On Wednesday 16 January, you could have heard a pin drop at The Reference. That is quite unusual and in stark contrast with a normal workday at the office, when the atmosphere is usually buzzing. Why this sudden peace and quiet, you ask? Well, the first and for now only European Google Mobile Speed Hackathon was on! Over 50 Reffers took the train, metro, car or even skateboard and headed for the Google offices in Brussels. In the shadow of the European Parliament, they spent a full day working on the speed of our clients’ mobile websites. Our developers delved into the code to improve the actual speed. The UX-ers and analysts attended workshops in search of ways to improve users’ perceived speed. 

9 a.m. in Brussels - peak rush hour. Little by little, the Reffers and representatives of other agencies entered a seemingly unassuming office building. Google knows only too well that you have just one chance to make a good first impression. All name badges were neatly lined up. The visitors were welcomed with hot, strong, freshly brewed coffee. Just as it should be. However, what really struck a chord was the way the army of developers and analysts walked in. They leisurely sipped their coffee, greeted old acquaintances, opened their laptops, connected to Wi-Fi and threw themselves into coding. The tone was set. Hard work awaited. 

At the agreed time, on the dot, a familiar face took to the stage. Nuria Gonzalez-Candia was a Reffer up to last year and now she is UX Growth Lead at Google and the driving force behind this hackathon. Following a brief introduction, she gave the floor to Antoine Brossault, Mobile UX Manager at Google. 


Antoine’s talk was filled with actionable tips and tricks to instantly optimise the speed of mobile websites. At lightning speed we were bombarded with terms like HTTP requests, asynchronous loading, lazyload, legacy coding, Defer JS, time to first byte, treeshaking,, etc.
I have to admit it was all Greek to me, a digital strategist (simply put, a development rookie). I was a bit lost, but all those approving nods in the audience and people eagerly taking notes assured me that the presentation was spot on. That was once again confirmed when I recognised those same terms in the final presentations of all the teams. They had immediately implemented and tested various tips & tricks. Happy days. 
After the introduction, the group was divided in two. Our tech wizzes joined forces, came up with a game plan for the hours ahead and did what they excel in: building and improving websites. I never thought the simultaneous ticking and clicking of dozens of hands could be so soothing and exciting at the same time. There were prizes up for grabs, and nerds can be quite competitive (now can we all agree that the word ‘nerd’ is actually pretty cool?). Boys will be boys? 

The functional analysts and UX-ers joined Nuria into another room to tackle an entirely different topic. Through a fascinating case study about airports, they refreshed concepts like occupied and unoccupied waiting time. 

Walking is the new waiting

A large international airport wanted to boost customer satisfaction levels. They went all out to optimise the experience. Through minor and major interventions they ensured it took passengers only 7 minutes to disembark from the aircraft, pick up their luggage and exit the airport. That seems extremely efficient, yet visitors stated they were still not impressed and continued to be frustrated, because they still had to wait 4 minutes at the luggage carousel. 

The solution? 

Quite simple, actually: park the plane on the other end of the airport. As a result, passengers needed a few minutes to walk to the luggage carousel. Instead of waiting, they were walking. This eventually led to the desired satisfaction levels.

So next time you find yourself complaining because you have a bit of a walk from the plane to the terminal, remember you made it clear you would rather be walking than waiting. We did this to ourselves!



After a well-deserved break, it was time to zoom in on two concepts that have a major impact on mobile speed: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Progressive web apps (PWA). 

The two groups parted company again and left for separate rooms. The developers were met by Adam Read, Specialist Engineer at Google, who mainly focused on the technical aspects and features of both concepts. Following his lively talk, all laptops were once again opened and in no time, the room was filled with that wonderfully relaxing ticking and clicking sound. If you think hackathons are all about pizza and Red Bull, think again! Hackathons are actually a race against time and incredibly hard work.

In the other room, the participants mainly zoomed in on the concrete applications and possibilities of AMP and PWA. When are they relevant? How can they influence the perception of speed? How can they improve UX? How can you combine them into PWAMPS? 
Towards the end of the presentation, you could see most analysts stare at the flip charts, post-its and markers. Like enthusiastic little puppies they were ready to take all the knowledge amassed and put it into practice in teams of two. Once unleashed, the atmosphere could not be more different than in the other room. Ideas and arguments were thrown around. Schemes and flowcharts were drawn, crossed out and redrawn. If thinking made noise, there would have been an ear-splitting racket right there on the fourth floor, in that office building in the heart of Brussels. 
To conclude, each team briefly presented their results and all participants voted democratically, smartphone in hand, of course. The Reference proudly made it to first and third place. We celebrated our victory while the first meeting requests to upgrade clients’ mobile speed were sent out. Thanks Google, we’ve got our hands full in the weeks ahead! 

And to top it all off, we’d like to give you some useful links, tools and reads to boost your mobile speed. Enjoy! 

Do you need help optimising your mobile website? Contact us and we’ll make sure we’ve got coffee ready!

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