Wither the web (site)

Are web sites today so complicated because they have to be or because they can be?

I am sure if you are a web site designer, you believe the former, but as an end user and part time designer, I am really beginning to wonder.

For example, why do I need Flash, Silverlight, or Shockwave, to find where your restaurant is located? Why do I need to have JavaScript enabled to log into your web site? Why do I have to download megabytes of wrapper to read a couple of kilobytes of information?

While I understand the argument that a web site is supposed to represent your business or association as an online presence, I wonder who is doing the design and if they have any concept of the needs of the users on the other end.

The original idea of http/html was to make it easier to share information between academics, especially reports and other scholarly learning. And information sharing should still be at the heart of any web site. But if I have to jump through hoops to get access to your information, chances are I am going to be looking for my information some where else.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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overuse of the whiz-bang interface

terrymac's picture

There's a place for Flash, Silverlight, etc; my peeve is not with youtube, which uses flash to show videos, or chat sites, but with sites where the entire content from the top down is handled by Flash - menus, search, the whole enchilada. These sites are monstrously big and slow.

That said, we could do better than these proprietary closed-source technologies; it would be good to see a public open source technology replace them.

It's because idiot management

Anonymous's picture

It's because idiot management and marketing types want 1) some wizz-bang feature, and 2) want the web to work like a) a desktop app or b) a mainframe app or c) paper. Usually 1 and 2 at the same time.

Not for U

Peter's picture

You're right on target. The U in "GUI" doesn't exist in most developers' minds and hearts, and consequently in their products. Why is it so hard for them to walk a mile in my shoes??

Stop being silly

hpwca's picture

"if I have to jump through hoops to get access to your information, chances are I am going to be looking for my information some where else."

No you're not. You will do just as everyone else does and enable Flash, Silverlight, or Shockwave as well as JavaScript. And when you're Internet connection is bogged down to a turtle stuck in molasses the only place you'll be going is to your ISP to upgrade your account so it has a higher bandwidth.

The real truth is that people don't own their computers any more they just rent them from their ISP and the media companies they frequent on the Internet. What's more is that people don't care. They want their entertainment and that's all that matters. Which is another truth about the Internet. It's no longer about information or access to it. Those ISP's and media companies have turned it into just another medium to broadcast entertainment and advertising. And for those ISP's and media companies to know EXACTLY whose watching what and when.

The ISP's and media companies OWN you... and you won't be doing anything about it other than to help them solidify their ownership of you because you like it.

Nit picks

Luke Kendall's picture

See what the usability people say: have a look at Jakob Nielsen's http://www.useit.com/ - you're far from alone!

But I just wondered, since I think you're complaining more of overgrowth than withering: was this article meant to be titled "Whither the web"?

I believe the second

Robbie's picture

I believe sites are more complicated today because they can, and more complicated than they should be. As a web developer (freelance, and just getting started) I've realized that so many sites, including ones like facebook, have hit their target audience and focused purpose, but have exceeded the users needs. Why do I need so many applications that people can bother me with? Granted, I can block them, but point made.

Websites should be for the user, and focus on one purpose.

Google says: (http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html)
2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.

We do search. With one of the world's largest research groups focused exclusively on solving search problems, we know what we do well, and how we could do it better. Through continued iteration on difficult problems, we've been able to solve complex issues and provide continuous improvements to a service that already makes finding information a fast and seamless experience for millions of people. Our dedication to improving search helps us apply what we've learned to new products, like Gmail and Google Maps. Our hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives.

wither (or is that _bloat_?) the website.

Andrew Bryant's picture

Silly old me. I thought it was because web designers need to impress the people who pay them.

Complicated web sites

Peter's picture

I agree, they are needlessly complicated. Mostly because people enjoy to demonstrate their skills in web development. Fair enough I suppose to a certain extent...... but nothing beats a nice clean simple web site. IE: www.linuxjournal Where even I can make sense of the source.

