Saving lifetimes

One days Jobs came into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, an engineer who was working on the Macintosh operating system, and complained that it was taking too long to boot up. Kenyon started to explain, but Job cut him off. “If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year [1]. “Larry was suitably impressed, and a few weeks later he came back and booted up twenty-eight seconds faster” (‘Steve Jobs’, by Walter Isaacson, page 123).

Personally I still blame Microsoft for not introducing thousands separators into the dir output until MS-DOS 6. With hundreds of millions of users in the early 90’s, every quarter of a second wasted, several times a day, to read a 8-9 digit file size, added up to a comparable waste of lifetimes as above.

How does this translate to Wikimedia? With over 15 billion page views each month [2] each 1/10 second which is shaved off from page loading time saves humanity 1,500,000,000 seconds each month, which is very close to the waking hours spent by a 70 year old person. (70*365*16*3600). So the awesome dedication of the small Wikimedia operations team (staff AND volunteers) did not only save Wikimedia tons of hardware. It saves tens to hundreds lifetimes a year!

Of course all the ingenuity in the world does only go so far to accommodate Wikimedia’s ever increasing traffic. That’s why Wikimedia’s annual fundraiser, which is about to launch, is so vital to keep access to all our content fast, all over the world.


1 This is actually an overstatement: if every user saves 10 seconds per day this is roughly an hour per year. A 70 year old has been awake for 400,000 hours. Five million people saving an hour per year equates to 12 lifetimes.

2 Total file requests (images, scripts, etc) is even an order of magnitude larger (see image).

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