How Google research can make the internet faster

guetzli
Credit: Google

Raise your hand if you think webpage load times are great -- not too slow at all.

No one? Well, Google may have just made big strides to increase load time for websites, while not compromising anything in the process. So how did the tech giant do that?

In IT Blogwatch, we hit refresh. 

So what is going on? DL Cabe gives us some background:

Google...released a brand new, open-source JPEG encoder called Guetzli that can do two...neat things...it can decrease JPEG file size by 35% without a noticeable decrease in quality, and...it can increase the quality of an image without increasing file size at all.

But what does that mean, exactly? Rafael Fariñas explains:

This change will mark a significant improvement in web loading times, particularly on sites that are heavy on content that features media. Guetzli’s...downside is that it takes a significantly longer time to encode images.

But how did Google do this? Paul Adshead introduces us to the concept:

The algorithm reduces large amounts of disordered data, which is hard to compress, and puts it into ordered data, which is very easy to compress. There is also a degree of blurring of pixels that are close in appearance. This...helps shave down the size without any visible effects to the structure of the image.

Sounds simple enough, right? Evidently not. Sebastian Anthony tells us why this is a complicated process:

The difficult bit is finding a balance between removing detail, and keeping file size down...Guetzli...uses a new psychovisual model—called Butteraugli...to work out which colors and details to keep, and which to throw away. "Psychovisual" in this case means it's based on the human visual processing system. The exact details of Butteraugli are buried within hundreds of high-precision constants, which produce a model that "approximates color perception and visual masking in a more thorough and detailed way" than other encoders.

And why is all of this important? Chris Smith has that information:

Google wants to increase load times without compromising image quality...Google says that Guetzli images are...higher quality than similar or larger JPEG files created using other encoders. And by sticking with the JPEG format that’s used everywhere online, Google practically guarantees compatibility with any internet browser and apps out there that can process online images.
...
However, webmasters and graphic designers will...have to use Guetzli on their images to reduce their size. It’s not going to happen automatically to every image on the internet.

So does Guetzli have a chance of taking off? Christina Warren knows it has one thing going for it:

Google has made the Guetzli encoder open source, and it’s available on Github for anyone to...use...That’s a big deal because right now, many web-based image programs...use the libjpeg encoder because it is free and tends to do a good enough job. If Guetzli does work as well as Google claims, this could potentially be a solid libjpeg replacement for web developers, designers, or photographers. It’ll also be good for regular web users because photos and images will take up less space.

Finally, one last question. What does Guetzli mean, anyway? We hear the answer straight from the Google team:

Guetzli [guɛtsli] — cookie in Swiss German.
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