Custom Software Development and Engineering

Racing for the performance crown Engaging developers on web performance by racing sites with Chrome headless and Lighthouse

Engage with developers on the topic of web performance


A large screen experience built for scale at Google Chrome Dev Summit

The web is expanding. The next billion users presents businesses both a unique opportunity and a very difficult challenge.

"Half the users in India are on 2G connections and two-thirds of users in Nigera are on 2G connections," said Mariya Moeva, developer Programs Engineer at Google. "It just blows my mind."

Even when not considering the state of global web access growth, the research on why businesses and developers should consider web performance when developing their applications is clear.

"53% of users globally abandon sites that take longer than three seconds to load", stated Robert Nyman, Global Lead for Programs and Initatives for Web Developer Relations at Google. "Ignoring performance isn't helping anyone."

To help bring forward web performance issues in a creativem, interactive, and non-confrontational way, Stickman Ventures set out to deliver something different.

The Initial Concept

"Leading up to Chrome Dev Summit, we were already in the field doing tests in non-developer related contexts," said Justin Ribeiro, chief executive officer at Stickman Ventures. "We were focused on helping organizations understand the business case for why they should take web performance seriously."

At a series of business related events, the initial version was rolled out with real time analysis backed by both the Lighthouse, an auditing, performance metrics, and best practices tool, and Google PageSpeed, and older tool for discovering page performance metrics.

"The initial concept was much more awareness", stated Paul Perrone, a product manager who oversaw the concept develop. "The tools have existed for some time but the notion of what the numbers meant didn't resonate with decision makers, so we really focused on making performance more accessible."

After a round of successful events and coordination with the teams preparing for Google Chrome Dev Summit, the demo named DragRace was set to be rolled out as large interative kiosks at the November event at the San Francisco Jazz Center.

Racing for Interative

With the date set, the task at hand was to bring the demo into the theme and add additional interactive to it.

"It was going to run on conference wifi with an LTE fallback, so we knew we needed to limit the data consumption but still be able to run the tests", said Walter Kuppens, a software engineer at Stickman Ventures.

After mocking several concepts, the final version was set to use Lighthouse on a server and technologies locally to handle the cache, such as Service Worker. There was only one problem.

"Chrome headless was still in development and there wasn't a useable build readily available and Lighthouse had not been designed to be run a server," said James Duvall, chief architect at Stickman Ventures. "No one had even attempted it at Google, but Justin [Ribeiro] had a plan."

Ribeiro, also a Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies, had been working on Chrome headless for months.

"I had working builds from the Chromium source tree in Docker containers of various use,", said Ribeiro. "I was confident in our ability to scale this for Chrome Dev Summit."

With the architecture defined the team started updating the design and codebase to handle the new requirements, including the ability to race a random site competitor, and prepped for the hardware for travel to San Francisco.

Reactions from the ground

Over the course of the two day summit, nearly a thousand races where run from the two 55 inch kiosks on the second floor of San Francisco Jazz Center.

"This is amazing, why don't we have this at all our events?" said Sam Saccone, software engineer at Google working on Chrome.

"I can't get on the wifi or my LTE but this demo just keeps working" stated one attendee who asked not to be named. "If I could convience my team to build like this, it'd make my life easier."

For further technical details on the underlying hardware and software, see our blog post Demonstrating web performance at Chrome Dev Summit 2016.

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