The Web Is Broken, But Don’t Blame Apps


“The Web Is Broken!” has become a familiar theme, with apps generally called out as the bogeyman. We’re in love with the convenience of apps, spending dramatically more time with apps than our web browser on phones. This won’t be without consequence. 

As the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims argues, “Underneath all that convenience is something sinister: the end of the very openness that allowed Internet companies to grow into some of the most powerful or important companies of the 21st century.”

But the Web was broken long before apps came along, fractured by poor programming choices of millions of developers. 

In other words, apps aren’t the problem. You are.

Your Web Developer Stinks

After all, would we developers gravitate to apps if the Web was keeping up?

By the HTTP Archive’s estimate, Web pages in 2014 bloated by 15% even as connection speeds fell behind, driven largely by overweight CMS templates and frameworks. This is better than the 32% jump in 2013 and the 30% rise in 2012, but it’s still problematic, especially considering that more and more people are accessing the Web through their phones on 3G or LTE connections.

The problem, as Craig Buckler points out, is sloth:

We can summarize the problem in one simple word: laziness. Developers are at fault—that’s you and me. We have plenty of excuses: there’s never enough time; the client insisted it should be done this way; the budget/schedule is too tight; I inherited a shoddy system; I don’t have the tools.

But whatever the excuse, the effect is the same: a slower-moving Web, which will struggle to compete with high-performance applications.

But maybe it’s not just sloth. Perhaps it’s ignorance, as well, as Web developer Deane Barker insists:

A lot of Web developers today are completely ignorant of the protocol that is the basis for their job. A core understanding of HTTP should be a base requirement for working in this business.

Of course it’s not. That’s one of the great things about the Web: the low barrier to entry for would-be developers. I can’t count the number of times hoary-headed developer friends of mine have lamented the rise of “Javascript monkeys” with no solid foundation in “real programming.” While it mostly sounds like grumpy old men whining about the “good ol’ days,” there’s an element of truth to the complaints. 

But regardless of the cause, the effect is the same: a dwindling of interest in the Web among end-users and, consequently, among developers.

Google To The Rescue

Rather than let the Web languish in broken ignominy, Google has a few answers to fix the Web. Given how much it has riding on a fully functioning Web ($6.30 per Internet user per year, excluding China), this makes sense. More users happily using the Web and clicking ads, more money for Google.

First, Google wants to steer users to the best websites. For the rising number of people accessing the Internet on their mobile devices, “best” simply means “mobile-optimized.” 

Late last year Google introduced the concept of labeling sites optimized for mobile and, even more interestingly, noted that “We are also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.” By pushing developers to improve their mobile experience, Google may help to improve the mobile Web’s chances against apps.

That’s mobile. For Web applications, generally, Google just announced the beta release of Google Cloud Trace, a tool that “can diagnose performance issues in your production application by quickly finding the traces for slow requests and viewing a detailed report of where time is spent in your application while processing these requests.” 

This is significant, as Pratul Dublish, Google Product Manager, notes, because

25% of users abandon a web page if its load time is more than four seconds and 86% of users delete an application after poor performance. Ask any developer who has experienced the stress of diagnosing performance issues in production and you will find that it is extremely difficult to isolate the root cause of poor performance when it happens. This is especially true when the sluggish behavior is only seen by a small fraction of your users. 

It’s a great first step, not to mention a clever way to differentiate the Google Cloud and encourage more developers to build on it.

Calling More Googles

Not that Google is alone. Given the apps empire it’s building, it’s ironic that one of the great advocates for the Web is Apple. As I’ve written, the release of WKWebView promises to dramatically improve the performance of Web apps. 

We need more Apples and Googles. We need more companies and developers taking the Web seriously, and building tools to make it not merely an acceptable alternative to apps, but a preferable one. 

And as was implied above, we need Web developers to take their jobs seriously and invest the time to make Web performance a priority. That starts with you.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Facebook Comments