Big Fat Websites
I spend a lot of my time reading content on the internet, mostly text, nothing too fancy.1
Sometimes I find a blog that I love. It loads fast. It looks good and clean. My adblocker doesn’t light up. The content is great and is not your basic, cookie-cutter SEO goop. “This is a good website” I say. Then proceed to devour every article until my eyes hurt and I realise sleep is something of a necessity to humans.
The rest of the websites on the Internet look like they’re about to have a fucking heart attack.
Some of the biggest writing (and reading) platforms and websites are bloated to the extent that they are unusable without a screen reader. Maybe that’s just me. But when there are banners and popups, dynamic content and unnecessary interruption (especially sticky video) I either leave the page or switch to the reader view.
This extra hassle and distraction has a cost. It doesn’t only cost user patience. It costs time and bandwidth. Most of the content I read is on my mobile phone. Loading a local news website, or even an article on Medium takes way too long, and delivers a poor user experience.
I’m tempted to define a usable threshold for the size of a website. Something like “any website over 1mb is too large”. This sounds good but encourages us to fit our work into that box as opposed to toning down the context and content entirely. If today’s 1mb website is the new cool standard, next year’s elegant design will have that increased by a factor of 10.
No. We need to think about it less in terms of explicit size, and more in terms of adding and subtracting value for the reader. Once we get that right, bloat will not be an issue. 2
One thing we need to understand when building websites optimised for reading is that text is small. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a pretty thick book by most measures, and only clocks in at about 500kb of text. How is it that this review of 1/18th of the book on Medium is 5.4 times the size of the entire book?
There are many solutions to this problem, and we know what they are: Don’t add unnecessary shit (especially stock photos that don’t add value to your articles). Be kind to your readers 3. Don’t make it necessary to have a reader view. All these new-fangled methods of pre and post loading content; using fancy compressions; and chunking JS are ways of fooling yourself into thinking your page isn’t obese right up until you break the scale.
In the words of Maciej Cegłowski: “If you're only going to the corner store, ride a bicycle.”