Better ways to manage server load, and keep a nice user experience


One thing I’ve lost with my load-balancing changes is the fast display of pictures when a prospective user first clicks on the app. One of my goals with the app was to provide instant fun, to give people something cool within five seconds of clicking. The multiple page reloads that happen bug me, and will put off people checking it out for the first time. I’m looking at a few approaches:

  • Go back to the old method that created all the portraits synchronously within the PHP script. This meant you’d see a page full of images as the first result, and it normally only took around five or ten seconds to load. The downside was, if the machine was busy with another request, you’d see nothing, just an error message, since if you don’t respond with some content quickly enough, Facebooks gives up! This seemed to be happening more and more frequently…
  • Try to improve the current system of multiple page reloads, maybe by cutting down the number of intermediate stages from two to one by synchronously grabbing the user’s portrait as part of the page generation. Then I could at least display something interesting on the first page, rather than a blank page of text.
  • Write some smarter client-side code to grab the images when they’re ready. It’s been nice sticking to server-side coding for the app, since it’s a lot easier thant testing client-side code on all the possible user configurations.

I think I’ll end up doing a combination of the last two. As a quick stop-gap measure trying to cut down the pain of the multiple reloads, but on the weekend spending a bit more time sorting out something more ajax-y.

Funhouse Photo User Count: 573, 116 active. Still growing, but there does seem to be a slowdown in growth since I implemented the new load balancing.

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