close up of a vintage grocery scale
PHOTO: Jen Theodore

In the digital fairytale, the evil character is Delete and the hero is Save. Digital heaven is where nothing gets deleted and everything is saved and you never know what you might find if only you look in the right place.

Digital designers and particularly software developers have a terror of deleting or removing. I have seen developers’ faces literally grimace in pain and anguish as they deleted something. Whenever I ask a developer to delete something I know that they won’t. They will mark it for deletion, they will hide it, they will disable it, but they will not delete it unless I sit there and watch. It goes against software religion to delete. “Thou shalt not delete” is one of the 10 commandments of the software bible.

The consequence of the never-delete religion is that the digital world has become a digestive system that has no capacity (or desire) to poop. All living systems are efficient at energy production, storage, waste management and disposal. Without proper waste management, no system can remain healthy. Digital is a tremendously unhealthy, obese system. The vast majority of intranets I have come across are bulging, disorganized, chaotic junkyards. Public websites are better but not much.

I just read a brilliant article by Ayala Gordon and her digital team at the University of Southampton. Consider these stats for their web estate:

  • 4 million pages
  • Only 156,000 of them accessed
  • 8,000 of those pages get 90% of the traffic.

Is that real? Could that be real? Yes, it’s real. If you work in digital you already know that between 90% and 99% of digital output is crap. But it’s crap that doesn’t end up being flushed out of the system. It stays on the intranet or public website, making the search toxic, making the trust and reliability of content toxic.

Web pages are full of crap and they’re also made from crap. Average webpage weight is now around 4 MB. Think of 4 million 4 MB crap-making, toxic-spewing, filthy old diesel trucks of crap, polluting the web and polluting the planet.

If we want to do something for sustainability and to do our part to help reduce global warming, we must delete 90% of the pages we have responsibility for. The pages that remain we should seek to reduce in weight by 90%. It’s doable. It’s necessary.

An example: I thought I had a slim homepage for customercarewords.com at 957 KB. But when I really focused on slimming it down, I was able to reduce it to 70 KB with absolutely no change in the amount of text or images on the page. In other words, the 70 KB page has the identical content to the 957 KB one.

The old website was built in WordPress. WordPress is great and it’s “free” but free always comes at a cost, and one cost means accepting lots of legacy multifunctional code and its consequent weight. The WordPress CSS file (which is used for layout) was 375 KB. With my developer, Daniel Marchewka, we decided to move away from WordPress and use the simplest system possible. Daniel was able to create a CSS file that did everything we needed it to do that weighed 10 KB, which is almost 97% smaller.