Simple Web Pages


We forgot what it's like to have simple web pages that we can just throw around.

Try going to one of the sites you like, find an interesting article and download it. If it's a popular site, there's a big chance it's either going to look like shit or not even work when you open your local copy. And I'm not thinking about The New York Times' website, I'm talking about normal people's stuff. I have seen enough blogs built with JavaScript frameworks to know we're really fucked.

But who cares? you might ask. Everyone has unlimited internet and we're used to firing up monolithic web browsers that need the energy of a nuclear power plant just to render a cat picture. No one downloads web pages anymore, old man!

And you are not wrong. Not many people care and everyone is used to the way we do stuff now, even if we don't have the greatest system. You can see this type of mentality all over the world regarding almost every problem: from tech to economics.

Let's be a bit adventurous and... think! Just for a minute. I promise it won't hurt (too much). Why would someone want to download a web page? Why would you want to have an article not encumbered by 200 megabytes of JavaScript to properly render 10 paragraphs of text? Why should a page just be readable by default?

Some people use custom plugins or browser settings because of accessibilty reasons and if you clutter your pages with whatever shit you think looks cool it may make their experience a lot worse.

Some people maybe live in the middle of nowhere and have slow or no internet, but they come to town once a week and download all the interesting stuff they find so they can read it on the farm. Others may be on metered connections and, if I were them, I would be really pissed off if I had to pay for downloading a tens of megabytes of junk just to read a thousand words.

Some people may really like your ideas, but prefer sticking their eyes out for hours at a paper, not a screen, so they usually print interesting articles.

We have the technology to make every kind of reader happy, we just need to be motivated enough to use it.

A lot of the (useful) information on the web is in text form. The base format for the web, the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is great for describing the elements of a document. It knows what's a paragraph, how to put emphasis, how to quote, how to insert images, a lot of great stuff. That means that if you're only going to do some writing with maybe a bit of graphics, your project should end up great and very accessible for the web. Hell, you can even put some of your artistic self in it by playing with some Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

If you want to put out information that's mostly text-based (as you'll often find yourself wanting to do, if you're not a YouTuber or TikToker of whatever kids do those days), we can see that traditional web methods sound great. All you have to do is write a document and upload it to a server. There are a lot of great places that offer free hosting for static sites (no server-side work being done), like Neocities, for example.

You don't necessarily need to put it online, if you don't want to. If you write, for example, a book in an HTML file, you can just send it to your friends over email. Nowadays everyone has a web browser (and even if they are huge nerds that categorically refuse to use mainstream stuff such as Google Chrome or Firefox, I'm sure they still use IceCat, w3m, links, eww or other less-known browsers). All you need to view a rendered HTML file is one of those.

Writing a web page to send to your friends is also a lot better than sending them a Word document. Web pages weigh a lot less than Microsoft's proprietary format (or even its libre counterparts, like LibreOffice). Web pages don't require licenses to be opened; there are enough browsers in the world and a good deal of them are free software too, so you can send someone a HTML file without worrying if they can afford the program they need to open it and if they will get their data mined in the process. You may want to allow the recipient to use their own fonts, to enlarge or shrink the text — things you can not do with some of the other document formats, like PDF, which have other advantages.

Talking specifically about sending documents to your peers, if the exact layout matters, and you need to have graphs, pictures, tables etc., PDFs sound like the better choice. If you want to write a light essay (like this one) with a bit of styling here and there or you need multiples documents that are interlinked, HTML documents fit well. PDFs are more convenient for sending as they are a single file, even when they have images in them.

But if you want to have it hosted on the internet, no one stops you from embedding pictures, videos, tables or whatever you want in an HTML document. Those will be served automatically and the user doesn't need to worry about them.

Writing an occasional article means you don't need a complicated Wordpress setup with some fancy theme that you think is really cool because it has the navigation links visible only when you hover some weird portion of the top bar.

If you're trying to spread information that you consider useful, definitely don't clutter your web page, but if you really want to take a dump on it, don't do it with advertisments. There's not one sane person on this earth that loves having to swim through tens of colorful gifs trying to convince them to buy a product or use a service from dirty corporation when they just try to read whatever the hell you wrote. Some people won't even bother reading your stuff anymore if you treat them like a potential click-through statistic on your analytics dashboard.

You also don't need complicated tooling to write a good website. This document was written using plain, old Vim. No plugins, not even a config file, really. This is proof that what you need is only basic knowledge of HTML and a text editor. The text editor is the simplest to obtain: your operating system probably comes with one already, be it Vim, nano, Gedit or even Notepad. If not, the internet is full of information about how to install one. You can learn to write the HTML code needed to format a simple document in under an hour. The most important things you'll want to learn are formatting elements: paragraphs, bold, italic and underlined text, quoting, links.

Your browser probably has an option to view the source of a webpage in one of it's menus — you can use that to look at this page's source code. Alternatively, you can just download it and open the file in your favourite editor and play with it.

Note that even if this website is itself a simple one, you don't have to make yours as ugly as this one, and neither do you have to write it by hand. There are lots of methods for generating websites, such as the millions of static site generators that exist out there. My personal blog itself is generated using a bunch of Emacs Lisp and the content itself is written in Org, but the results are clean pages that don't burn the entire Amazon forest only by loading in Chrome and look better than this document. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to typeset an essay direcly in HTML from time to time. It's easire than it sounds and it's a refreshing experience.

The point is that if you want to write a document intended for reading, you should make it as readable and as easy to share as possible. You won't pass around a Word document, but, instead, you would send a PDF. You won't use whatever new hot JavaScript framework is trending on Hackernews and Reddit to create a website that only needs to convey some static information, but, instead, you would write it either in HTML or in a simple format (like Markdown or Org) that generates clean and lightweight pages.

Don't think about what it would be cool to do on your documents if you mostly want to just share information. Try to reason about what would make the reading experience most pleasant.


TLDR

If you just want to publish an article or book on the web, make it as easy as possible to be read, downloaded and, eventually, printed (some people's eyes hurt from looking at screens all day, you know?).