Website Features That You Can Easily Offload

Sep 22 2009 by Jacob Gube | 27 Comments

The amount of site features that you have can take a dire toll on your web server, making your site sluggish and more vulnerable to becoming offline because system resources have been expended.

To alleviate the work that your web server is doing, it’s a good idea to offload certain site features to share the burden. In this article, you’ll read about six site features you can easily offload, and the web services that you can use for them.

1. RSS feeds

Serving and managing your RSS feeds yourself can be a big burden on your server especially when you have many subscribers requesting your feed. What’s more is that there are aggregators such as AllTop and Technorati that automatically request your feeds at regular intervals for their own use, further adding to the strain on your server. You can easily offload your feeds using one of the following services.

FeedBurner is a feature-packed RSS feed manager. It has various options that will enable you to monitor, manage, analyze, and monetize your RSS feed. Recently bought by Google, it experienced a few issues during the transition but it’s now back to its full capacity, and then some.

Website Features That You Can Easily Offload

Feedity is perfect for websites that don’t use a content management system (i.e. static HTML pages). All you have to do is type in the URL of the web pages you’d like to create RSS feeds for, and it will monitor it. Whenever there’s a page update, it will push it to people’s RSS feed readers. If the automatic feed it generates isn’t accurate, it has a Refine feature that let’s you select specific HTML elements in your web pages to watch for changes.

Feedity

Page2RSS is a simple web service that keeps an eye on a web page for changes and notifies you via RSS feed. You can use this on your front page to let users know that your site has been updated. Check out an example feed using Google’s front page. The results can be clunky at times and doesn’t compare well to a real RSS feed service, but this is a great option for when you’re in a pinch.

Page2RSS

2. Site search

Site search can tax your server because it requires server-side processes that usually involve database queries. Additionally, by using search API’s of third-party services, you take advantage not only of their infrastructure, but also their more accurate and optimized search algorithms. Check out these two options by leading information search companies.

Google AJAX Search API allows developers to create mashup’s and applications with Google’s data. Don’t want to put a lot of work into creating your site search? Well that’s alright, they have a wizard-like tool that will generate the code for you to use on your own site so all you’ll need to know is where to place the code.

Google AJAX Search API

Yahoo! Search BOSS is similar to Google’s Search API, but the display of search results can be more integrated to your site’s design. Additionally, unlike Google’s search results, Yahoo! Search BOSS doesn’t display any advertisements. You can see a live implementation of Search BOSS on the WordPress.org site.

Yahoo! Search BOSS

3. Serving popular JavaScript libraries

By offloading common JavaScript libraries such as jQuery, MooTools, and Prototype, you stand to gain a few things. First, it reduces the amount of work your server has to perform in order to send these libraries to users. Secondly, there’s a bigger chance that the library is already in the user’s cache because other sites they’ve visited previously may have already served them the file through the third-party site, increasing your page response times by taking advantage of a primed cache.

Google AJAX Libraries API can serve popular JavaScript libraries through Google’s content distribution network (CDN). This means that it will serve the libraries from a geolocation closest to the user requesting it from your site, which results in speed improvements on the user’s end.

Google AJAX Libraries API

4. Managing and processing web forms

If you use web forms on your website (i.e. contact forms), you can offload the processing and management of them to an external service. By doing so, you alleviate some tasks that your server has to perform in order to receive and process web form submissions. This can include monitoring for spam submissions, possibly administering and evaluating Captcha challenges, and utilizing your email server for sending email notifications when a web form is submitted.

Not only do specialized web form applications help with your server’s burden, they also have heartily featured administration interfaces for creating and organizing your web forms. The following are third-party web form services to check out if you’re looking to offload your forms.

Wufoo is an HTML form builder that is a cinch to set up and manage. They have various packages ranging from $0 to $200 dollars. The free version allows you to have 3 web forms with a maximum of 10 input fields each – more than enough for simple contact forms and questionnaires.

Wufoo

Formstack (formerly known as FormSpring) is a robust and fully featured tool for creating online forms.

Formstack

FormSite gives you a free web form service that can have up to 5 web forms, 50 input fields per form, and 100 submissions a month. Additionally, you’ll be able to take in file attachments (such as images and other documents) – you get 50 MB of file space off the free plan.

FormSite

Icebrrg makes web forms "chillingly simple". For $0 dollars, you get up to 3 forms and 100 submissions per month.

Icebrrg

5. Running Polls and Surveys

If you frequently poll your users, it’s a great idea to offload this site feature to a third-party service for the same reason as with offloading your web forms. Here are a few sites to peruse for your polling and surveying needs.

Vizu is a free web polling service that can be easily integrated into popular content management systems such as WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad.

Vizu

PollDaddy offers free polling and surveying services for your site. You can create and administer unlimited polls a month, as well as take in 100 surveys. See their pricing table for comparisons between their other plans.

PollDaddy

SurveyMonkey.com is a popular web service for administering surveys. It has a robust administration interface that provides you utmost control over the design of your surveys. It’s used by popular sites like Digg, a testament to the quality of their service.

SurveyMonkey.com

6. Captcha challenges

Captchas can help prevent spam submissions by providing would-be web form submitters a visual challenge that they must solve. Having your own Captcha system on your web server can be very demanding: not only does your server have to process the serving and evaluation of Captchas, but it has to serve the Captcha images as well. Some Captcha services to check out are listed below.

reCAPTCHA is a free captcha service that serves a dual purpose of having users digitize books and newspapers. Users are shown images of words from print material, and when they solve it, they help verify and digitize the word.

reCAPTCHA

captchas.net is free, even for commercial usage. If you can run PHP, ASP, Perl, Python, JSP, or Ruby on Rails on your web server, then you’ve got the only requirement that this service needs.

captchas.net

OpenCaptcha has a three-step copy-and-paste installation process that can get you using Captchas in no time.

