Tools, ads, and bad defaults: Web bloat continues unabated

The Website Obesity Crisis, Maciej Ceglowski's (previously) Web Directions talk, documents the worsening epidemic of web-site bloat, and dissects the causes.

It's not (just) ads and tracking cookies and the massive Javascript lumps they import; it's that in combination with some really bad design choices (autofetching giant moving-image files, sometimes over and over), and the use of libraries and tools that drop a mountain of code into your page, even when you're just using a sliver of it.

Ceglowski shows that this is true at the server level, too: the assumption that everything has to run on the cloud means that even very simple Web services can cost hundreds of times more than they should, making them unprofitable.

His prescription is to drop all the fancy, pointless stuff that gets imported by default and stick to plain HTML whenever there's no reason not to — this not only improves page-load time and network usage, it also makes the Web more legible to new developers, so that View Source remains a critical way of learning your craft.

Before the comments begin, I will cop to Boing Boing being just as guilty as many of the examples cited by Ceglowski.

Let me use a computer game analogy to express two visions of the future Web.

The first vision is the Web as Minecraft—an open world with simple pieces that obey simple rules. The graphics are kind of clunky, but that's not the point, and nobody cares.

In this vision, you are meant to be an active participant, you're supposed to create stuff, and you'll have the most fun when you collaborate with others…

The other vision is of the web as Call of Duty—an exquisitely produced, kind-of-but-not-really-participatory guided experience with breathtaking effects and lots of opportunities to make in-game purchases.

Creating this kind of Web requires a large team of specialists. No one person can understand the whole pipeline, nor is anyone expected to. Even if someone could master all the technologies in play, the production costs would be prohibitive.

The user experience in this kind of Web is that of being carried along, with the illusion of agency, within fairly strict limits. There's an obvious path you're supposed to follow, and disincentives to keep you straying from it. As a bonus, the game encodes a whole problematic political agenda. The only way to reject it is not to play.

Despite the lavish production values, there's a strange sameness to everything. You're always in the same brown war zone.

With great effort and skill, you might be able make minor modifications to this game world. But most people will end up playing exactly the way the publishers intend. It's passive entertainment with occasional button-mashing.

The Website Obesity Crisis

[Maciej Ceglowski/Idlewords]

(via Dan Hon)

(Image: Pez Globo, fugu, Felix E. Guerrero, CC-BY-SA)