Twenty Megabytes of Floating Ducks

October 22, 2023

This morning, a friend shared an interesting website. It’s a lot.

The first thing I noticed was that the index page contained two auto-playing background videos. The one at the bottom (of the titular ducks) is around 20 megabytes in size.

I’m trying not to be too much of an arse here. The design is pretty appropriate for a carnival, I guess! I do take some exception to an initial page load weighing around 40 megabytes, though. Sure, I’d bet just about everyone in the target audience could download it just fine — as long as they’re not trying to find carnival details while on the go with sketchy cell service.

Seeing this site reminded me of another example: the Halifax Burger Bash website 1. This is a great local event where restaurants create novel burgers and donate proceeds to a local charity… but the initial site load is around 15 megs. The site also has a clunky map feature, especially on mobile 2.

Another friend was annoyed enough by that to create a much more usable version of the site. He turned his experience into a talk he calls “Punk Rock Software”, which is a philosophy I’m into. Often something small, quick, and simple beats out a bloated bells-and-whistles filled experience.

While discussing the carnival site, another project I like came up: 1MB Club. This is a fun project collecting sites that load in less than a megabyte. I’ve been building for the web since the mid-90s. The first web hosting account I paid for gave me 1.44 megs of space in total. The size of a 3½-inch floppy disk. This was enough for a surprising amount of content!

Both the carnival site and the burger site were built in WordPress using pre-configured themes 3. Even if not loaded down with videos of ducks, these themes are bulky. I’m certain they help speed up site development, but I don’t think I’ve ever been impressed with a site built this way. The challenge is that most web work is commoditized now. It’s often easier to get into the groove of LEGO bricking together something with a site builder, or use a large JavaScript framework when a static site would do.

It might be a losing battle, but I continue to push back with some success. This is in part because I’ve lucked into working with some great companies. Either way, I hope to keep the punk rock vibe going as long as possible.

  1. Previously called “Burger Week”, it’s now “Burger Bash” because it lasts longer than a week. 

  2. As I write this, the map page is completely covered by an ad when I view it on my phone. 

  3. The carnival site uses Divi, which is a drag-and-drop page builder. The burger site uses Listeo, a theme for building directory sites. The latter lists “Yacht Charters” as an example use case.