Quincy Zikmund

The dystopian modern web

I'm 35 years old and I've been online regularly since middle school.

My first email address and instant messenger was Compuserve, followed quickly by the hot new service of that day: AOL. What a time to be online.

In addition to filling the family computer with viruses while trying to download music from Limewire, we did something called web surfing, which I suppose was the precursor to modern scrolling. The main difference being that web surfing consisted of browsing and following links on and to decentralized and independent websites.

Many would laugh at the websites of 25 years ago. So basic and quaint. But they were also lightweight and informational. Purposeful.

Today we have a very different internet. Instead of independent blogs and forums we have a web effectively ran by just a few trillion dollar corporations. The goal of the websites and apps where we spend the most of our time isn't to add value to our lives. The goal is to extract as much value and time as possible from the users.

They don't want you hopping from site to site and sharing your life, interests, and hobbies on a blog that you own. They want everything to happen right in their ecosystem. Instead of curated content by real people, we're served recommended content from algorithms. And even if you do wander to other websites these companies (Meta, Google, Amazon, etc.) are still collecting your data and habits through trackers on those other websites.

How designers and developers are to blame

If centralization wasn't bad enough, we're stuck with an internet that is simply annoying to use.

Websites are bloated with heavy and unnecessary software and scripts. We're inundated with cookie banners, email signup popups, ads, sponsored content, auto-play videos, etc., etc.

When I visit a website I don't want a slideshow. I don't want resource-heavy animations. I don't want sticky headers. And I don't want content that slides in from all sides. These things don't make a website more fun and interesting to use. These things make a website annoying at best, and completely inaccessible to many people at worst.

Just because you can design or develop something, doesn't mean you should.

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they 'could', that they didn't stop to think if they 'should'. - Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

Our goal today as web developers and designers should be to create simple, useful, and lightweight websites that are actually usable and respect user privacy. Not just a minimalist design, but a simple and only-what's-necessary back-end powering that design as well.

Further reading

Websites must be accessible | Norma

Death to Bullshit | Brad Frost

The Website Obesity Crisis | Idle Words

#social media #web design