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Google touts benefits of WebP image format

Switching just one Google site to its own image format saves the company terabytes of network traffic a day. Maybe showing it off will help it find some allies, too.

WebP logo

Google, which controls both ends of the Internet connection for a significant fraction of online activity, has a lot of power over the Internet. A little image-format tweak to one of its Web sites shows just how much.

Few others have expressed much enthusiasm for its WebP image format, an offshoot of the WebM project to promote a royalty-free video codec. Google asserts that its smaller file sizes would unburden networks and help Web pages load faster, but as Mozilla likes to point out when grappling with such matters, adding a new format to the Web means adding a requirement that all browsers must support it in perpetuity.

That doesn't stop Google, and Google is a force to be reckoned with: it controls both a colossally important collection of Web sites and a widely used browser. That lets it bring technologies like WebP, WebRTC, and SPDY to market even if it doesn't have all the allies it wants.

The latest case in point is with WebP.

In a blog post yesterday, Google said it switched its Chrome Web Store site so it delivers WebP images when possible instead of JPEG and PNG.

Doing so cuts data transfer burdens by terabytes every day, said product manager Stephen Konig in the blog post. Here he is extolling the virtues of WebP:

By converting PNGs and JPEGs to WebP, the Chrome Web Store was able to reduce image sizes by about 30% on average (here's one sample image in WebP at 8.3kB and JPEG at 32kB). Given the number of requests Chrome Web Store serves, this adds up to several terabytes of savings every day.

For users, the rubber meets the road when it comes to how fast the page loads though. On this score, with WebP we were able to reduce average home page load time by nearly one-third -- a huge benefit for our users.

It's hard to get new image formats to catch on, though, as Microsoft found with its JPEG XR format, which unlike WebM is now actually an international standard. JPEG has unsurpassed support extending well beyond the Web, of course, to cameras, drugstore photo kiosks, mobile phones, TVs, and much more.

But Google has a lot of clout, and as it has done with SPDY, it could win allies with its proof-in-the-pudding approach enabled by its Web sites and browser.

Another new compression format is in the offing, for those keeping score. Just as Google spun off WebP from WebM, the industry players just finished developing the HEVC/H.265 video codec and included a still-image compressed format derived from it.