I thought it was my devices getting rickety — crankily refusing to load pages, making online video and audio stutter. But no: websites everywhere are getting unwieldy, stuffed full of megabytes worth of info that enhances form but drags down function.
Maciej Cegłowski has distilled an impassioned talk he gave at the Web Directions conference in Sydney, Australia, into a simple, streamlined webpage. In its form, it sets a great example for the future of the web; in its content, its a diatribe against the current plague of “page bloat.”
Page bloat is demonstrated to reduce user engagement with the web. It can be caused by the actual things you’re there to access (presentation slides from a distant conference that are only available as a giant PDF), the structure of the page itself (hidden menus that slide in from nowhere), or the accoutrements of web use today (a huge autoplaying ad for a luxury car). Corporations like Facebook and Google have recognized the problem, and have rolled out “fixes” like Instant Articles or AMP; but, Cegłowski maintains, these only appear to solve the problem:
“[…T]he page describing AMP is technically infinite in size. If you open it in Chrome, it will keep downloading the same 3.4 megabyte carousel video forever.
If you open it in Safari, where the carousel is broken, the page still manages to fill 4 megabytes.
These comically huge homepages for projects designed to make the web faster are the equivalent of watching a fitness video where the presenter is just standing there, eating pizza and cookies.
The world’s greatest tech companies can’t even make these tiny text sites, describing their flagship projects to reduce page bloat, lightweight and fast on mobile.
I can’t think of a more complete admission of defeat.”
Ultimately, this page bloat problem says something disturbing about the current and future web: that its democracy is just an illusion; that it will take the fastest and most up-to-date device and an expensively solid connection to access any information; and, most damagingly, that only professionals with programming and design certifications can, andshould, put anything up on the web.
I support Cegłowski in asserting that this cannot be allowed to happen! The internet can be an immense force for change, and it’s up to us to resist the corporatized slow-down that is becoming the accepted standard. Re-harnessing the web’s true purpose shouldn’t take too much bandwidth at all.