Member Rara Avis
Well, ya snuck a couple of questions in there, but I think you already know my answer to the first one - a page is too large is if it's any larger than necessary.
Okay, it's not really as ambiguous as it sounds. The key is to determine the purpose of the page. If someone clicks on a link to play a game or grab a pic of Britney, they've already prepared themselves to wait a little while. They are much less likely to wait if they expect to read a poem or story. More important, from a design standpoint, is determining your purpose for sending them to a page. If you want them to sign up for a newsletter, you don't want to distract them with a slow loading page. Pretty obvious. Less obviously, you want your entrance pages to load quickly, too, because your purpose there is to evoke their interest enough to stay (and click through to perhaps a more slowly loading page).
One entrance page, of course, is your domain's index.htm page, and it's without question the most important page on your site. So much so, that it's worth spending hours trying cut a byte here and a byte there. But your main page isn't necessarily your only entrance page. One of the biggest problems I face with the main site is that every one of our 30-plus "category" pages is potentially an entrance page. All of them rank well in the search engines, and one is even listed in its own category in the ODP directory. And every single one of them is MUCH bigger than an entrance page should be. I've dropped the number of poems listed on each page from 100 to 80 to the current 60, and it still takes almost two minutes to fully load.
So, I cheated. The only thing more important than how long a page takes to load is the perception of how long it takes to load. And the trick there is to use multiple tables and keep them fairly small, giving the visitor something to read while the page finishes loading. For example, if you go to any other UBB forum you might notice the whole thread loads at one time. One great big table. The result is that you're often staring at a blank screen for a very long time, because the browser can't show you anything until it calculates everything. Our threads load one post at a time, because each post is its own thread. Once your browser has calculated the contents of the first table, it displays it, giving you something to do while it loads and calculates subsequent tables. Similarly, those big entrance pages at the main site are broken into smaller pieces, no more than ten poem links per table. Speed is important. The perceptions of speed is far, far more important.
And I'll bet you thought it all came down to counting bytes, uh?