Suddenly I Can See

Philip S. Ruckle Jr.'s picture

Thanks for the view. I have always tried to make any web site I administer quick to load and simple to view. It seemed like the right thing to do even if I did not know why. The simple answer is that I have been trying to focus on sharing information. After all, is that not why most web sites are there?

What about useless podcasts?

M. Fioretti's picture

Most of the discussion is about flash and silverlight, but what about web pages that have no such frills, but only contain a podcast for something that should have been much better expressed as simple text? See point 3 of this guide:




David Lane's picture

I will second this as one of my pet peeves at news sites. Most of the video followup to a story could just as easily be done in a couple of lines of text, instead of having to wait to download the vid, listen to the ad and then watch the coverage. Of course, that is when I am not at a site that blocks access to streaming media, such as most federal sites and an increasing number of commercial customers.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

agreement, with nitpick

shremedy's picture

I heartily agree with the sentiments of the article; reference to a comment above about 1200 baud, I recall when even THAT was considered "high speed" -- I first went online with a 300-baud acoustic coupler. And substituting numbers for letters? D00d, that's soooo 1980's, it's not funny. As far as my nitpick goes, it's the title of this article. Call me oversensitive to verbiage if you must, but the word the author wanted was "whither"; "wither" with no "h" means to atrophy, shrivel or dry up, as in "wither away and die". I rather suspect that's not what was meant. ;) Spell-check is the enemy!

Blame the 14 year olds

Treah's picture

At some point we started to let twitchy people make the decisions for these sort of things. Considering that most sites are dictated by high paid "designers" its not surprising to see this sort of thing. But alas they will never learn. The reason google got so big was because there site was devoid of all the normal shit you see on other search sites. But for some reason everyone with a site thinks they need this sort of thing to attract customers. There are times when I see tones of code written in java that you can do simply with html and the only reason its that way is because the web site building software knows no other way and I would say that about 50% of the people who make web pages have little understanding of HTML.

Blame the ISPs

JimmyTheGeek's picture

Back in the day, when we had 1200 baud cradles for the handsets on our phones, there were BBS sites. It's pretty much how the web started -- fanatics in whatever discipline exchanging textual information. Most everybody had a phone line, but access to the Internet was $$/hour, rather than $$/month.

Eventually we had 56k modems inside our desktop towers, and we thought we were cooking with gas! Web sites started popping up that had colorful backgrounds & text, and some even had real pictures! It's how nearly all home users got on the net, as most folks couldn't afford ISDN or T1 connections.

Then the phone & cable companies discovered they could provide T3 or better speeds over the phone & cable lines, and broadband was born. However, the ISPs forgot about those of us in rural America. They say we don't matter because they can't show their shareholders a return on investment in less than 3 years. Never mind that they are making profits that would easily cover the capital investments.

So now, those millions of us who choose to live a life in the country are stuck with dial-up or worse, satellite service that is unreliable AND expensive. A "rich-content" site's load time is great for making sandwiches, going to the bathroom, taking a nap, whatever, though, so it's not all bad. As a matter of fact, my local television station has a mobile web site that is great for my needs as a dial-up user. The regular site is full of Flash video, interactive maps and advertisements that take about 15 minutes to load completely. Great time for lunch!

Website Owners Horrified Visiting Their Site In Abaco/Dillo/Lynx

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Website Owners Horrified Visiting Their Site In Abaco/Dillo/Lynx!

As bandwidth becomes an ever-increasing concern, internet users will shun the bloated bandhogs.

Here is what our friend Steve Gibson has to say:

Starving The Monkeys Continually And Forevermore,
John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


I have browsed the web with

kabniel's picture

I have browsed the web with Flash and JS disabled by default for years now, and only enable if i really have to.
I recently tried to use a browser without any content blocking and noticed just how crazy some sites are, it's like trying to read something while having people jumping and shouting around you trying to get your attention.

(I would have rated your article, and i also tried to change from the horrible "newest comments first" which most sites insist on using to "oldest first", but i need to have cookies enabled to do so ;))

And from Twitter...