OpenCaptcha

Do you have any experiences (good or bad) to share regarding the offloading of site features? What other site features can you offload? Participate in the discussion down in the comments.

Post updated [February 21, 2014]: Formspring has been rebranded to Formstack. Links and screenshot of Formspring has been updated to Formstack. Formspring is now a social Q&A platform and not a web form builder anymore.

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About the Author

Jacob Gube is the Founder and Chief Editor of Six Revisions. He’s also a web developer/designer who specializes in distance-learning education, front-end development, and web accessibility. If you’d like to connect with him, head on over to the contact page and follow him on Twitter: @sixrevisions.

27 Comments

David

September 22nd, 2009

These are great. Especially for one-man operations.

Rochelle Dancel

September 22nd, 2009

Super useful list – great especially for sites that need to get up in a hurry!

Paul

September 22nd, 2009

Nice list. #1 and #3 and great recommendations but I wouldn’t use any of the others for a high traffic professional website (like digg, even though they use one of the poll services, haha).

I prefer dummy form elements to captcha, 95% of the results with much less hassle for you and your users.

cancel bubble

September 22nd, 2009

I would be wary of using Yahoo’s BOSS what with the recent Yahoo-Bing deal. BOSS may, one day, just stop working – a Bing casualty. Yahoo’s SearchMonkey is also probably at risk.

z0r

September 23rd, 2009

Just wondering, why have not you mentioned netDNA or amazos S3 for file hosting and delivering?
As always, the list is great.

Dave Sparks

September 23rd, 2009

Nice round up, haven’t really seriously considered offloading RSS or javascript libraries, may well be worth looking at.

Jef

September 23rd, 2009

Great list, and I love the idea that is behind that: offload the webserver. Best practice!

Randy

September 23rd, 2009

Very helpful post and list. Would love your thoughts about media (video streeming/downloading and photo albums)and how to best manage those on the server or “offload.”

Alexander Kaiser

September 23rd, 2009

offloading rss-feeds to feedburner ist a no brainer. first thing i do with new blogs.

another great feature to offload are helpdesks, tenderapp.com is a nice app for that.

jonathan

September 23rd, 2009

why would the surveys section not put http://www.surveygizmo.com on the list. They blow the others out of the water…and were awarded that by the Upshot50. http://www.surveygizmo.com/survey-blog/upshot50-award/

carmicheals

September 23rd, 2009

Loves me some Wufoo – been using them since they started!

patrick

September 23rd, 2009

good ideas to consider. i wonder why you didn’t mention the various ways to offload your site’s images (host them for free on flickr, or similar service)? is that not practical, or is there a problem with it i don’t know about?

Craig Wann

September 23rd, 2009

I used to use freedback.com for forms. It worked great, but I didn’t like having to pay for form service!

Now I do my own formmail hosting on a separate server.

Benoa

September 24th, 2009

@Craig: I agree that forms should be managed by your server, because
1. You look definitely more professional if you do so
2. If you are too lazy/don’t want to pay for a Wufoo-like service (which is awesomely designed by the way, and developers should have a look to their company blog, they released a very sweet PHP unit testing class) you should just put a mailto on your site…

Benoa

September 24th, 2009

@patrick have a look at this article “how to use google app engine as a CDN

cypherbox

September 24th, 2009

Great post! Thanks for sharing.

AtiKuSDesign

September 24th, 2009

Thanks Jacob this has highlighted some options that I didn’t know were out there.

Web 2.0

September 24th, 2009

That’s a very useful list, I have bookmarked here, great work :)

Jason Garrison

September 24th, 2009

Just found out about Google’s Ajax libraries and they really came it handy on some high-traffic sites. I would definitely add services like flickr, youtube, viddler and others to off-load images and videos. Not only do you save on bandwidth, there’s the possibility of more traffic. Win-win.

Jason

September 24th, 2009

The yahoo search on WordPress.org has never given me relevant search results. I usually end up going straight to google and searching the wordpress.org stuff that way.

I use Google CDN for jQuery on everything and Polldaddy on my site.

Great post btw.

Sneh Roy

September 24th, 2009

These are great! Very useful. Thanks for these resource links :)

dan djorgi

October 5th, 2009

Useful list, thanks!

Rocky

October 8th, 2009

Offloading content from your web page has a major disadvantage as well. If even one server from which you are receiving content, is down or running slow then your page will not download in user’a browser.

I have used Google Libraries on my websites, sometimes the page does not open just because the website is still fetching script files from Google.

Otherwise your post is great, I appreciate it.

Nick Yeoman

December 11th, 2009

Awful, just awful.

This is all going to have a huge impact on performance of your website.

forms take all of 10 minutes to make in the first place. Captcha’s are the least user friendly way of checking for spam bots, a programmer will be able to write everything above in less than an hour. Realistically a programmer will already have libraries to include all that.

Feedburner you have to use as it gets traffic. and grabing js from google is good too. Don’t do anything else though.

wythepeng

September 16th, 2010

Very useful. Thanks for these resource~.~

Bibek

October 2nd, 2010

Thats great. though, i will choose polls and occasional form submission . i am already familiar Google CDN

SamDaniel

November 22nd, 2013

Indeed, great list. But apart from SurveyMonkey to create surveys and polls, I think SoGoSurvey is good. I have taken survey from them, http://www.sogosurvey.com

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