TheWebIsBroken

The web is broken because it is so huge – the tech stack is huge, the feature set is huge. In The reckless, infinite scope of web browsers, Drew DeVault downloaded all 1,217 of the W3C specifications (back in March 2020) and counted the words: 114 million words. For laughs, he compares this word count with the sum total of the word count in the C11, C++17, UEFI, USB 3.2, and POSIX specifications, all 8,754 published RFCs, and the combined word counts of everything on Wikipedia’s list of longest novels, and you’d still be 12 million words short of the W3C specifications.

It is impossible to reimplement the web. It is impossible to implement a feature complete browser.

Or seen in another way, we now have de-facto browser monopolies because it has become impossible to compete. Which is why Mozilla can get away with a lot of the things it does. There’s no alternative, unless you’re willing to sacrifice features. Qutebrowser, Netsurf, Dillo, Lynx: these are all alternatives that are not feature complete.

The only way we’re going to get back to technology that we can understand by radical minimalism. We need to get back to the idea that a single person should be able to implement things in a day or two.

Why is minimalism a thing? Why does it have to be mandated?

I think the first question would be: who does the choosing? In a world where we all use the web, some authors can choose to use minimalism in web design: little CSS, simple HTML, no Javascript, no content from other domains, a focus on documents instead of imagining the web as a generic interface to all applications. It’s possible to do. The choice lies with the web author.

The choice does not lie with the reader, though! The reader who tries to surf the web with text browsers such as w3m, lynx, or eww, or with very limited browsers such as dillo, soon runs into problems. Sometimes the text itself can be read, but interaction is difficult. Headers and footers are often terrible. The list of links at the top of pages is terribly long and messy. You can’t view contents of a tweet in a browser that does not support JavaScript. It’s also hard to find the beginning of that README if you visit a project’s page on GitHub. So many links!

The choice also does not lie with developers, surprisingly. The developer who tries to create a different browser, the developer who tries to extend HTML, the developer who tries to extend Javascript, all developers on the web soon realise that everything is fucking huge. The code base for Firefox is huge. The code base for Chromium is huge. The number of web standards is huge. The Javascript APIs are huge. The number of open issues in the bug trackers is huge. The Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) wiki is huge. Even the processes one has to follow to propose new things are huge. The hoops one has to jump through to propose new Emojis for Unicode.

And how much weight there is to all these things. How much business, money, capital, investments, jobs. Unicode is going to be forever and ever as long as we use text, I think. All those stupid pictures of technology that we no longer use are going to stay with us for the next ten thousand years. It boggles the mind.

Therefore, individual developers effectively have no choice. The number of people and the amount of capital required to create a new fully-featured web browser is unimaginable.

That is why SmolNet matters.

That is why people like Adrian Cochrane (@alcinnz) working on the Odysseus browser have very specific opinions on what to implement and what to drop.

That is why Gemini matters. Gemini allows many developers to write clients and servers. It gives users back choice.

Solderpunk (@solderpunk) wrote Why not just use a subset of HTTP and HTML?

“… to create a clearly demarcated space where people can go to consume only that kind of content in only that kind of way, which is what I think we really want.”

In French, Le Web est-il devenu trop compliqué ? by Stéphane Bortzmeyer (@bortzmeyer):

« je ne parle pas ici des applications tournant sur le Web … , non, je parle des pages Web de contenu, qui ne devraient pas avoir besoin de toute cette artillerie. »

CategoryWebBrowser

Discussion

new: 2021-01-07 14:49 UTCLionKimbro:

The sheer COST of the web is so high, that I can easily imagine that, in 10, 20 years, the web will not occupy the same dominance that it does today.

I remember that in the late 1990’s, e-mail was king. To have an e-mail account was a big thing, and the possession of an e-mail account was the big prize. E-mail was how you talk with people.

Today, for myself and most people around me, at least, e-mail is not king. E-mail is this archaic form of communication, that is used for two, maybe three purposes, primarily:

  • 1. To authenticate to a website.
  • 2. To receive spam and newsletters.
  • 3. To send resumes.

I use SMS, Signal, Line, Facebook comments, Messenger, Wiki, Slack, and Discord to send messages in the main.

