Death to The Bullshit Web

Weaving Your Spells
Weaving Your Spells…

Nick Heer writes about a topic near and dear to our brains, albeit from the web developer side: why do websites load so slowly? And why is our personal data being sold without our informed consent?

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:

Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB

Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB

Twenty frames

Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB

Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.

An actual solution recognizes that this bullshit is inexcusable. It is making the web a cumulatively awful place to be. Behind closed doors, those in the advertising and marketing industry can be pretty lucid about how much they also hate surveillance scripts and how awful they find these methods, while simultaneously encouraging their use. Meanwhile, users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice.

They shouldn’t have to. Better choices should be made by web developers to not ship this bullshit in the first place. We wouldn’t tolerate such intrusive behaviour more generally; why are we expected to find it acceptable on the web?

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Death to the bullshit web.

(click here to continue reading The Bullshit Web — Pixel Envy.)

All that “surveillance” stuff and related files are an abomination, and pleases no-one. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that even marketing savvy companies don’t frequently use all the data that is collected on their behalf. So who wants it? Unclear to me. I guess the third party data collection industry is happy to vacuum up this data because they can subsequently re-sell our information to the highest bidder, but that’s not a good enough reason to continue making web pages cumbersome.

And as I’ve blabbed about repeatedly, I swear by the script-blocking capabilities of Ghostery, but that is a half-measure, and doesn’t apply to the web-surfing of the vast majority of the populace.

You should read Mr. Heer’s entire post, it is worthy of your time…


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