ.

And one final navigation note — make sure those navigation tactics are just as efficient on mobile as they are on desktop. Treat your 404 page as you would any other. In order for it to succeed, it should be easily navigable to a variety of users, especially in a mobile-first world.

While the look of your 404 page is critical, you ideally never want anyone to find it on your website. Knowing the most common 404 errors on your website could give you insights in how to reduce those issues.

How To Track 404 Events Using Google Analytics

What You Need To Start Tracking

The code provided will report 404 events within Google Analytics, so you must have an up-and-running account there to take advantage of this tutorial. You also need access to your site’s 404 template and (this is important) the 404 page must preserve the URL structure of the typed/clicked page. This means that your 404 events can’t just redirect to your 404 page. You must serve the 404 template dynamically with the exact URL that is throwing the error. Most web server services (such as Apache) allow you to do this with a variety of rewrite rules.


Screenshots of tracking a 404 error
(Large preview)

Tracking 404 Errors With Google Analytics

With Google Analytics, tracking explicit 404 errors is straightforward and simple. Just ensure that your main Google Analytics tracking script is in place and then add the following code to your 404 Error Page/Template:

You will need to swap out the ID of your specific Google Analytics account. After that, the script works by sending an “event” to Google Analytics. The category is “404 Response,” the action uses JavaScript to pass the URL that throws the error, and the label uses JavaScript to pass along the previous URL the user was on. Through all of this data, you can then see what URLs cause 404 events and where people are accessing those URLs.

Tracking 404 Errors With Google Tag Manager

More and more web managers have decided to move to Google Tag Manager. This tool gives them the capability of embedding a whole host of scripts through a single container. It’s especially useful if you have a lot of tracking scripts from several providers. To begin tracking 404s through Tag Manager, first begin by creating a “Variable” called “Page Title Variable.” This variable type is a “JavaScript” variable and the Variable Name is “document.title”:


Page title variable, screenshots of tracking a 404 error
(Large preview)

Essentially, we’re creating a variable that checks for a page’s given title. This is how we will check if we are on a 404 page.

Then create a “Trigger” called “404 Page Title Trigger.” The type is “Page View” and the trigger fires when the “Page Title Variable” contains “404 — Page Not Found” or whatever it is your 404 page title displays as within the browser.


Page title trigger, Screenshots of tracking a 404 error
(Large preview)

Lastly, you will need to create a “Tag” called “404 Event Tag.” The tag type is “Universal Analytics” and contains the following components:


404 event tagging, screenshots of tracking a 404 error
(Large preview)

The Variable, Trigger, and Tag all work to pass along the relevant data directly to Google Analytics.

404 Event Reporting

No matter your tracking method (be it through Tag Manager or direct event beacons), your reporting should be the same within Google Analytics. Under “Behavior,” you will see an item called “Events.” Here you will see all reported 404 events. The “Event Action” and “Event Label” dimensions will give you the pertinent data of what URLs are throwing 404 errors and their referring source.


Screenshots of tracking a 404 error
(Large preview)

With this in place, you can now regularly monitor your 404 errors and take the necessary steps to minimize their occurrence. In doing so, you optimize your referral sources and provide the best user experience, keeping conversions and engagement on the right path.

What To Do With Your Google Analytics Results

Now that you know how to monitor those 404 errors, what’s a developer to do? The key takeaway from tracking 404 occurrences is to look for patterns that result in those errors. The data should help you determine user intent, cluing you into what your users want. Ideally, you’ll see trends in what brings people to your 404 page, and you can apply that knowledge to adjust your website accordingly.

If your website visitors are stumbling while searching for a page, take the opportunity to create content that fills in that hole. That way people get results they hadn’t previously seen from your site.

The 404 events could be avoided with a tweak in your website’s design. Make sure the navigation on your pages are clear and direct users to logical ending points. The fix could even be as simple as changing descriptions on a page to paint a clearer picture for users.

