Using the Web Index to Enhance Site Sustainability

Sustainable Virtual Design is about more than energy efficiency. This point has been made many times, but today’s post will concern a way of integrating non-WPO (Web Performance Optimization) data into a workflow to measure progress in sustainability. The data will come from Tim-Beners-Lee (yes, the founder of the World Wide Web) Web Index.

The Web Index - Impact of the Web

The mission statement of this site is all about social goals, in particular the inclusion that websites can create cutting across regional and national boundaries. The site’s description goes into greater detail:

The Web has changed our lives. But to harness its full benefit, we need to understand how countries and people use it, and its impact on on development and human rights. The Web Index, by the World Wide Web Foundation, tracks the Web’s contribution to social, economic and political progress across 86 countries. It ranks these nations across four pillars: Universal Access, Freedom and Openness, Empowerment and Relevant Content.

These have many connections to our way of looking at web sustainability:

General Sustainability Principle Sustainable Web Design Goals
Make meaningful products Make websites that are have real value, not fashion or tech-tricks
Easy design rollback Iterative or Agile design workflow
Source Renewable Materials  Switch to a “Green” webhost
Design products to work in the future  Implement classic design strategies
Design with the user in mind  Create effective User Experience (UX)
Ensure democratic access  Build accessible, responsive websites
Interchangable Parts Apply standards-based design
Minimize energy and resource consumption Web Performance Optimization (WPO)
Don’t corrupt the virtual system  Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Within its main categories of Access, Freedom, Empowerment and Content, the Web Index looks at a lot of detail. If you use the online interactive data tool you can quickly get an idea of places where the web is contributing to raising the bar, and where it has a negligible impact.

Why is this important? Well, inclusiveness and access is one of the features of a sustainable web workflow (as opposed to strict Web Performance). Many of the values coming from the Web Index can be adapted by designers and developers to show progress in creating sustainable sites.

I say progress because, using a “Green Ingredients” strategy for the web presupposes a starting point. To work with the web index we need to have some idea of our estimated impact society. This may be done in two ways:

  • Estimated, based on defining the international market for the site, and relative audience sizes from different countries
  • Actual, using web traffic data broken down by country, as one gets from Google Analytics:

Google analytics map of the world, showing areas of high access to website

Once you have differential country information, you can mesaure the “importance” of your site by country by country, either via analytic data or guess-estimates from audience analysis. There are lots of metrics on the site – here are a few useful ones:

  • Broadband speeds and market penetration
  • Costs of mobile data access
  • Impact of open web data on inclusion of marginalized groups
  • Impact of web use on rights of women and girls

If your goals are environmental, why not use an metric which measures the web’s contribution to environmental awareness?

  • Use of ICTS to increase environment awareness and effect change
  • Impact of web use on environmental campaigns

Once you have this information, you can can compare to many of the variables provided by the Web Index. Go to the “data section” and explore.  We will use “universal access” as an example. For example, one of several properties measured under “universal access” is broadband speeds in various countries, ranked from highest to lowest.

The Web Index sample chart for broadband speeds


Universal access can also be viewed in a country map.

Web indes data showing broadband speeds by country


The chart is similar enough to that generated by Google Analytics traffic that mask overlays could be used to identify countries with low broadband speeds which also provide significant traffic to your website.

Now, by setting a threshold for a reasonable load time for our site, e.g. 7 seconds, we can score our current site by computing page speed times, and putting countries into a “fast enough” and “not fast enough” bin. Then, we sort the “not fast enough” by the amount of traffic based on country, and compare to our list of targeted countries. The Web Index data lets us scale the value of country access by numerous “human factors”, making our green analysis about more than WPO or SEO.

And now, we can set an “inclusiveness” goal for our site. Instead of saying “increasing page load time by 20%” we can say, “reduce load time to include country xx, which provides yyy amount of our traffic. Instead of efficiency, we are now looking at inclusiveness.

If we are following a “Green Ingredient” strategy and swapping in features which reduce our site’s footprint, we can easily indicate the effect of swapping in a particular Green Ingredient on our “human factors” of sustainability.

In short, the Web Index provides a huge repository of data which can be used to make your site performance statement into one that captures true sustainability.




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