IRS, Other Tax Sites Stand Up to Strain

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service's The Digital Daily and several other popular online tax sites today received high marks from Service Metrics Inc., a Web-site performance measurement firm in Boulder, Colorado.

According to statistics released today by Service Metrics, at least 98 percent of all visitors who visited the Web's 13 most popular tax sites between April 7 and April 17 were able to access those sites. That equals the same percentage of visitors who were able to access those tax sites from March 24 to April 13.

However, the difference in time that it took filers to download the home page of the various tax sites varied widely, from a fast 1.16 seconds at the Web site to a much slower 7.97 seconds at H&R Block Inc.'s TaxCut site. TaxCut is a software package offered by H&R Block to customers who are experiencing delays at its primary tax site and want to download the software to their personal computers.

According to Service Metrics, it took less time - 6.45 seconds - for visitors to download H&R Block's Home page than it did to download the TaxCut software.

Linda McDougall, a spokeswoman for Kansas City, Missouri-based H& R Block, said 6 seconds didn't seem very slow and questioned whether the sites monitored by Service Metrics offered the same information at their Web sites.

"It all depends what you have to download," she said. "I don't know if we're comparing apples and oranges or apples and apples."

But Service Metrics spokeswoman Deborah Jones said having more information that needs to be downloaded is part of the problem that causes sites to slow down.

"We measure how long it takes to download the Web page as a whole and then how long it takes each element, like a graphic, to download," Jones said.

She said the sites that load the slowest could learn from the sites that load the quickest.

"The (fast sites) know that customers aren't going to stay around and wait 6 seconds for a site to load, so they don't offer large graphics," she said.

"These (quick-loading) sites have figured out how to streamline their sites."

Service Metrics said 99 percent of visitors were able to get on to the CompleteTax site, while 98 percent were able to log on to the TaxCut site.

It took visitors 5.34 seconds to download The Digital Daily, the IRS home page, and 3.55 seconds to download tax forms from the site. Service Metrics said 98 percent of all visitors were able to access the IRS site.

On average, it took visitors less than one second longer to download these tax sites than it did in previous few weeks. Those figures indicate that the sites were standing up to the strain of last-minute tax filers.

William Quinn, a Service Metrics spokesman, said there were a couple reasons why the sites were able to handle the increase in traffic that occurs on the last filing day.

"These sites have been doing this for a couple years, and have been able to work out any bugs" they may have had, he said. "In addition, there aren't hundreds of millions of people hitting these sites all at one time, like there were at Christmas (which caused sites to slow down or crash completely)."

Because April 15 fell on a Saturday, the deadline to file federal income tax is midnight tonight. However, taxpayers in the Northeast who file their taxes through the Internal Revenue Service processing center in Andover, Massachusetts will have until midnight Tuesday, because today is a legal holiday (Patriot's Day) in Massachusetts.

According to Service Metrics, some other sites that scored well included:

Yahoo Inc.'s Tax Center: 99 percent of visitors were able to access it and it took 1.75 seconds to download the home page. Inc.: 99 percent of visitors logged on and it took 2.62 seconds to download. Taxes: The site was available to 98 percent of visitors and it took 3.02 seconds to download.

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