Website obesity, the future of online advertising, and the future of my website(s)

Maciej Cegłowski gave an excellent talk in October 2015 (ancient by internet standards) entitled “The Website Obesity Crisis”. It is long, but well worth the time, and it’s funny!

I can’t do full justice to the speaker’s impassioned cry for putting our content on a diet, so I’ll just settle for injustice:

  • Pages on the web are becoming incredibly bloated. (A page displaying a single tweet of 140 characters is larger than Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita)
  • Horrendous Javascript, gigantic image files, and awful ads are the main culprits.
  • Websites touting a “clean” design are often little more than a glossy coat of paint smeared over a rusty monstrosity
  • There is a bubble in the online advertising economy that is about to burst. (I’m not so sure about this one.)

So what can be done about it? Well, in the words of Nancy Reagan: “Just say no”. Or, ask yourself the following questions:

  • HTML is great for displaying web content. Why not use it?
  • Do you really need that huge image on your website? Does it add any information?
  • Does your minimalist design improve the functionality of your website? Does it make it easier or harder for your users?
  • Have you checked the size of your pages?
  • Does your page pass the Taft test? (“Does your page design improve when you replace every image with [a photo of] William Howard Taft?”)
  • Is it really worth it to run a huge CMS to display a few paltry pages of text?

As for myself, I am by no means blameless. I administer several Wordpress sites, and also, I’m currently writing this article on medium.com. This then becomes a case of the blind leading the blind which is easily resolved. I will just say no… at least a little bit.

I’m starting a project today, to dismantle the Wordpress machinery behind my personal website. The heavy php/mysql sword shall become a humble html/css plowshare.

But… really just my personal website. I can’t be bothered to do this for the other organizations whose websites I administer. Nor do I have the the inclination to roll up my notepad.exe sleeves and write it all up in code. But luckily the good people behind Jekyll has got my back.

Jekyll is a static site generator specifically adapted to generating blog content. Just write your content in an LML (Lightweight Markup Language) of your choice (as long as it’s Markdown or Textile), shove it into Jekyll, and out comes a nice and lean website.

You don’t really need to learn and LML. In fact that’s the whole point with that class of markup languages. They are so easy and intuitive that anyone can start writing content after a few minutes of reading.

Jekyll also swallows html input, for which I am especially grateful since I do all of my own writing in Emacs and org-mode. Among its myriad of functions, org-mode exports very nicely to HTML, and so I am able to link this faux-Luddite chain: org-mode -> html -> Jekyll -> finished website.

To all of you — hipsters, aspiring hipsters, recently recovered hipsters, hacktivists, and people with way to much time on your hands — I say: join this remarkably small and largely irrelevant crusade!

Let’s make the internet smaller again!