David Lane's picture

This was not a comment to my post, but I found it funny that I saw it today:

@IMGoph dear wapo—the fact that your website loads from about 43294 different servers confuses the hell out of the browser at work. please simplify.

So thanks for that too ;-)

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

You need Balance

metalx2000's picture

Like any type of programing you want to have a well functioning program and make it look nice.
Some of the most important things to take into account are; system resources, compatibility, and user friendliness. The web should be a place were you can go and have everything work without having to worry about what OS you are using, screen size, or computer speed. To ignore these things is just laziness and poor programming. Flash is great for moves, but it's not really needed to make a nice looking site. If it is used there should be an alternative site with a non flash setup. Just as Compiz is nice, but I can turn it off if needed.

Flash has just been built up so big in the minds of the business world that it's almost become a requirement. Programming should be about being efficient. The programmers shouldn't give in to the demands of the business world. but, some times you have to go where the money is.

Everything you ever need to know about Free Software.

Question or directive?

D.Nielsen's picture

Is the title a rhetorical question, "Whither the web?" or is it actually a directive: "Wither the web!"


David Lane's picture

But I had to think about it a couple of times...

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Good Article & Good Comments

waparmley's picture

Good article and good comments! Sometimes I browse with elinks just to see whether a particular web site is more focused on providing information or "glitz".

I guess this trend is not really new, just an extension of the animated gif "dancing bears," but I agree that it is getting out of control!

Dancing Gophers...

David Lane's picture

Once upon a time, it was fun to see what you could do but when the gristle replaces the meat, it is time to rethink...

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

totally agree

Tom Gerhard's picture

Thanks for this!

Though I understand the desire for creating attractive and interesting sites, the overwhelmingly vast majority of content on the web is mired in frills and whiz-bang that provides absolutely no value to visitors. To take the restaurant example, why should I have to sit through a Flash gallery of interior shots and menu items when I just want to know the hours of operation?

People use the Web today like they used phone books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries in the past. They are there for information, pure and simple. Many users do not employ the most updated browsers or hardware, nor do they want to. Most designers fail to realize this. They overlook the fact that the main purpose of http/html is to present and share information with others.

The ones who keep that in mind do a greater service to both their customers and the site's visitors.

My pet peeve, thank you!

Rickb's picture

It seems no one wants to speak out about this so much - just the daring blogger.

My screen at work is 1280x1024. Plenty of room. Virtually every web application here scrolls past the bottom, most just enough to force me to scroll to click the Submit button at the bottom. Why? Do the developers have 1600 screens? Do they even care? When I raise this question in design or UAT sessions, I get blank stares.

Why DO I need Flash for everything?

Why DO I need Silverlight at all?

The Web is becoming Television. This was a widespread fear in the early 90s, and it is coming to us relentlessly. And it will cripple the Web. It's so bad that I'm getting ready to revamp my website and Joomla seems the simplest thing out there. And I'm wondering how to also have a mobile-friendly site alongside.

And to ice the cake, my G-1 phone will happily pull up my iGoogle page - in an undesireable mobile format - unless I change browsers. if I wanted the 'consistent user experience' (Google's one words) on my mobile device, I would have bought a consistently average (=sub-par) device. But I bought a G-1. iPhone users feel free to join in. So I play games with my iGoogle page to get it rendering like I want it.

It's not just complexity. Web designers are falling down the well of over-experiencing the user. Looking up a restaurant location on your well-endowed Web phone gets you a Javascripted page and a Google map, and a 45 second wait for it all to show. And navigation buttons that are nearly useless on a touchscreen. You end up going to Google Maps, and that may be why. Google Maps are good enough that going to a restaurtant chain's website is now pointless.

Don't get me started on banking logins that won't let you touch-select correctly.

It is all an exercise in excess. And some of it doesn't even work.

It's an appalling wasteland

fest3er8's picture

Unless I truly must visit an ugly web site, I simply won't waste my time wading through the manure on web sites that I cannot read or that my browser cannot display. Over the years, I've come to some conclusions why such horrendous web site exist.

