Stop blaming the web

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Lately pretty much everyone agrees that Web 2.0 has gone too far. Pages are bloated and spy on us. Worse, they're confusing and have nothing to say. Even their owners must hate them, seeing how they keep trying to shove mobile apps and mailing lists down our throats instead of letting us read the page we just loaded. It looks bad all around.

Problem is, lately reactions to this state of affairs are swinging way too far in the other direction. Let's get rid of Javascript! CSS! Images! Let's get rid of the web altogether! Here, use this new protocol that's crippled on purpose. You don't need that feature. Trust me. You only need what I need. Obey techbros.

These people are about to ruin the internet just as surely as corporations are.

What the hell. If you don't want Javascript in your web pages, don't use any. If you don't want pictures, just use plain text. Nobody's forcing you. Or did you think that if a feature is present, then you have to use it?

Do you consider yourself obligated to bungee-jump off every bridge you cross?


Or take encryption: some people want to mandate it, while others want to drop it entirely. Apparently, leaving it optional the way the web is already designed to work hasn't occurred to them. We love forcing others to do as we do, never mind that they have different needs and abilities.

You know what else the web supports by design? Graceful degradation. You can put a pretty picture in your web page, and people who can't see it (or don't want to) will get a nice textual description instead. Or you can have a game embedded in the same page, and people who can't or won't run scripts are still able to at least read the description, look at screenshots, and get the gist of it.

That's incredibly valuable.

Why should we give up pictures entirely? Artists rely on being able to show off their work. And how about web games? They've changed the field for the better. CSS? Typography is an art, and it matters, and IT still won't show it respect.

Pretty pictures are good for your soul. Well-typeset text, too, is more pleasant to read, not to mention it can emphasize the important parts in subtle ways.

How telling that a web page with no styles at all looks much better in Lynx than in graphical browsers, that for historical reasons still render it like in 1991. And funny how Lynx doesn't mind if a web page has styles, scripts or graphical elements. Even inline SVG doesn't phase it. Lynx simply moves past anything it doesn't handle, and goes right on minding its own business.

You know, exactly how the web was designed to work since before any standards.

The web is not to blame for our excesses. Like any other technology, it's a force multiplier. If you do bad things with it, they'll be very bad. But you can choose to do good as well. The web doesn't care either way. Not even the 2.0 Web.

So here's my modest proposal: you want a smaller web? Make smaller web pages! No-one can force you. Keep the CSS small, too. Look how little this blog needs. Pictures are more of a problem, especially in the 4K era, but maybe use SVG where you can? It can even be handcrafted, just like HTML. Also on purpose.

Whatever you do, don't throw out that CMS yet: if you want the browser to do less, then the server has to do more. But is it really so bad if you leave some work to the browser? Software as complex as TiddlyWiki can still run in browsers 10 years old, or almost, which in turn can still run on machines from 15 years ago. Somehow it's still smaller than the typical web page in 2021, yet does way, way more.

To fix whatever is broken, let's roll up our sleeves and work together. Breaking things even more can only make it that much harder to rebuild.

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Tags: website, critique