Putting It All Together

Tone, images, and navigation — these three elements can transform any 404 page from a ghost town into a pleasant serendipitous stop for your website visitors. And while you don’t want them to stay there forever, you can certainly make sure they stay with you is enjoyable before sending them on their way. By regularly monitoring your 404 errors, you can also alleviate some of the ditches, poorly-marked signage, and potholes that frequently derail users. Being proactive and reactive with 404 errors ultimately improves the journey and the destination for your website visitors.

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Colorful Inspiration For Gray Days (November 2018 Wallpapers)

Colorful Inspiration For Gray Days (November 2018 Wallpapers)

Colorful Inspiration For Gray Days (November 2018 Wallpapers)

Cosima Mielke

How about some colorful inspiration for those gray and misty November days? We might have something for you. Just like every month since more than nine years already, artists and designers from across the globe once again tickled their creativity and designed unique wallpapers that are bound to breathe some fresh life into your desktop.

The wallpapers all come in versions with and without a calendar for November 2018 and can be downloaded for free. As a little bonus goodie, we added a selection of favorites from past November editions to this post. Because, well, some things are too good to be forgotten somewhere down in the archives, right? Enjoy!

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

Please note that:

  • All images can be clicked on and lead to the preview of the wallpaper,
  • You can feature your work in our magazine by taking part in our Desktop Wallpaper Calendar series. We are regularly looking for creative designers and artists to be featured on Smashing Magazine. Are you one of them?

Outer Space

“This November, we are inspired by the nature around us and the universe above us, so we created an out of this world calendar. Now, let us all stop for a second and contemplate on preserving our forests, let us send birds of passage off to warmer places, and let us think to ourselves — if not on Earth, could we find a home somewhere else in outer space?” — Designed by PopArt Studio from Serbia.

Outer Space

Stars

“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a cold night looking at the stars.” — Designed by Ema Rede from Portugal.

Stars

Running Through Autumn Mist

“A small tribute to my German Shepherd who adds joy to those grey November days.” — Designed by Franke Margrete from The Netherlands.

Running Through Autumn Mist

Magical Foliage

“Foliage is the most mystical process of nature to ever occur. Leaves bursting and falling in shades of red, orange, yellow and making the landscape look magical.” — Designed by ATop Digital from India.

Magical Foliage

Sad Kitty

Designed by Ricardo Gimenes from Sweden.

Sad Kitty

The Light Of Lights

“Diwali is all about celebrating the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The hearts of the vast majority are as dark as the night of the new moon. The house is lit with lamps, but the heart is full of the darkness of ignorance. Wake up from the slumber of ignorance. Realize the constant and eternal light of the Soul which neither rises nor sets through meditation and make this festive month even brighter and more vibrant.” — Designed by Intranet Software from India.

The Light Of Lights

Her

“I already had an old sketch that I wanted to try to convert to a digital illustration. The colors of the drawing were inspired by nature that at this time of the year has both the warm of fallen leaves as it has the cold greens of the leaves that make it through winter.” — Designed by Ana Matos from Portugal.

Her

Mesmerizing Monsoon

“Monsoon is all about the chill, the tranquillity that whizzes around, a light drizzle that splashes off our faces, the musty aroma of the earth and more than anything – a sense of liberation. The designer here has depicted the soul of monsoon, one that you would want to heartily soak in.” — Designed by Nafis Mohamed from London.

Mesmerizing Monsoon

Universal Children’s Day

“Universal Children’s Day, 20 November. It feels like a dream world, it invites you to let your imagination flow, see the details, and find the child inside you.” — Designed by Luis Costa from Portugal.

Universal Children Day

Stay Little

“It is believed that childhood is the happiest time cause this period of life cannot be matched with any other phases of life. During this month of November, let’s continue celebrating Children’s Day no matter how old you are, by sharing wishes to your children and childhood friends.” — Designed by Taxi Software from India.

Stay Little

Gezelligheid

“This month’s wallpaper is dedicated to the magical place of Barcelona that has filled my soul with renewed purpose and hope. I wanted to recreate the enchanting Parc Güell where I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with the people I’ve met that have given me so much in so little time.” — Designed by Priscilla Li from the United States.

