Data are Power, let's use them responsibly

Data are power. Both figuratively and truly, in the physical sense. Each byte sent over the wires, each write/read operation, each database query, incurs very real power demands.

This is and was a topic around AI and Crypto, of course, both applications with insane, some would say unconscionable, demands on the power grid. But, alas, one need not go that far.

It suffices to look at today’s Internet. A standard Mastodon server (I used and my own, for this), incurs between six and nine megabytes of data transfer on first call (about two, thanks to caches, on followup loads of the site). Instagram’s mobile home page pushes 12 megabytes, Facebook’s nine, their respective web versions twice as much.

And that’s just the beginning. 43 percent of all websites on the Internet use WordPress, a CMS with massive preload and frontload libraries and, often, fonts. Anything between four and eight megabytes per page. Those 43 percent are also (as are more than 90% of all sites on the Internet) dynamically generated from database entries. Reading and writing DB entries, all the magic happening behind the scenes to turn text into HTML and push it out, that’s a lot of power.

Sites like this one, on the other hand, are trim. A specced down freengix server serves static files that have been pre-compressed on compile time. Compilation of the .md, .njk, and .js files involved happens once, maybe twice, a busy day. Once a week otherwise.

The tradeoff is simple: no dynamic content, hand-crafted Markdown files instead of WYSIWY editing, and much less potential to market to, sell, coerce, and track, one’s visitors.

Or, in other words, most web based income happens not only as direct transactions between buyers and sellers, but also as a direct tax on our environment and climate change.

This is why is “old school,” a simple website without logging, trackers, dynamic content, or costly (in terms of computing cycles and thus power) database queries. Instead, a script runs once or twice a day. The web sever logs only errors, keeping file system writes to a minimum, and an aggressive caching policy ensures that as little as possible is sent on each request.

Sure, AI and Crypto are massive hogs. But to argue, that this means we should not be more conservative about our own power consumption reads as hollow as the argument that Germany’s of Frances’ climate goals don’t matter, since China, India, and Russia are the bigger offenders. Every little bit matters.

Last Generation’s Website is a nightmarish monster of polyfills, unused loaded fonts, a plethora of used fonts (system font stacks exist), database dynamics, tracking, and more. The “driving your Hummer to work, when a bicycle would totally suffice” of websites.

Fridays for Future “greenwashes” its 10+MB per page website by hosting it at FlokiNet. Which, thanks to being located in Iceland, is “carbon neutral.” Only, well, those data still need to arrive at browsers worldwide, each of which downloads a multitude of fonts and images across wires, from hosts that are not carbon neutral. Not to mention, that website auto-refreshes a lot, so leaving your computer with it open means traffic that, again, could and should be avoided.

Great websites can be designed using static files. To get Climate Change under control, we all have to do our part. Smaller, less “power hungry” websites, less database magic, fewer fonts, smaller images, less tracking, that’s a good start. Take the bike to work, not the Hummer. And write for the static web, not the database monster.