Web waste | Gerry McGovern

A great overview of the state of the modern web from a UX and environmental perspective. Gerry notes the impact of image and videos (and JavaScript) on websites today:

Study after study shows that people absolutely hate slow webpages. In 2018, Google research found that 53% of mobile site visitors left a page that took longer than three seconds to load. A 2015 study by Radware found that β€œa site that loads in 3 seconds experiences 22% fewer page views, a 50% higher bounce rate, and a 22% fewer conversions than a site that loads in 1 second, while a site that loads in 5 seconds experiences 35% fewer page views, a 105% higher bounce rate, and 38% fewer conversions.”

That is a result of webpages growing from ~100kb to > 4Mb on average in the past ten years, which has a genuine environmental impact:

Consider that if a typical webpage that weighs 4 MB is downloaded 600,000 times, one tree will need to be planted in order to deal with the resulting pollution... If you want to save the planet, use more text [over images]. Think about digital weight.

Processing demands are almost as important as sheer page weight, and here JavaScript (particularly third-party scripts like ad tracking) and animations cause a lot of the issue.

It’s like a type of Trojan Horse. You think you’re accessing one website
or app, but then all these other third parties start accessing you.
According to Trent Walton, the top 50 most visited websites had an
average of 22 third-party websites hanging off them. The New York Times
had 64, while Washington Post had 63. All these third-party websites
create pollution and invade privacy.

Out-of-date information, pointless pages, and poorly optimised code all share significant chunks of the blame too:

By cleaning up its JavaScript code, Wikipedia estimated that they saved
4.3 terabytes a day of data bandwidth for their visitors.

(FWIW, that Wikipedia fact is equivalent to about 700 new trees a year in carbon capture)

Gerry also goes through a useful thought exercise of trying to determine what a page is about based on the images it contains. If you can't even get close, then are those images actually worthwhile?

Digital is greedy for energy and the more it grows the greedier it gets.
We need digital innovation that reduces environmental stress, that
reduces the digital footprint. We need digital designers who think about
the weight of every design decision they make.

Also, very interesting results of some studies looking at the impact of images. In one (advertising pension policies) the ad with an image was deemed less trustworthy by most people; in another (government scheme to increase organ donor registration) the use of images resulted in the least effective combinations across all tested. Pictures don't always improve content, in other words, and sometimes they actively hurt it.

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