On April 19, 2016, an article titled “The web is Doom” was published to mobiforge.com by Ronan Cremin. In the article, Mr. Cremin points out that the average web page size has grown to the size of the Doom install image. This is immediately a bit sensationalist—going by comments on the article and around the web, the general reaction is along the lines of “OMG, webpages are as big as DOOM!” This is not entirely true. Webpages have reached the size of the compressed shareware installer, not the size of the uncompressed game assets. This is not clarified in the article, but to be fair, Mr. Cremin does include graphs showing the size he’s referencing—about 2250 KB, or roughly 2.2 MB.
Let’s look at a bit of data to put this 2.2 MB number in perspective. Doom was released on December 10, 1993, with the shareware version fitting on two floppy disks. At the end of 1993, a 1.3 GB hard drive cost nearly $1000, and dialup modems did not reach the blazing speed of 28.8 kbps (3.6 KB/sec) until the following year. The fastest consumer CPU available at the time was the Intel i486DX2-S, operating at a blistering 66 MHz. “AOL” was still synonymous with “The Internet” for many people at the time, and most did not have internet connections at home. When I started making websites in 1997, I always tried to keep all assets under 100 KB total—the HTML, images, and even sound (it was the 90s, cut me some slack). I have coworkers who were not born at the time of Doom’s release, and others who were still in diapers.
We’ve come a long way in the nearly twenty-three years since Doom’s release. The global average internet speed is 5.6 mbps, or about 700 KB/sec—fast enough to download the compressed Doom shareware installer in about three seconds. My mobile phone spits out images about 3 MB in size, not because the JPEG format is horribly inefficient, but because modern phone cameras, just like the modern web, are not designed with consideration to technology that hasn’t been relevant for 20+ years. Comparing an old video game where all characters and weapons are simple sprites (rather than 3D geometry) designed to look good at a resolution of 320×240 against media-rich websites designed to look good at resolutions of 1920×1080 and higher is, frankly, a little silly.
I’m not trying to argue that some sites couldn’t stand to be optimized a bit, or that we shouldn’t use techniques like lazy loading to ease the size of the initial load. These things take time to implement, though, and forward progress is stifled if we spend too much time targeting the lowest common denominator. If a site receives so much traffic that shaving a megabyte or so and a couple seconds off the loading time bring real, measurable increases in viewership and reductions in bandwidth cost, it’s easy to justify spending development time optimizing. For many smaller sites, however, there simply exist better things on which to spend time and money.
Yes, websites are growing in page size. Is 2.2 MB really cause for concern though? Powerful computers with terabytes of storage have become very affordable. High-speed internet is likely available at a reasonable price to the vast majority of your target audience—and if it’s not, cutting a page down from 2.2 MB to 1.2 MB isn’t going to help them much. A couple megabytes for a webpage isn’t too large at all—Doom is just extremely small.