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Carpe Diem and the “Great Firewall of China”

By Dave Karow | June 5, 2015

CATEGORIES: Web Performance

China isn’t “going to be big” in internet commerce someday soon, it’s big TODAY.  Consider these interesting numbers presented by Bruce Lawson of Opera (@brucel) at this year’s Velocity conference in his talk, Ensuring a Performant Web for the Next Billion People. Figures for US digital properties are on the top of each slide and the China equivalent is on the bottom. Brace yourself…

Ecommerce and Taxis 

Clearly the digital channel in China is already thriving.  There is great opportunity for those who can master a digital presence inside China, but only if they can learn to overcome challenges imposed by the “Great Firewall.”

The Great Firewall of China is a term coined by Wired Magazine in 1997 to represent the technical and legal constraints put in place by the Chinese government to achieve Internet censorship.  Chances are you have already heard of it, and you might even know that Facebook and Google are blocked by the government.  But did you know that your web developers or third-party content providers may be unintentionally setting you up to fail in China by following web performance (#WebPerf) best practices?

Consider the following waterfall chart, which shows what happened in a browser in Wuhan, China when a major US news site was downloaded:

Waterfall Chart from China

This page was on track to be complete in just three seconds or so. Very respectable for China. The three long, stretched out lines tell a sadder tale. The longest line carries the worst bit of news: a critical user interface library component, jquery-ui.min.js, tied up the browser for 42 seconds before timing out.

Did this happen because this news site was being targeted by the Chinese government? No. It happened because the web developers were following “good advice” that just doesn’t work in China. That advice? Instead of hosting open-source libraries on your own domain, point to a copy on the “googleapis.com” domain.  Following this practice typically results in blazing fast performance because the library (and its full path leading to the googleapis.com domain) will already be in the browser’s cache, thanks to some other site the customer visited. In this case however, this “best practice” made the page painfully slow.

This is a simplified example, using a domain that is always blocked. To make matters more challenging, other domains are only intermittently blocked due to current events or government whim and this blocking is sometimes done on a regional rather than country-wide basis.

You can probably guess where this is going. If you intend to get a piece of the China market, and you aren’t already monitoring performance from within China, you are missing out on critical feedback. The only way to be sure you are not falling prey to government blocking is to monitor performance from inside the “Great Firewall” day in and day out.

Keynote has been in China for over 15 years. Recently we expanded our network footprint to better capture regional differences when they occur. Here’s a quick run-down of the locations we offer web monitoring, using real Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome browsers:

  • Beijing
  • Hong Kong
  • Shanghai
  • Tianjin
  • Wuhan
  • Chengdu NEW!
  • Guangzhou NEW!
  • Nanjing NEW!
  • Shenzhen NEW!

Keynote customers can easily add monitoring for these locations by editing their existing measurements or adding new ones. If you aren’t already using Keynote Web Monitoring, why not take advantage of a free trial and then ask our team to add one or more of these China cities? After all, as they say at #VelocityConf, #PerformanceMatters.

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