March 3, 2021

Overweight Internet | Technology

Overweight Internet | Technology

Does anyone remember the blue Pokemon? That game for Game Boy, launched in Spain 20 years ago and considered a milestone in the history of videogames it fit – with all its possibilities of action, environments, characters and fantastic creatures – in a memory of one megabyte. A masterpiece of lightness, if compared to many websites today, which can be composed of just a few words and weigh up to three megabytes, says the Catalan developer and blogger Adrià Fontcuberta. Multimedia files, ads and trackers incorporated in the pages make the Internet have a growing problem of "obesity", warn this and other industry experts. Which means, they say, less accessibility for those who are not in good sailing conditions.

The Net is inflating more and more. And so he picks it up, the non-profit project that has been in charge for more than two decades of "recording the history of the Internet" and measuring its benefits. In May 2011 (when the data began to be recorded), the median weight of web pages in the mobile version was just over 0.1 megabytes. Last March (latest data available), has reached 1.7 megabytes. In the case of pages designed for desktop, the weight gain is no less striking: from a median of less than 0.5 megabytes per site in December 2010, it has been less than a decade to more than 1.8 megas (March 2019).

The problem of this excess of virtual fats (calculable both with the browsers themselves and with some web tools) has consequences, in particular, when navigating with mobile devices, explains Fontcuberta. When you enter a web, the browser that is used has to download both the development code and the elements -text, images, videos and other multimedia resources- necessary to "paint" it on the screen. This entails a time of loading the site, which is translated, if the Internet is accessed through a data plan, also in a consumption of the same.

The equation, says Fontcuberta, is simple: the more a page is weighed, the more time it will take to load it and the more data will be consumed for it. "In general, mobile browsing is slower and less reliable than a Wi-Fi or cable connection," explains the software engineer, who discussed the argument last March during the event. T3chFest, organized by the Carlos III University of Madrid. "If you are traveling by car or metro, the connection will come and go, if a web takes, for example, 15 seconds to load, it can fail in the middle or have other problems," he adds.

A user, with his computer in a 'campus party'
A user, with his computer in a 'campus party'


At the time of attributing the responsibilities of the increase of weight of the webs and of the consequent problems, Fontcuberta makes self-criticism. In his opinion, many times developers and designers do not focus their work on the user's needs, but rather on the intention to stand out within the community itself. And so, he believes, it's like the pages are filled with photos, videos or other unnecessary elements. "We love the complexity and the justification of why we leave it for later," he shared with the public attendees at his talk. He added: "We do things that we believe that not everyone can do, as it makes us feel important."

The causes of these problems are not only those who "make the web", according to the developer and disseminator. Sometimes, he considers, the decisions of the owners of the sites also influence: "those in charge of managing products and projects are pressured to do things with overweight, and transmit that pressure to the teams".

In his critique, Fontcuberta goes even further, indicating that most of the income derived from the Internet is controlled by a few (large companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon) and that is why anyone who wants to monetize is forced to incorporate its pages many ads and trackers of user activity (ads Y trackers in computer language).

All of them, he points out, are elements that excessively fatten the pages. The expert contrasts it by opening, for example, articles with a common browser and then with one that allows filtering cookies and block the ads. In the first case, the pages have a considerably greater weight.

An ethical issue and not only technical

Some members of the computer community point to the problem of Internet obesity for years. "I'm not worried that the Inflation is inefficient, I'm worried it will be inaccessible", it said for example in 2015 Maciej Cegłowski, well-known developer, entrepreneur and Polish-American social critic. Considerations like this can be a question of an ethical nature. "Weak benefits [de las webs] can lead to exclusion ", reflects in a post recently published Tim Kadlek, expert in the design of efficient pages.

In Fontcuberta's opinion, part of the solution has to come from the hands of the same developers and designers. "Who usually uses a Mac or another laptop similar to more than 1,000 euros, a last-generation mid-high-end phone or a high-quality fiber optic home connection? I do not think he's the average user of the Internet, nor of our products, "he maintained before his audience." You can improve the perspective on who is on the Internet, which is not our immediate circle, nor our echo camera on Twitter, "he suggested below.

Therefore, the Catalan developer believes that before focusing on creating perfect pages, his is to design "acceptable" experiences for as many people as possible. As he added in the talk, at the time of development would have to imagine "the worst case", in terms of accessibility, and then "go adding functionality and capabilities to the web as the user can support them." However, Fontcuberta believes that it is difficult to establish an ideal weight. "If we could make websites that weighed zero, it would be ideal, everything that is taken into account and reduced as much as possible, is positive."


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