Gezelligheid

Falling Rainbow

“I have a maple tree in my yard that sometimes turns these colors in the fall – red on the outer leaves, then yellow, and the inner leaves still green.” — Designed by Hannah Joy Patterson from South Carolina, USA.

Falling Rainbow

Origami In The Night Sky

Designed by Rita Gaspar from Portugal.

Origami In The Night Sky

Oldies But Goodies

Below you’ll find some November goodies from past years. Please note that these wallpapers don’t come with a calendar.

Colorful Autumn

“Autumn can be dreary, especially in November, when rain starts pouring every day. We wanted to summon better days, so that’s how this colourful November calendar was created. Open your umbrella and let’s roll!” — Designed by PopArt Studio from Serbia.

Colorful Autumn

Time To Give Thanks!

Designed by Glynnis Owen from Australia.

Time To Give Thanks!

No Shave Movember

“The goal of Movember is to ‘change the face of men’s health.’” — Designed by Suman Sil from India.

No Shave Movember

Welcome Home Dear Winter

“The smell of winter is lingering in the air. The time to be home! Winter reminds us of good food, of the warmth, the touch of a friendly hand, and a talk beside the fire. Keep calm and let us welcome winter.” — Designed by Acodez IT Solutions from India.

Welcome Home Dear Winter

Deer Fall, I Love You!

Designed by Maria Porter from the United States.

Deer Fall, I Love You!

Mushroom Season!

“It is autumn! It is raining and thus… it is mushroom season! It is the perfect moment to go to the forest and get the best mushrooms to do the best recipe.” — Designed by Verónica Valenzuela from Spain.

Mushroom Season!

Little Mademoiselle P

“Black-and-white drawing of a little girl.” Designed by Jelena Tšekulajeva from Estonia.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 11

Autumn Wreath

“I love the changing seasons — especially the autumn colors and festivals here around this time of year!” — Designed by Rachel Litzinger from the United States.

Autumn Wreath

November Nights On Mountains

“Those chill November nights when you see mountain tops covered with the first snow sparkling in the moonlight.” — Designed by Jovana Djokic from Serbia.

November Nights On Mountains

Hello World, Happy November!

“I often read messages at Smashing Magazine from the people in the southern hemisphere ‘it’s spring, not autumn!’ so I’d liked to design a wallpaper for the northern and the southern hemispheres. Here it is, northerners and southerns, hope you like it!” — Designed by Agnes Swart from the Netherlands.

Hello world, happy November!

A Gentleman’s November

Designed by Cedric Bloem from Belgium.

A Gentleman's November

Branches

“The design of trees has always fascinated me. Each one has it’s own unique entanglement of branches. With or without leaves they are always intriguing. Take some time to enjoy the trees around you — and the one on this wallpaper if you’d like!” — Designed by Rachel Litzinger from Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Branches

Simple Leaves

Designed by Nicky Somers from Belgium.

Simple leaves

Captain’s Home

Designed by Elise Vanoorbeek (Doud) from Belgium.

Captain’s Home

Me And the Key Three

“This wallpaper is based on screenshots from my latest browser game (I’m an indie games designer).” — Designed by Bart Bonte from Belgium.

me and the key three

Red Leaves

Designed by Evacomics from Singapore.

Red Leaves

Autumn Choir

Designed by Hatchers from Ukraine / China.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 12

Real Artists Ship

“A tribute to Steve Jobs, from the crew at Busy Building Things.” Designed by Andrew Power from Canada.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 11

Late Autumn

“The late arrival of Autumn.” Designed by Maria Castello Solbes from Spain.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 11

Autumn Impression

Designed by Agnieszka Malarczyk from Poland.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 11

Flying

Designed by Nindze.com from Russia.

Smashing Wallpaper - november 11

Join In Next Month!

