Web Accessibility and Reduced Resource Utilization

This blog post is part of a series of posts discussing the Business Case for Accessibility. In order to get a full view of the Business Case for Accessibility, I encourage you to read all posts in this series, links to which can be found at the bottom of this post.

Some argue that relying on more standards-based production techniques will save money by reducing resource utilization – particularly bandwidth. They state that doing things like using CSS instead of tables and spacer images, and eliminating "tag soup"-riddled markup will cause a decrease in hardware-related resources needed for a website due to reduced document weight.

  • Does it increase income? No. Reduced resource utilization is about saving money
  • Does save money? Probably not significantly, as I’ll discuss below
  • Does it mitigate risk? No.
  • How strong is the evidence? Weak. I have seen no recent evidence to suggest that document size has a significant impact on a company’s bandwidth or hosting bill.

It seems to make sense: Use less of something and that thing will cost less money. The thing is that these days bandwidth and server space is pretty cheap. When it comes to very large companies, their bandwidth and data storage needs are impacted by a lot more things than just a website.

In my experience, typical static web page tends to average about 24kB in document source and between 50 and 100kb additional for images and associated files like linked CSS or JavaScript. For a large company with over 2 billion page views per day, (like some of my clients) it stands to reason that reducing the use of images, reducing extraneous markup (i.e. table layouts), etc. will reduce the bandwidth usage and save money. The problem is that markup is not the biggest bandwidth hog these days. The use of web video has increased by more than 100% every year. Bandwidth is cheap enough that those who really feel the most pain are those who feature a lot of multimedia and have a lot of traffic. Nearly everyone else I’ve worked with who is concerned with bandwidth-related issues are concerned more about the user’s download times than they are their bandwidth bill. Reducing document weight has a bigger positive impact on user satisfaction than resource utilization, as we’ll see in a future blog post about supporting low-bandwidth users.

Overall, I’d say I’m skeptical of this purported benefit. If anyone out there has any first-hand data to share on this topic, please get in touch. If you wish to be anonymous, I will honor your request.

If you are interested in learning about the next generation in Web Accessibility Testing, give Tenon.io a try.
If you or your organization need help with accessibility consulting, strategy, or accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343. Download Resume [MS Word]

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