The Rise of the Bullshit Web and the Bullshit Around Us

Technology Jul 31, 2018

I’ve been finding more and more people writing about the bloated and so called “bullshit web” over the past couple of months.  This isn’t geared at the actual content consumed on the internet but the underlying software that traverses the millions of miles of copper, glass, and surrounds us with radio waves radiating from cellphone towers and smartphones that makes a webpage work.

As Nick Heer said in his “The Bullshit Web” post over at Pixel Envy:

I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article.

I remember this web too, heck the  first modem that connected to the outside world topped out at 14.4K.  Pages took forever to load, images even longer, and tiny pixelated videos would be still loading today if my online usage wasn’t monitored.

But those times of when I was exploring this new frontier was almost 25 years ago.  Why do some websites not loading instantaneously if we’re in the age of broadband connections in our homes and pockets?

Nick goes into dissecting and stating that the “vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page”.  He breaks down a CNN article and what it fetches:

  • Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB
  • Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB
  • Twenty frames
  • Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB
  • Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

All those items listed above need to be fetched from multiple servers, sent as electrons (copper cables), light (fiber optics), or radio waves (wireless) or a combination of all three.  This doesn’t even account for the back and forth of other systems to do DNS resolution (converting domain names to IP addresses).  All that can be done at speeds measuring in milliseconds independently.  Together it all adds up and can become multiple seconds.

I came across this myself when working on this site and noticed a lot of junk was being loaded when visiting this website.  The site would take at times upwards of 30 seconds to load completely.  Some things I did:

  • Nixed any plugin that loaded scripts or code from slow third parties
  • Removed ads hosted on third parties
  • Went with a “default” theme/look for the site that wasn’t taxing or added extra flashiness to the site

Doing these items and a few others got page loads to around one to two seconds and doesn’t load an obscene amount of stuff from others.  This is a win for the reader not just in time saved that would be spent waiting for the page to load, but also in CPU cycles (aka power).  One less script needed to be loaded and processed by the browser is less power the CPU uses and less power used.

Now, the above article also sparked something that I had heard/read years ago regarding automobiles.

Compared to cars from the past, fuel mileage is pretty damn good.  But has adding creature comforts and new tech robbed us from even better mileage? Think about the air Conditioning, stereo systems, navigation/infotainment units, power seats and windows in a car. All those items have slowly evolved over the years from being pie in the sky ideas to things that are standard in any new car.  And there’s no end in sight as to what can become a standard that’s found in a basic new car.  To take this a step into the next generation of automobiles, think about the extra weight and complexity a standard autonomous driving system will add to a base model automobile and how much mileage it’d get if that extra weight wasn’t there?  Now this is all referring to non electric vehicles… but even with electric cars, it still takes more power/energy to move a heavier object.

What do you think? Is adding “bullshit” and stuff part of human nature and we’ll always be adding as long as there’s “bandwidth” to support the extra bloat? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.


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