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Four Steps to a Faster-Loading Sig

If you're like me, you loathe waiting for poorly-coded sigs to load. When I'm reading newsgroups on WebTV and someone's post takes more than 10 seconds to load, I promptly hit "Next New". I can't stand the waiting...and waiting...and waiting...and waiting...simply because someone isn't proficient enough in HTML to properly write the code.

Instead of complaining endlessly, I have decided to post this page in hopes that it will educate people on just how important these 4 steps are. It's not enough just to get that picture of Mickey Mouse in your sig. You have to get it in your sig in a way that makes it user-friendly. That means that if they have to wait longer than 5 seconds, it's too long. If your sig freezes up someone's box, you are at fault. You are the HTML programmer, and it is on your shoulders to program responsibly.

Here are the four steps, in order of importance from most important to least important.

1. Height & Width Tags - This is the most important component of a fast-loading sig! When WebTV opens an email (or a newsgroup posting or a webpage), it needs to decide how that page will be laid out. It will not display the text of the page until it determines where the text will go. When you neglect to add height and width tags for your images, WebTV must contact the publisher where your images are stored, wait for that reply, and then download the entire image. If you have multiple images (or large ones), this process can take up to 3 minutes (sometimes more). To most WebTV users, this wait is intolerable. It is up to you to ensure that the people who read your messages can do so in an efficient manner. By including height and width tags, WebTV will know how to lay out the page and will then display the text of your message for the viewer to read while they wait for the pictures themselves to download.

How to do it: Go to the URL of the image you wish to use for your sig. So that nothing else is on the screen except for that picture. Then hit "Go To" and go to http://members.tripod.com/~bflo/w-h.html. If you have a WebTV keyboard, you can save this as an F Key favorite. Going to this page will give you the exact code you need to put that particular image in your sig, complete with height and width tags. If you wish, you can play with the height and width tags to make the image the size that you want it to be. This is by far the best thing that you can do to speed up the time it takes for others to read your posts, emails, or webpages.

2. No Autostarted Music - Especially Real Audio (*.ram, *.ra, etc) and *.wav files. Make any sound file clickable. This way, the viewer has the option to hear the music if they wish to hear it - but it isn't forced on them. It's a gaurantee that no matter what style of music you like, there are a lot of people that dislike it. But the bigger issue is the freeze. Autostarted real audio clips cause many WebTV boxes to freeze up, having to be turned off to break the connection with your file. It is considered bad netiquette at best.

How to do it: Simply make it clickable, as you would any link. The code would be <a href="url of the sound file">Click here to listen to this song</a>

3. Host all of your images on the same server - If one of your images is located at Geocities, all of your images should be at Geocities. If one is at Go.com, all should be at Go.com. You get the idea. This isn't a major concern, but it will shave a second or two off of the load time in some cases.

How to do it: If you are experienced at building webpages, simply transload all of the images you use into your directory. If you don't know anything about building webpages and don't wish to learn, don't concern yourself with putting all of your images on the same server. As long as you use height and width tags, you should be ok.

4. No images larger than 50k - The size of your pictures is not only their height and width, but also their size in kilobytes. Their "weight", if you want an analogy. Again, as long as you have height and width tags, this isn't a major concern. But if you want that picture to be fully loaded in a short amount of time, you should make sure that it isn't too large.

How to do it: There are a few places you can go to "optimize" your images. Some are:

Gif Works
Image Magick

That's it, that's all there is. If you follow the rules above, especially the top 2, your messages should load very quickly. Please keep in mind that no matter how good your code is, there will be times when WebTV (or the publisher(s) of your images) is just slow and nothing can be done about it. Think of it this way: even if your sig takes 30 seconds to load because WebTV is being slow, think how long it would have taken in this situation if you hadn't taken these steps.

I encourage you to email this page to your friends, put a link to it in your sig, and generally spread the word about it. The more people that know these crucial steps, the less time you'll spend waiting and the more time you'll spend surfing! :)


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