Accessibility through simplicity

Among a certain group of developers, there is a markedly negative tone about the last ten years of developments on the WWW front. Copious amounts of JavaScript are written for single page applications. This opposition against the modern web might seem not unlike a group of luddites (said with a slightly spiteful tone in ones voice). As with most other things in this world, there are multiple sides to this. Should the JavaScript opposition simply shut up and embrace that the time still are a' changing, as Bob Dylan sang in 1964?

I do not think so. But neither do I think that JavaScript and pretty websites are without a place in the modern society. There just needs to be a bit more constraint shown by developers. In my opinion, the real issue regarding the evolution of the modern web is the sharp decline in accessibility. When developers utilise JavaScript for loading the main content of the page, they exclude users who for whatever reason are not willing to load arbitrary JavaScript from reading their page. When this approach is taken in the creation of simple web pages such as blogs, or other pages where a piece of prose text is the main focus, writing the content as HTML is a more accessible solution. The point here is that with simplicity comes accessibility, which is not just something for "the disabled"; it is something that every user benefits from!

Accessibility comes in many shapes and forms. Oftentimes, it seems to be seen as "making the text larger" or "making sure that colours are chosen to accommodate the colour-blind". I propose to add "making web pages usable for the ordinary user" to this list. I remember (fondly, if I may) a time approximately ten years ago where the lowest requirement for a computer was that it was "able to browse the Internet". I bet that this activity belongs to the high end of tasks a modern consumer computer might undertake nowadays. Imagine what would be possible if we could make modern web pages more efficient! We could add even more features! What about additional scripts that track every cursor movement the user makes. Or we could not do that, and instead focus on making the web usable for users on low-end computers. This would benefit users of high-end computers too; shorter page loading times seem to be for the common good. The lifetime of computers would increase, resulting in a lower flow of the consumers' money going into the giant wastebasket of obsolete electronics.

I am writing this piece on a 9 year old ThinkPad X200s which I bought for the equivalent of 120€. Browsing the web on this computer would be a slow experience, but it is able of running a general purpose OS, which supports a text editor allowing me to write this. How about we as developers give a bit more attention to what can be done with constraints instead of making consumer electronics "obsolete" through behemoth web applications? The next time you write an application, be it native or web, try to think of whether you think of simplicity as a feature or something to be ashamed of.