Please note that we respect and carefully consider the ideas and motivation behind each and every artist’s work. This is why we give all artists the full freedom to explore their creativity and express emotions and experience throughout their works. This is also why the themes of the wallpapers weren’t anyhow influenced by us, but rather designed from scratch by the artists themselves.

Thank you to all designers for their participation. Join in next month!

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Measuring Performance With Server Timing

Measuring Performance With Server Timing

Measuring Performance With Server Timing

Drew McLellan

When undertaking any sort of performance optimisation work, one of the very first things we learn is that before you can improve performance you must first measure it. Without being able to measure the speed at which something is working, we can’t tell if the changes being made are improving the performance, having no effect, or even making things worse.

Many of us will be familiar with working on a performance problem at some level. That might be something as simple as trying to figure out why JavaScript on your page isn’t kicking in soon enough, or why images are taking too long to appear on bad hotel wifi. The answer to these sorts of questions is often found in a very familiar place: your browser’s developer tools.

Over the years developer tools have been improved to help us troubleshoot these sorts of performance issues in the front end of our applications. Browsers now even have performance audits built right in. This can help track down front end issues, but these audits can show up another source of slowness that we can’t fix in the browser. That issue is slow server response times.

Time to First Byte

There’s very little browser optimisations can do to improve a page that is simply slow to build on the server. That cost is incurred between the browser making the request for the file and receiving the response. Studying your network waterfall chart in developer tools will show this delay up under the category of “Waiting (TTFB)”. This is how long the browser waits between making the request and receiving the response.

In performance terms this is know as Time to First Byte – the amount of time it takes before the server starts sending something the browser can begin to work with. Encompassed in that wait time is everything the server needs to do to build the page. For a typical site, that might involve routing the request to the correct part of the application, authenticating the request, making multiple calls to backend systems such as databases and so on. It could involve running content through templating systems, making API calls out to third party services, and maybe even things like sending emails or resizing images. Any work that the server does to complete a request is squashed into that TTFB wait that the user experiences in their browser.

The Network panel in Chrome DevTools showing the inspection of a single page request
Inspecting a document request shows the time the browser spends waiting for the response from the server.

So how do we reduce that time and start delivering the page more quickly to the user? Well, that’s a big question, and the answer depends on your application. That is the work of performance optimisation itself. What we need to do first is measure the performance so that the benefit of any changes can be judged.

The Server Timing Header

The job of Server Timing is not to help you actually time activity on your server. You’ll need to do the timing yourself using whatever toolset your backend platform makes available to you. Rather, the purpose of Server Timing is to specify how those measurements can be communicated to the browser.

The way this is done is very simple, transparent to the user, and has minimal impact on your page weight. The information is sent as a simple set of HTTP response headers.

Server-Timing: db;dur=123, tmpl;dur=56

This example communicates two different timing points named db and tmpl. These aren’t part of the spec – these are names that we’ve picked, in this case to represent some database and template timings respectively.

The dur property is stating the number of milliseconds the operation took to complete. If we look at the request in the Network section of Developer Tools, we can see that the timings have been added to the chart.

The Timings panel of a page request in Chrome DevTools showing a new Server Timing section.
A new Server Timing section appears, showing the timings set with the Server-Timing HTTP header.

The Server-Timing header can take multiple metrics separated by commas:

Server-Timing: metric, metric, metric

Each metric can specify three possible properties

  1. A short name for the metric (such as db in our example)
  2. A duration in milliseconds (expressed as dur=123)
  3. A description (expressed as desc="My Description")

Each property is separated with a semicolon as the delimiter. We could add descriptions to our example like so:

Server-Timing: db;dur=123;desc="Database", tmpl;dur=56;desc="Template processing"
The Timings panel of a page request in Chrome DevTools showing descriptions used for Server Timing metrics.
The names are replaced with descriptions when provided.

The only property that is required is name. Both dur and desc are optional, and can be used optionally where required. For example, if you needed to debug a timing problem that was happening on one server or data center and not another, it might be useful to add that information into the response without an associated timing.

