John Paul Davis

Thoughts

Sweet Sixteen

  1. I designed and built the previous version of this site, its fifteenth, in early 2017. At the time, my book of poems, Crown Prince Of Rabbits, was about to be published, and I wanted to refit the site to promote the book and invite readers to explore newly-published poems, as well as explore my other projects. I also wanted the site to function as a sort of portfolio piece displaying the best of my work writing HTML, CSS and Javascript. Since then, a number of things have shifted for me, and I decided earlier this year it was time for a redesign, resulting in the sixteenth version of this site. For example, I’ve learned about how bad for the planet big websites that consume a lot of data are; internet usage now accounts for more greenhouse gas production than the airline industry (and this was before the recent pandemic grounded most planes.) Already troubled by that (my very livelihood relies on the internet), I ran across Nick Heer’s excellent takedown of what he calls “the bullshit web,” that is:

    CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor.

    Needless to say this struck a chord in me; I remember about 10 years ago being dumbfounded that not only would companies allow the scripts of other companies to collect information on their sites and about their customers (which they could, among other things, sell to competitors thanks to the data being "anonymized") but they'd pay for the privilege. You know how so much of the web is now terrible to use? Slow, irritating, like standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles while conspiracy theorists and snake oil salesmen yell at you? That's the bullshit web. Tracking pixels, webfonts, giant images and videos, modals that pop up insisting you create an account or turn off your ad-blocker or sign up for the newsletter before you’re allowed to access the website at all make up the bullshit web, and not surprisingly these are also the techniques and technologies that increase the page weight, and therefore the carbon footprint, of websites.

    Being no lover of surveillance capitalism, or bad user experience, and being someone who is concerned about climate change, I became convinced that not only did I need to start advocating against the above techniques and technologies when devising solutions for clients, but I also needed to remake my personal site to reflect my ethics and politics.

    I am also a lover of typography, and my experience with making anything is that one does not always get ideal conditions when designing or building anything. We all used to chafe at the restrictions with font availability for websites. Then came webfonts and we thiught we were saved but now, webfonts are often one of the heaviest resources loaded into a page. Webfonts were a much-needed improvement, repalcing hacky Flash or PHP implementations, but these days, devices are coming with more fonts in common and better fonts, and I've seen websites that load 2-3 megabytes of webfonts alone. So I have gone from being someone who once considered webfonts a godsend to considering them a perfect example of solving a problem with a bigger problem. Thankfully, now there is widespread support for loading and using a device’s system font in a webpage, and I have gone back to the common practice of the 1990s, and using only fonts available on a local machine. (For the curious: I make use of Jonathan Neal's system font CSS for the sans-serif fonts, and Athelas, with fallbacks to Constantia, then Georgia, for the serif font stack; as of 2020, Athelas is incluced most modern operating systems.) I've reached what I think is an elegant, typography-centric design for this site that doesn’t load any webfonts at all (unless you’re counting the custom font I use to display icons, which I am not, because it’s only technically a font by virtue of its file type, and that only weighs 2 kilobytes).

    The result is what you are currently reading. Most pages on this site weigh under 50 kilobytes, unless the page is one that includes images (like the Music page) and in those cases, the server is optimizing all images to a pleasant, but not exacting quality, so that images are between 40 and 100 kilobytes. The Music page, which loads (right now) 6 album cover images, each around 50K, is far and away the heaviest page on the site, weighing in at 257K, which, by comparison, is one fifth the size of the Google homepage on a day when there’s no Google doodle.

    Some folks are probably wondering if I’m going to miss Google analytics, or fancy Javascript interactions, third-party APIs and so on. I’m pretty sure I won’t. Firstly, I’d have to be the sort of person who adjusts what I create to match an identified trend, and, frankly, I’m not that person. Secondly, what good has actually come from all this surveillance? Facebook and Google arguably have more data than anyone else about everyone, and perhaps that data has allowed them to make a lot of money (because others are willing to pay them for it), but it has also resulted in Facebook becoming a truly sinister company, and Google, who used to have the motto “don’t be evil” had to reject that motto because even they know what road they are headed down. The aims of surveillance capitalists make them my political enemies, and I do not wish to add to their munitions. As for fancy Javascript: I like writing Javascript; it’s fun. But this site doesn’t need it, and very likely, neither does yours. All in all, I think this new look is a marked improvement, and it’s my hope more web developers will begin to advocate for smaller, less intrusive websites.