A compressed copy of the installer for the shareware version of Doom takes up about 2.39MB of space. Today’s average webpage, meanwhile, requires users to download about 2.3MB worth of data, according to HTTP Archive, a site that tracks website performance and the technologies they use.
That’s not totally analogous comparison, but it does illustrate the web’s growing obesity problem. “Recall that Doom is a multi-level first person shooter that ships with an advanced 3D rendering engine and multiple levels, each comprised of maps, sprites, and sound effects,” Cremin writes on MobiForge, a site for mobile web developers. “By comparison, 2016’s web struggles to deliver a page of web content in the same size.”
So how did we get here? As internet connections have gotten faster, publishers and developers worry less about efficiency. That’s led to a growing number of analytics scripts, animated ads, and high-resolution photographs. Each individual script may be small, but eventually they add up, slowing down page loads not just by adding bulk but by increasing the number of connections required to load a page.
Apart from being inefficient–and potentially violating users’ privacy–this massive growth in page size could wind up costing users money. Wireless internet providers have been phasing out unlimited data plans for years, and even unlimited plans tend to throttle speeds after users hit a certain download limit. Fixed line internet providers like Comcast are also imposing bandwidth limits, which means that one day soon every megabyte might count.
As internet connections have gotten faster, publishers and developers worry less about efficiency.
Bloated pages also make sites dreadfully slow to load for users on slower connections, such as the 2.3 million people who as of last year still used AOL dial-up, or those living in developing countries–not to mention people who have high-speed LTE connections on their phones but just happen to be in a spot with bad reception.
The good news, according to Cremin’s research, is that the top 10 most popular sites based on Alexa’s rankings are significantly lighter than the average page, and they’re getting lighter every month. If these popular sites are trendsetters, we should expect other sites to follow.
Meanwhile, organizations ranging from Google and Facebook to MIT are working on new technologies to speed pages up. Each approach has its drawbacks—for example, you have to host your content on Google’s servers to take full advantage of its Accelerated Mobile Pages program, or AMP. But the message is clear: it’s time for the web to burn some fat to avoid certain DOOM.