I dislike the new web

Tags: musings

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I dislike the new web with all of its flashiness and moving gimmicks and whatnot. Previously, I was relatively impervious to the pabulum one encounters when accessing most websites—I use plugins for blocking ads1, removing cookies, and so on. But recently, having to travel a little bit more, my surfing habits were mostly confined to my smartphone. Here, the ’new web’ really rears its ugly head. There are so many annoyances:

  1. Banners that are loaded with some delay. I am already well into scrolling through an article, when I am suddenly greeted with a banner that asks me to subscribe, download an app, or view the mobile version. A pox on all of these! My smartphone screen is already quite small; I do not want to inadvertently click on the wrong edge of a banner and leave the article I am reading behind—because going back is not an option: thanks to 5000 lines of JavaScript frippery or the abomination that is known as infinite scrolling, my browser will not be able to jump back to my exact reading position, making navigation as useful as racing stripes on cars.

  2. Ads that are loaded with some delay and start auto-playing. I fully understand that nothing is free in life, and I would fain support your newspaper, organisation, or blog—unless you start bombarding my poor smartphone screen (again!) with stupid videos that, ideally, also contain sound, because of course they do. Whatever happened to the idea of having nice textual ads? It seems that for some organisations2, the list of ads is even longer than their actual content. Is that really necessary or useful? Of course, the more ads I see (at least if they are that obnoxious), the less I am inclined to bother with your content…

  3. Warnings about cookies. I know full well that cookies might result in me losing some privacy, limbs, or vital organs. However, I think the way these things are done right now does not help anyone—I feel I am being trained in a Pavlovian manner to search for the ‘Accept’ button as quickly as possible so that I can finally continue visiting the website. Again, I am fully aware that there are rules and regulations about these things3, but I dislike this ‘illusion of choice’. I can either accept all the cookies that you spoon-feed me or I can abstain from visiting your website. Gee, what a nice choice! I really wonder how many people, when being confronted with these warnings, just close the tab4. Probably RMS would, but then again, he does not even use a browser or execute JavaScript, so who knows?

This is why I dislike the new web.

After a tour through this vale of tears, I really wonder: where did it all go wrong? Did designers at some point just decide that they are not interested in doing their job any more? Does anyone actually visit their own websites under, say, one of the following conditions:

  1. Low-bandwidth internet connections, such as the ones you might find at an airport or at an international conference. Good luck loading your bloated pages over what feels like a 56k modem.

  2. Small screens, such as, again, the one on your smartphone. I wonder if this is the reason why so many newspapers have additional apps, which of course just waste more space on my phone and start sending me notifications that I do not want—that might be the topic of another rant in the future.

  3. With the express goal of just reading an article, without wanting to register for a newsletter, or for a personalised feed, or anything.

I am also quite horrified at the lack of usability and accessibility. I really do not envy people with vision deficits. Their user experience must be even worse than mine. Once, we had ‘form follows function’. Now, the prevalent mode of thought seems to be concerned with slapping more and more hamburger menus and ads to websites.

I really dislike the new web.

What can we do? I know full well that I am not a proper designer. While I try my best with this website5, I am sure there are a lot of things I could improve. I think it would behove all of us to rethink just what we want to achieve with our websites. Primarily, they should be about transmitting information to other people, in an efficient manner6. Everything else should be secondary. Sure, choosing fonts and colours is important. Animated transitions and other tricks might also be nice, but again, this should all be secondary and, more importantly, tailored towards the medium. Think of the people consuming your content first because at some point, they will stop reading your content, or, equally bad for you, they will read other sites that syndicate your content and bring it into readable form. In any case, you might miss out on a lot of visitors.

I dislike the new web, but I hope that a better one can be built.

  1. Except for a selected subset of websites; more about that later in the article. ↩︎

  2. Who shall remain nameless because while I am well aware that this site does not get millions of visitors, even one additional click would be one too many. ↩︎

  3. Although, frankly, most of these rules are not useful because they do not address the root cause. ↩︎

  4. I really wonder about this, and I am a person that is very conscientious and actually reads license agreements because I have nothing better to do. ↩︎

  5. The theme I created for this website is called purus, the Latin word for pure, because I try to keep it as pure and simple as possible. ↩︎

  6. See also this minimalist website, which uses stronger language than I do in this article. The subsequent analysis and redesign by Maximilian Speicher is also well worth a read. ↩︎