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Text-Only Websites

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This article takes approximately 4 minutes to read.

This website is mainly text. I deliberately did not include any images on the site. I was tempted to add a professional headshot. My mind told me this would not be a good idea because it would add little substance to the website. You may want to see me, but you can do that by going to my GitHub profile and looking at my image. I didn’t want you to have to download an image to view this website.

I’ve encountered a number of sites that embrace the text-only philosophy. In the early days of the web, it was not optional to have a text-based website. Websites were mainly hypertext and features like CSS were years away from coming to fruition. I still cannot believe that the web operated for years without CSS. Its uses were primarily for sharing information among academics and governments and so it makes sense that there were not too many people who demanded styles in the early days. Things changed when individuals wanted to come on the web and set up their own internet homes.

The Attraction

What appeals to me about text-only websites is that they put content first. I expect that you have visited this site because you want to read more about me. A nice set of CSS styles may help you learn about my design aesthetic but it’s not exactly pertinent information. Adding in a lot of styles to this website would not give you much information about me. That’s why I am letting the content talk for itself.

My homepage contains a few facts about me and a list of my interests. You will find links to contact me on that page. There are no images that you need to download or fonts that you need to render before you can see the site in the way I intended. When I wrote the site, I was focused on what information I wanted to present. There are no distractions from that information: every word is written in black on a white canvas.

I’ve come across a number of these sites. I found a list a few weeks ago which has a few good ones. Many of the sites on the list are not fully text-only – there’s one that is text-only-only, in the sense that you have to use a text-based browser to view it! – but they are in the right direction.

I like websites with colors and interactive features. The thing is that I don’t like them all the time. Most of the services that I use on the internet do not need all the styles and colors that they have. Those are there to attract users. I just want to view websites.

A few days ago I tried out the w3m text-only web browser. This browser does not allow you to render JavaScript. CSS does not appear. There is only text. It was amusing searching through sites that are not designed to be text-only but my real discovery was in the elegance of simplicity. When you need to share text on the internet, you do not need much. You just need to share the text.

I would not say that I could use w3m as my primary browser. That’s not because my work would get in the way – it would – but because surfing the net is easier with a mouse. Surfing the net in search of cool links is my hobby. It would be more like a challenge to use w3m than a conscious choice.

The Default Aesthetic

The default HTML aesthetic may seem worn, or like a relic of the past. My webpage looks somewhat similar to so many others out there. That’s because I did not spend a lot of time designing it. Well, that’s only partially true. I spent quite a bit of time designing it but most of the time I spent coming up with CSS styles was figuring out ways to make the site more accessible. I reduced the number of rules in the CSS. I’m now confident that every rule that is in the styles.css for this site needs to be there; the same goes with every HTML tag on this site.

My site is for sharing information about me to the world. I’m happy with the default aesthetic for this. I would say that I love seeing really creative websites. In my exploration of Neocities I have came across a number of excellent sites that would not be what they are without unnecessary CSS. The point I am trying to make is that in website design you should consider your audience. Neocities is a platform for creativity. It makes sense that people are doing crazy things with CSS. I’ve given it a go and it has been tremendously fun.

What about news sites? I don’t read them but all they need to do is share text. Images are nice, but they are not necessary. When images are used, they do not have to be of a quality so high that it takes megabytes to download them all. Keep it simple. If you’re working on a text-only website I would love to give it a try. I’ll fire up w3m and see what suggestions I can make.

Permalink: https://jamesg.blog/2020/07/13/text-only-websites.html.

Category: Web Post

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