Just another website

This is just another website. Okay, it's only one page, but single-page sites are all the rage right now. Pardon, single-page apps. You get the idea.

This site is an experiment. It's similar to others floating around the web (see at the end for a list of references). Its real goal is to make you think.

Think about how much you can do with very little. Like the design of this page? It's literally a three-line stylesheet. By way of contrast, has thirty. Radical simplicity matters.

Why it matters

Never mind the website obesity crisis. When the average web page finally loads, do you often feel it was worth the wait? Because in my experience the most interesting web pages are the lightest. Those that load instantly and just leave me in peace to read. Yes, read. Not watch video or listen to a podcast. Those that actually have something to say, not just show off the web designer's mad skillz.


Oh, hi there, colleague. Did that strike a chord? Tell me:

Are you at least getting a pay raise out of it?


Never mind making the world a better place. Websites can be playful. They can be literal games. And yes, then they need scripts to work. There's nothing wrong with that in principle.

Websites can be art, too. I like a beautiful design as much as anyone. We need beauty. Been trying to create some of my own, in fact. It's fun.

A website can be informative, educational, even thought-provoking; it can be a directory, library, or store. It can be many things to many people (and that's a huge part of why the web won).

And for most of these purposes, you only need the same HTML 3.2 that was already supported by text-based browsers a quarter of a century ago.

Wait, what?

Seriously. Open this site in Lynx. It doesn't just look fine — it's colorful, more so than in Firefox or what have you. And Lynx doesn't even know or care about CSS.

It does, however, know about useful things, like the search box below:

(Don't worry, it doesn't track you; not until you submit it, anyway.)

It also claims to support modern structural elements, not that it makes much of a difference: a lot of websites simply work. Which makes sense: right from the start, the HTML5 standard was basically an admission that web browsers never truly implemented HTML4...

Oh, this latest standard does add a few more useful things. You'll find an example at the end. But most extras piled on top of web pages for at least ten years now mostly reflect a corporate world that balked at an internet which empowers people and tried to steer it right back towards a kind of glorified TV.

That might work on kids, too. I'm old enough to remember when every browser was also an HTML editor, very much by definition. The alternative used to be inconceivable.

Wikis were also invented in 1995. You know what didn't exist yet? Javascript.

Forums didn't need it either. Nor Geocities. Even e-commerce sites managed without at first. Yes, really. Or for that matter auction sites. Search engines go without saying: they still work without Javascript today.

How does that help us?

First, recognize that web browsers need to stop. Stop adding bloat. Stop breaking things. Lynx can still detect a website's newsfeeds and show them to the user. Firefox removed this vital feature years ago. Despite public outcry.

Lynx is under 2 megabytes in size (minus dependencies). That's no typo.

Second, web designers must take responsibility for their work. And we'd better do it voluntarily, before the law forces us to. An engineer who builds apartments for a private investor to rent out still answers for the safety of those who will live there. If the building falls down and kills its occupants, the engineer who built it goes to jail. Being overworked and underpaid is no excuse for hurting people.

The web is increasingly user-hostile. It has been for years now. We're long overdue to reverse this trend. Question is, how do we go about it? Brutalist web design can help here... but only with the design angle.

We must remember who the web was for in the first place. Before it slips away from us.

How many features does the web need to serve people?

References

This essay in the form of a website, or whatever you want to call it, was inspired by several others.

Content warning: profanity