Make the internet great again

Call me old fashioned, but the internet of 15 years ago is better than the internet we have today. Here’s how to fix it.

Make the internet great again
Credit: Stephen Sauer

I miss the Old Internet.

Call me a fuddy-duddy. Call me nostalgic for ye olden days. But I’ll say it right now, and I’ll stand by it: The internet was (in almost every way) better 15-plus years ago than it is today. 

And I’m not talking about just “the World Wide Web” either. All of it. It’s getting downright crummy. 

Let’s walk this through step by step. 

System resource usage 

If you go to CNN.com today, the front page of their website will take up just shy of 100 MB of RAM while it is loaded. By comparison, the same page from the year 2000 takes literally 1/10th that (thanks Archive.org). 

CPU usage is even worse. The idle CNN.com from the year 2000 just sits there. Happily eating just about 0% of even the slowest CPUs. Today’s version gobbles up a good 10% of the i7 sitting in front of me—while sitting idle. For a single page. Displaying a few news headlines. 

Results may vary from day to day and browser to browser, but all of you have experienced frustration at the resources used by websites and modern browsers. 

This is, to say the least, absolutely ridiculous. 

Webpage usability 

There was a time when webpages were static. They were marked-up, linked-together, text documents that made it easy to publish and find information and entertainment.

When interactive elements were added—such as via Java Applets or Flash—most internet users revolted. Because they were slow and buggy. Nobody wanted those piles of garbage around causing problems and making many pages simply fail to load on most web browsers.

Then, somewhere along the way, it was decided to simply incorporate that interactive functionality into a few of the largest web browsers themselves. Now almost every page dynamically moves elements around at will and re-renders the page in different ways as you resize your window. 

And it stinks.

Browser compatibility 

There was a time when you could load a webpage in any of a number of browsers and expect to be able to read that page—even on text-only, console-based web browsers. Sure, in that scenario you might not get to see the pictures embedded in the HTML, but the majority of the page would still load and lay itself out roughly like a graphical browser such as Netscape. 

Nowadays browsers get out of date in a matter of months (or, on the outside, just a few years). It’s to the point where some of the most popular websites will cease functioning (in any usable way) on web browsers that were released just a few years prior. 

That is 14 different kinds of dumb.

Tracking and privacy on the internet 

If you go to Amazon.com today, the site detects where you are physically located. If you are like me and use Tor or a VPN for added security, this means Amazon will think you are in a location you aren’t actually in. 

Amazon will then reject your orders and delete information from your account. Even after you spend time talking to their support people about it, the website will still be almost completely unusable for the basic task of buying a book. 

If you go to Amazon.com in the year 2000, you order a book and tell it where to ship. And it does. Done. 

All of which is a way of saying not only are we being tracked far more than we were in the year 2000, but the services we use actually work worse because of it. Not better. 

Community aspects 

Back in the 1990s we had Newsgroups (our message boards) and IRC (for real-time communication with individuals and groups). And it worked amazingly well.

Newsgroups were distributed among servers all over the world and kept in sync. There were one, central place where people could go to discuss just about anything: fan fiction, politics, technical topics, jokes—anything. If you were a fan of a particular show, you could find the Newsgroup on Usenet for that show and start discussions with other fans. 

You could have those conversations using any of a myriad different pieces of software to suit your needs. 

Nowadays you need to hunt down a message board, which is typically run for just that one show and running on one single server. You almost certainly need to use one of a small handful of web browsers (and likely one of the latest versions of those). And a single message thread probably eats up around 100 MB of RAM just to read it. 

And, of course, when you’re on that new fangled message board, content probably jumps all over the page—annoying the snot out of you. But don’t worry, it’s also slow to load. (Yeah, I’m looking at you Discourse.)

Not everything about today’s internet is worse 

Connection speeds are far, far better now, which is necessary because the size of webpages is exploding at a crazy pace. You need an internet connection that is roughly 10 times faster than what you had 15 years ago just to be able to load the exact same website. 

But having faster connections means more is possible. Streaming video is far better and more usable than it was in the 1990s. To be sure.

5 steps to make the internet good again

Several things need to happen.

  1. Web designers and developers, in large part, did this to us. Many of you are my dearest friends, but let me say this in direct terms: You broke the internet by incorporating way, way too much client-side logic and dynamic functionality into web pages. All of you should go back and remove all of that fluff and make your webpages fast and pleasant to use again.

  2. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) should rip out Javascript, Ajax, CSS, and every other technology used to build “web apps” from the standards. Just rip them straight out. Make the “Web” HTML again.

  3. Companies should all have a policy of not releasing webpage updates that fail to work properly on the last version of Netscape Communicator. Really. The last version of Netscape Communicator was released in 2002, and that was a long time ago. Deal with it. If you can make your website work in Netscape it’ll likely work on all modern browsers, as well—and older ones. And it’ll be faster. Your customers and site visitors will thank you for the speed increase.

  4. If a website takes more than, say, 15MB of RAM—or has a download size of over 1 MB—there better be a very good reason. It better be loading the most amazing HD video or something. Otherwise it was designed poorly, and whoever created it is clearly just trying to hurt everyone.

  5. Let’s ditch web-based message boards entirely, along with Facebook, and just go back to Usenet and Newsgroups.

The benefits of rolling back the internet

All of that may sound dramatic, and a bit on the extreme side, but just imagine the benefits:

  1. Web pages would load faster and not bog your system down. 
  2. Businesses would be able to serve more customers using the same servers and bandwidth. 
  3. People would be able to have increased freedom over what software they use. 
  4. People would be tracked less. 
  5. Bryan Lunduke wouldn’t be launched into a stabby, murderous rage whenever loading a “modern,” dynamic web page. 

Will this happen? No, probably not. But it should. 

And before you respond to this by declaring that this would send us back to the dark ages, come up with a set of concrete examples of tasks that could not be completed, in any way, if this were to happen. 

I haven’t been able to think of a single thing that the “New, dynamic, interactive, bloated, slow-loading Web” makes possible that was never possible before.

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