Sunday, January 3, 2016

website obesity and the downfall of the participatory web

Maciej Ceglowski on The Website Obesity Crisis. The emphasis starts on what's going on in the browser (and I could write multiple articles on how I feel it vindicates many of my views about a preference for bespoke, vanilla JS using libraries over coneptually-heavy, opaque monolithic frameworks) but hits on the server as well:
I don't want to harsh on the cloud. Some of my best friends are in the cloud.

Rather, I want to remind everyone there’s plenty of room at the bottom. Developers today work on top of too many layers to notice how powerful the technology has become. It’s a reverse princess-and-the-pea problem.

The same thing happens in the browser. The core technology is so fast and good that we’ve been able to pile crap on top of it and still have it work tolerably well.

One way to make your website shine is by having the courage to let the browser do what it's optimized to do. Don't assume that all your frameworks and tooling are saving you time or money.

Unfortunately, complexity has become a bit of a bragging point. People boast to one another about what's in their 'stack', and share tips about how to manage it.

"Stack" is the backend equivalent to the word "polyfill". Both of them are signs that you are radically overcomplicating your design.
Later he talks about how he pays $1000/month for his hosting, vs $9-$25K/month for a competitor's AWS usage. Here I'm going to put in a plug for a service I dig, phpwebhosting. I rent a Virtual Private Server from them for $25/month (even though frankly their shared server for $10/month may have just met my needs as well.) All my stuff is a bit petty ante, and if anything I made ever truly "made it" I might have a bit of a scramble for a new way of deploying my stuff; but I know my JP Porchfest Site survives thousands of users on the big day. And this is an example of where design matters; Somerville's Porchfest was definitely the area thought leader that inspired my crew, but every year their website crashes; they have somewhat more users pounding on their site but I'm sure it's because every request for bands hits their database, while I was foresightful enough to "bake" all our band information as static data, and do any processing in the browser.

At the risk of spoilering the ending, he wraps up his presentation with this idea:
The way to keep giant companies from sterilizing the Internet is to make their sites irrelevant. If all the cool stuff happens elsewhere, people will follow. We did this with AOL and Prodigy, and we can do it again.

For this to happen, it's vital that the web stay participatory. That means not just making sites small enough so the whole world can visit them, but small enough so that people can learn to build their own, by example.

I don't care about bloat because it's inefficient. I care about it because it makes the web inaccessible.
I love the sentiment, in some ways I've been its posterchild, but man... Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, all bank on the same idea: the aggregated feed. You have one stop shopping for a bunch of people you find interesting, either because you know them in real life, or because they write pithy bon mots, or make interesting images, or find cool stuff.  You don't have to click around a bunch of stuff, the good stuff comes to you. (And unlike RSS, each has developed its own flavor of content that doesn't get ripped out in a post-facto aggregation process.)

I keep up my personal blog as my statement of record, but I no longer expect people to follow me there. And I don't know what a return to the small, folksy web could look, especially if you don't have it dependent on yet another ad-driven, privacy-disdaining, bloat-tending entity like Google or Bing... maybe we could all go back to "Web Rings"?

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