At the time of writing, my homepage is under one kilobyte gzipped. It contains a few lines of simple CSS. It mostly consists of semantic, specification-compliant HTML. There’s not a line of JavaScript in sight. And it works. Is it the prettiest site on the web? Maybe not. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and personally, I like it. It’s beautiful in Firefox, it looks (almost) as nice in lynx, and it’s fast everywhere. Like I said, it works.

Contrast this to the usual situation on the web, where the size of the average website has exploded since the dawn of Netscape up to the multi-megabyte mess we enjoy today. The usual argument, of course, is that websites need to do significantly more than they did twenty years ago. Indeed, there is a grain of truth in the comment that a page “looks like it was from the nineties”. But this is a stylistic argument – it should not make such a dramatic difference technically, no? Putting aside the “list of features” of a modern website, what has actually changed in the macro-scale “user activities”?

For the case of simple websites, like what I use to read short-stories, post forum posts, or check my grades, nothing has changed. I still just want search functionality, a text box, and a list of numbers1 respectively. The bells and whistles have gone up; the marketing divisions at the respective companies continue to advertise all of the “progress” packaged into the latest versions. Many would agree that the new sites look nicer than a few years ago. But these differences are superficial at best.

The other case to consider is the notion of “web apps”. The fact that these programs exist at all is evidence that operating systems have serious issues, especially for portability. These programs pose their own set of issues ranging from unclear licensing to automatic execution to forced upgrades to the fact that many users don’t realize they’re programs. Nevertheless, this issue is largely tangential to the deeper causes of bloat on the web.

Admittedly, as websites have become larger, Moore’s Law has progressed, too. Computers are faster and bandwidth is cheaper, so what’s the big deal in 2017? The bottom line is that this is a rather narrow view of the situation. Bloat is still bloat. Not everybody can afford a new computer, and some people refuse to use new computers for a variety of reasons. Not everybody has fast Internet connection; even many people in Silicon Valley use slow, capped mobile data plans. What was once a display of content is now a display of code, ultimately all in the name of being prettier than the competition, a poor decision by a web designer or a corporate executive that trickles down implicating performance, cost, usability (accessibility), software freedom, and frankly style. Comparing a small JavaScript-free site (like mine) to the favourite sites of Hacker News feels like comparing a person with their natural beauty next to themselves with two hours of heavy makeup applied. It’s JavaScript vanity.

– back to blog –

  1. In truth, I don’t particularly want a list of numbers when I check my grades, something I might touch on in a future post. Additionally, I was not alive to want such a function twenty years ago.