Cleaning the Cobwebs

It’s time to dust away some of the cobwebs online.

I’m talking about that feeling you get when you click on a link to a news article and it feels like it takes an eternity for the page to load and, once it does load, the article that you want to read only occupies a small part of the page you’re presented. The rest of the page is dedicated to ads, links to unrelated articles, links begging you to tweet/​share/​like/​print/​follow/​comment/​pingback, etc.

As tempting as it is to claim this is a new problem, I can take my rose tinted glasses off for long enough to remember the days of yore: large banner ads taking up most of a low resolution screen, Flash “games” inside of ads, pop-up windows, anything on Geocities…

It just seems that, as all the technology surrounding the web has evolved so quickly, the web browsing experience should evolve as well.

I’ve come to rely on tools like Evernote’s recently launched Clearly to clean up webpages for me and show me only what I’ve come to a page to see.

 Isn’t this backwards?

Shouldn’t webpages present content by default?
Shouldn’t that be their primary objective, above all else?

In 2011, I am familiar enough with my email program that I can copy/paste a link to share an article with a friend, I don’t need a dedicated button on each and every news article I read offering to “help” me with such a trivial task.

 High Speed Internet in 2011 should feel much faster than Dial-Up Internet in 1998

You can only cram so much JavaScript (or Flash, or iframe content) on a page before things grind to a halt.

I’m not going to name names, but there are many sites that I visit fairly regularly that seem to bring my browser to its knees, take a long time to load and, once loaded, can make scrolling slow and jerky.

Each little share button or ad or cute related content box is one more thing that needs to be downloaded before the page is finished loading.

Because many of these social widgets rely on logged in users’ information, they often cannot be cached with the rest of the page. That means each widget is created on the server when you request it. So, not only are you waiting for the page to load, you’re now waiting for a handful of widgets to be created and then download and render.

 And we haven’t begun talking about ads!

I understand that online people need to make money just like real people, but ads should never, never, never interfere with the reading experience.

In print, it seems this problem has been solved. Ads are placed alongside content, but never (or rarely) in a way that significantly detracts from the reading experience.

It feels like many websites have yet to figure out how to do this, but I can say with certainty that, in general, this problem has not yet been solved.

 Time for preemptive ‘spring cleaning?’

As somebody who often uses Instapaper and other related services, I try to make my websites look as much like that as possible.

I know what kind of reading experience I’m looking for; it only makes sense that I present that experience to my visitors.

If, for a variety of reasons, I am unable to strip all of the clutter from a website I develop, I am sure to follow Readability’s Publisher Guidelines as closely as practicle, so that visitors who are using a service like this anyway will get the best possible experience.


Today, John Gruber has a great post that is very related to what I’ve discussed here.

Should a news article really take 452 HTTP requests and 3.12MB to load?

No. No it should not.


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