The only places I know that still use e-mail are big companies. Small companies, though, I think use Slack.

So – that’s a big change, from an institution that was dominant for at least 2 decades.

I suspect the age of e-mail was something like: 1975 - 2005.

It’s not at all impossible for me to imagine that the story of the web will be the same.

If not the web, what?

A lot of people experience the Internet via a video game. My daughter lived inside FinalFantasyXIV? for several years.

I often imagine a general WIMP system for applications that delivers windows over the Internet. Today, when a developer tries to write an application in a web browser, they are fighting a number of things that simply don't make sense between the web-page addressing and navigation system offered by the web browser, and the particular needs of the application. Does a text editor really need Alt-Left to be bound to “Go back” ..? Do all those tabs at the top of the page really help, or the re-load page button? Or what about all of those, browser-dependent, hot key bindings? Is it really the case that every purpose is better served with a web page browser as the backbone, and HTML as the presentation system? It should be possible to just go to a URL for an application, and the application window appears before you, just as if it were a native program running - like EMACS, or Excel, or Word, or a game, or what have you.

I can also imagine that people will download special clients for special kinds of interactions. People do it all the time – they install games, for instance, on Steam, all the time. Those games aren’t running in a web browser. They’re custom client downloads. What’s to say that easy-installation package managers for client installation and execution won’t become more common in the next 5 years? And what’s to say that if you want to access something indexed by some URI, your system won’t just say, “OK, you can see this, but you need to install this program first? And it requires these capabilities.” We do that on our phones, all the time, so why not on the desktop? Facebook is one of the most popular things people do on the Internet. But if you’re using it from your phone, you’re not using a web browser – you’re running a custom client.

I can imagine a wiki-like environment, with a custom client. Perhaps it’s for a VM, so it works on most desktop systems. The web is completely side-stepped, it lives in its particular environment. If you want to share something “on the web,” you can do so – the server might make a web-browsable version of pages too, they just might not be as easy to work with. The principle work, though, would be performed within the custom client environment.

It just seems to me that the idea that the web, this big huge hulking beast, is going to be the only thing for the remainder of the 21st century, – it doesn’t seem likely to me.

I may eat my words come 2050, and I wouldn’t be surprised – I mean, when I went to the LivingComputerMuseum? in Seattle and used a refurbished Unix system from the mid-1970’s, I was shocked that – ls, cd, chmod, cat, find, mkdir, … the commands I use on a daily basis, were all right there, just like I was used to. This from a system written before I was born. It’s 50 years later, and we’re still doing the same thing. So I won’t be surprised if the web is still what we use in 2050.

Or maybe both will be true. E-mail still exists after all. Perhaps, the web will still exist. It’ll just – be one of those things that is kinda used for certain purposes, kind of a holdover from the past, but mostly supplanted by other systems.

new: 2021-01-07 21:21 UTCTimurIsmagilov:

Good comment, Lion.

I don’t think the web is going anywhere. But I do think it will transform.

Many of my friends rarely open web browser. Here, you have VK, you talk here. And here is Instagram, you talk here too maybe, but most importantly, you look at stories here. Oh, this is TikTok?, you laugh here. If you actually need to search for info and just consume content, hold your center button and ask Google.

See, there’s no place for web browser here. Indeed, web pages are shown in the Google app, and all of the SocialMedia can still be browsed from the browser but who does it? Younger normies don’t.

The web is still strong on computers. I expect technologies like PWA and Electron to become even stronger. Thanks to Apple with its M1 processor which many vendors will mimic, web tech won’t be slow anymore.

But as for me, I can’t imagine myself not using web browser. This is how I get to edit wikis, including CyberRachel. Also, there are tabs, unlike Google app. I think computer web browser will become something like its mobile counterpart. Not used by normies.

But why haven’t Google still created desktop application? Not GoogleChrome, I’m talking about GoogleApp?.

SmolNet will blossom as a counter-culture both for consumers, content creators and developers. If you want something exotic, why not visit that exciting small network? If you despise those SocialMedia ruled by lizards, why not create a Gemini capsule? And if you’re scared of implementing the whole web stack, just make a SmolNet browser!

By the way, I finally understood how my dream SmolNet browser should look like. I’ll write more about it on MetaShip.

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