Some interesting summer reading on Web Sustainability

Like many people, I have alerts set up via Google to pull out instances of web media based on keywords. Not surprisingly, my keywords are “sustainable web design.” This filter mostly gets junk, but occasionally it pulls up links to the emerging awareness of sustainability in design and development. Here are two great examples which can form a compliment to your reading this summer.

This article by  discusses several topics beyond site efficiency alone (which would be WPO instead of Sustainable Web Design). First, the author considers “code fragility.” Lots of code for websites works ok, but is not future friendly – even if there are no errors, an attempt to maintain or update for new audiences, browsers, or frameworks causes it to crash. Principles of maintainable code should be part of any Sustainable Virtual Design action plan.

A second point made by the author is that standard software testing, which focuses on whether the software works, is not enough for the web. While making sure a feature works as advertised is a must, a sustainable web page has also defined this feature in the context of User Experience – in other words, we let what the user requires drive the feature instead of the other way around.

Ux has the potential to keep code sustainable, and possibly avoid long-term software “lock-in” problems like those discussed by Jaron Lanier. If we consider software testing, part of our concern is that our code doesn’t force people to “act like machines” themselves.

Our second article by Paul Smith uses the bio-organic metaphors common in other areas of sustainable design – treating the web like a garden.

This author also considers meta issues beyond code efficiency. In particular, they consider the sustainability of “closed” frameworks, versus “open” frameworks. According the the author, closed systems encourage you to protect your little turf block of intellectual property, ignoring growth and change. In contrast, open systems encourage you to contribute and extend the open-source basecode, leading to systems that adapt as the web grows and develops. Closed systems are like someone patenting seeds, while open ones are like someone giving them away in the hope that others will create new, superior strains.

The author believes that open systems “naturally” lead to efficient code.

Why? In a global community where cleverness, innovation, and effective collective use of resources is valued, writing efficient code is inherent.

IMHO this is debatable. While an open system might allow everyone to improve code, it might also allow everyone to tug it in different directions, resulting in “jack of all trades, master of none” frameworks. The author’s company, Open Sourcery, works with Drupal, an open source system, and may have some bias. However, it so great to see that more web design firms are considering sustainable issues beyond greening their office or taking bikes to work.

It would be interesting to run efficiency tests on various code frameworks, open and closed, to see if efficiency is really a consequence of sustainable development. Is open source really less fragile? Does it have a lower carbon footprint? Inquiring minds want to know.

And what do to in fall?

If you’re in Chicago in October, here’s a place to hear more about Sustainable Web Design, courtesy of MightyBytes

Share your ideas on the sustainable web!

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