Server-Timing: datacenter;desc="East coast data center", db;dur=123;desc="Database", tmpl;dur=56;desc="Template processing”

This would then show up along with the timings.

The Timings panel of a page request in Chrome DevTools showing a Server Timing with no time set.
The “East coast data center” value is shown, even though it has no timings.

One thing you might notice is that the timing bars don’t show up in a waterfall pattern. This is simply because Server Timing doesn’t attempt to communicate the sequence of timings, just the raw metrics themselves.

Implementing Server Timing

The exact implementation within your own application is going to depend on your specific circumstance, but the principles are the same. The steps are always going to be:

  1. Time some operations
  2. Collect together the timing results
  3. Output the HTTP header

In pseudocode, the generation of response might look like this:

startTimer('db')
getInfoFromDatabase()  
stopTimer('db')

startTimer('geo')
geolocatePostalAddressWithAPI('10 Downing Street, London, UK')
endTimer('geo')

outputHeader('Server-Timing', getTimerOutput())

The basics of implementing something along those lines should be straightforward in any language. A very simple PHP implementation could use the microtime() function for timing operations, and might look something along the lines of the following.

class Timers
{
    private $timers = [];

    public function startTimer($name, $description = null)
    {
        $this->timers[$name] = [
            'start' => microtime(true),
            'desc' => $description,
        ];
    }

    public function endTimer($name)
    {
        $this->timers[$name]['end'] = microtime(true);
    }

    public function getTimers()
    {
        $metrics = [];

        if (count($this->timers)) {
            foreach($this->timers as $name => $timer) {
                $timeTaken = ($timer['end'] - $timer['start']) * 1000;
                $output = sprintf('%s;dur=%f', $name, $timeTaken);

                if ($timer['desc'] != null) {
                    $output .= sprintf(';desc="%s"', addslashes($timer['desc']));
                } 
                $metrics[] = $output;
            }
        }

        return implode($metrics, ', ');
    }
}

A test script would use it as below, here using the usleep() function to artificially create a delay in the running of the script to simulate a process that takes time to complete.

$Timers = new Timers();

$Timers->startTimer('db');
usleep('200000');
$Timers->endTimer('db');

$Timers->startTimer('tpl', 'Templating');
usleep('300000');
$Timers->endTimer('tpl');

$Timers->startTimer('geo', 'Geocoding');
usleep('400000');
$Timers->endTimer('geo');

header('Server-Timing: '.$Timers->getTimers());

Running this code generated a header that looked like this:

Server-Timing: db;dur=201.098919, tpl;dur=301.271915;desc="Templating", geo;dur=404.520988;desc="Geocoding"
The Timings panel of a page request in Chrome DevTools showing the test values correctly displayed.
The Server Timings set in the example show up in the Timings panel with the delays configured in our test script.

Existing Implementations

Considering how handy Server Timing is, there are relatively few implementations that I could find. The server-timing NPM package offers a convenient way to use Server Timing from Node projects.

If you use a middleware based PHP framework tuupola/server-timing-middleware provides a handy option too. I’ve been using that in production on Notist for a few months, and I always leave a few basic timings enabled if you’d like to see an example in the wild.

For browser support, the best I’ve seen is in Chrome DevTools, and that’s what I’ve used for the screenshots in this article.

Considerations

Server Timing itself adds very minimal overhead to the HTTP response sent back over the wire. The header is very minimal and is generally safe to be sending without worrying about targeting to only internal users. Even so, it’s worth keeping names and descriptions short so that you’re not adding unnecessary overhead.

More of a concern is the extra work you might be doing on the server to time your page or application. Adding extra timing and logging can itself have an impact on performance, so it’s worth implementing a way to turn this on and off when required.

Using a Server Timing header is a great way to make sure all timing information from both the front-end and the back-end of your application are accessible in one location. Provided your application isn’t too complex, it can be easy to implement and you can be up and running within a very short amount of time.

If you’d like to read more about Server Timing, you might try the following:

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