Web Content Management

Bloat-to-content ratio is killing the web - here's how to fix it

An amazing recent blog post from Mozilla developer Les Orchard shines a bright light on one of the Web’s darker habits.  Despite its title, it’s not a particular pop at The Verge, which the author takes pains to say he likes. It’s a look at the way revenue models for web content sites in general have utterly poisoned the very thing they depend on.

In the post, Orchard looks at a one-page Web article. This has around 75 kilobytes devoted to actual content - words someone has written and the HTML wrapping they come in. But to read them, he had to download in the region of 10 megabytes - more than a hundred times as much - of trackers, adverts, Javascript and the like. As Morchard points out, that’s a hell of a chunk of change out of his data plan, not to mention a massive overhead on loading time, browser responsiveness, power sucked out of batteries and other things entirely inimical to the mobile experience everyone swears they want to make better.

As the raw text itself stripped of its formatting is 1,500 words taking around 10 kilobytes, there’s actually a 1000:1 ratio of bloat to content. Something like 40 companies have hitched a ride on that one page through embedded trackers, adverts and the like, and they all want a bit of you.

Put it this way - those modest 1,500 words have to support a thousand times their own weight, and any revenue generated from the reader - you - gets split up to support the entire writhing mass.  No wonder the predominant model of making money from internet publishing is to lose it.

Morchard goes on to talk about various models that might make things better, such as moving advertising to the browser for insertion, and to be sure there are engineering solutions that could cut out a lot of the heavy lifting. But that’s no real fix. The answer isn’t to have better ways to deliver more advertising. It’s about how to deliver less.

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Rupert Goodwins

Rupert Goodwins expected to be an engineer, but journalism happened. As an engineer, he worked in defence, for Sinclair Research and Amstrad, in startups and for himself. First appearing in print in 1982 and online in 1984,  he's written about all aspects of technology in business for most of the UK nationals and tech magazines, and was most recently editor of ZDNet UK. Tries to solve more problems... See More

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