People who want websites are generally clueless. They don't know what they want to communicate, nor do they know how they want to communicate it. All they know is a vague, "Well, everyone's got a web site, so I gotta have one too! Make one for me, please!" I've pert near given up trying to get people to give me even the simplest outline of what they want to communicate. Give me a gritty, crusty rock that has some interesting fossils on it; I'll clean it and polish it into a shiny stone that would fit well on a shelf of curios. It's the web site owner's job to feed me content; as a web site creator, it's my job both to polish that content and to present it.

People who create web sites are generally clueless. They don't know how to communicate. They don't know what to communicate. They never learned simple elements of style. They see a video screen and can only think, "Say, here's a TV. And I can control the content!" And they throw everything, including the toilet and sink, onto the web site. They suffer tunnel vision; they see only a TV and spend their time cramming as much (manure) onto that little display as they possibly can.

It doesn't help that the default DTDs are (fetid manure) or that the availability of better ones is unpublicized. It doesn't help that HTML is becoming too complex for average people to use. It doesn't help that browser makers all implement HTML differently and wrong. It doesn't help that most browsers are written by egos, rather than by thinking, reasoning, reflective people. It doesn't help that school and colleges do not teach their students how to communicate effectively and efficiently. It doesn't help that people have attention spans measurable in seconds. These and other social 'deficiencies' all combine to produce web sites that are unreadable, incomprehensible and aesthetically abhorrent.

Employing some simple rules and guidelines would make a world of difference. Literally. A website is not television and never will be. It is a curious amalgam of any of the print, videographic, photographic and audio media. Because it is closest to a print medium (meaning that the information presented is generally static at any given time), many typesetting rules that apply to print media apply to web sites:

  • Whitespace is your friend. Think what my post here would look like with little or no white space.
  • Headings belong with what they are heading, not in the middle of nowhere, as they are even on this site.
  • Use very few font faces. Information should be presented in a consistent manner; a change in font face is a visual cue that is it a different kind or group of information.
  • Font sizes are generally visual cues to the outline of a group of information.

By and large, a web site should be designed so that the human eye/brain can easily locate, process and organize groups of information, and just as easily ignore groups of information that are irrelevant to the reader at the time of reading. Perhaps it would help to remember that the human brain is a wonderful, complex pattern matching machine. If you want people to visit and enjoy your web site, make sure your information is presented in easily recognized groups and patterns.

An aspiring web site designer should first master the rules and techniques of print media, then master using the variant of them for web sites. Then she should master the rules and techniques of the next medium she wants to incorporate into a web site before actually using them. We will continue to be inundated with manure-laden web sites until designers take the time to learn their trade and their tools.

Web Designers

Ken Firestone's picture

I have been involved with web sites since the mid 90s, and I have come to the conclusion that most, but not all web designers are egotistical morons. And this is before flash, javascript, etc. One of my "favorites" was a site that used burnt orange type on a dark brown background. Of course, most of the web designers just consider type to be another design element. I'm not sure they even know how to read.

And then there are the folks who design for the monitor they have on their desks, not for the monitor belonging to the poor slob trying to view the site on an old computer over dialup. There is some justice however. I once showed Greasemonkey to a web designer, and explained that it could give control of the viewing experience back to the end user. He nearly crapped in his pants.

Type as a design element

David Lane's picture

While I only had a few typography courses in University, and recognize the value of type as a design element, it is something that should be used sparingly and only for affect, not for base communication. When the font and format get in the way of the words, you have gone too far.

Most web designers I have encountered have no background in basic typography or layout or visual communications and they are trying to convert existing hard copy. This is changing, but sadly, without the right background, we continue to struggle.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Haven't you had to reboot

Luis Gutierrez's picture

Haven't you had to reboot your dual-boot computer because Java over Linux just can't browse an important web site?
Haven't you had to guess which in a dozen JavaScripta need to be allowed to browse a website?