Stella: Web Monitoring and Debugging Simplified

If your website is running slowly or inconsistently, it can be very frustrating trying to understand why. Tools such as Pingdom’s full page site test, which provide a very thorough and detailed overview of site performance, can be a bit overwhelming. There’s also the risk that, to the inexperienced eye, the results can be misleading.

Stella takes a very different approach to testing, monitoring and debugging of website performance. With a “less is more” attitude, Stella focuses on giving you the information you need without bombarding you with data that may or may not help you improve your site.

The service also offers some very compelling free tools and a useful free account that helps you get started with site testing. Let’s find out if this is the right service for those who want to improve their sites but don’t really understand where to begin.

How Stella Works

The most basic part of Stella is its free site checkup tool. Just enter the URL of the page you want to check and Stella will simulate two concurrent visitors going to the page and downloading all of the its content.

The tool tracks how long it takes:

– the page to load,

– the page to make a connection with a server,

– for the sever to start transmitting the first byte (ie. how long the application on the server takes to respond) and,

– to get all the other data.

This produces a total time taken for the page to load, but broken into three parts: Net, app and download. This lets you see if and where a delay is happening.

Perhaps the most interesting and unique thing about this Stella report is that the tool compares your results to other sites. It will then tell you if your site is loading faster, slower or similar to the averages it sees across the board.

The checkup feature is great, but its the monitoring service that really impresses me. You can run the tool automatically on your site over time, which gives you a much broader perspective on your site’s overall performance.

Stella has a free plan that allows you to watch one URL every 15 minutes. The paid version, which starts at $8 per month, takes that time frame down to 5 minutes and adds SMS notification of outages or other problems.

While that isn’t as fast or cheap as Pingdom, which offers a free account for one site that checks every minute, Stella does offer some good reasons to consider using its service.

Why Use Stella (and Why Not)

Where Stella excels is in its interface. Clean, user-friendly and not overloaded, Stella provides the information that a web debugger requires without making it confusing.

Although there’s a lot of technical information in Stella’s reports, the language is in plain English and very accessible. In short, Stella will make you smarter about how your site is doing without making your head hurt.

Stella is for the webmaster who is serious enough about his or her site to know that they need to monitor and test it for speed problems but don’t want to be overloaded with data.

Of course, the counter-punch to this is that the stat-lovers out there who crave every little figure and detail about their site’s performance are going to find Stella very limiting.

If you’re curious about how your site is performing and want some good, broad figures that are actionable, Stella is a great service to start with. If you’re interested in investigating every detail and need every piece of information you can glean, you’ll be happier with Pingdom or another service.

Bottom Line

Personally, I’ll be using Stella a good deal. I’ve signed up my main site to be monitored by the service, though mostly for statistical reasons, and I’ll be using it to test out hosts that I’m looking at to get a quick and broad view of how well their servers are performing. I think that’s where Stella’s service really shines.

Because of its relatively limited monitoring, simplified information and lack of a mobile app, Stella isn’t neccessarily a replacement for Pingdom, Techout or other services, but what Stella does it does very well.

So, if you fit the niche of what Stella is trying to target, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least try the service out. Considering both the checkup and the monitoring are free, there is literally nothing to lose in giving it a shot.

You might just learn something about your site, or perhaps about the host that you’re hoping to move it to some day.

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