Current best practice for a speedy streamlined web experience
February 2, 2016 1:11 AM   Subscribe

After reading numerous articles recently about how much extra bloat loads on most webpages, and getting frustrated at slow loading speeds for content on most sites I visit, I'm wondering what the current best options are to swap this for speedy surfing, especially if I'm happy to have a mainly text-only experience?

I currently use Chrome on a Windows 10 laptop, Chrome on an Android phone (Oneplus One), and Safari on an iPad. I am open to changing browsers - would in fact love it if there were a browser out there that is designed to penetrate the web's bloat. Most of my non-work internet use is reading metafilter and following links from metafilter. I also read a few major news sites and a couple of blogs, long-form articles mostly, and skim the headlines on a bunch of tech sites. I rarely watch video or care about the images on a page.

(Metafilter itself loads pretty snappily, but other sites are not so nice. As an example, I just timed the loading of the Guardian website, and from clicking until the text had rendered took 7 seconds. The first couple of seconds was nothing, then I got coloured backgrounds, then the images, and the text showed up last.)

I use Adblock on Chrome, but I feel like it doesn't go far enough. I'm not seeing ads, but it still feels like a bunch of stuff is loading in the background before the content I am interested in appears. My ideal would be that a website loaded its text immediately, and then maybe pics and videos and tracking crap and javascript functionality in the background afterward, but it seems to usually be the opposite way around.

What are my options for alternative browsers, or browser settings, or add-ons that will give me a snappier experience?
posted by lollusc to Technology (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried blocking Javascript altogether? Install this extension on Chrome. A little settings icon will show up by your address bar. In the disable tab, select Javascript. You can selectively enable it for specific sites (like Metafilter so that you can comment).
posted by like_neon at 2:33 AM on February 2, 2016

How's your browser cache set up? A lot of sites will be slower to load the first time because they are downloading a set of "accessory files"- JavaScript code libraries, style sheets, images that appear in multiple places like logos. Most are designed so that your browser should cache those files for days/weeks/months, so subsequent loads are much, much faster. But sometimes people change their browser settings so that those files aren't cached (such as using an incognito window or setting their browse to clear the cache on exit), and that can make for a significantly slower average browsing experience.
posted by instamatic at 3:25 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok, I've never used this, but I was super curious about the "pick a different browser" part of your question, and Google led me to this Slimjet browser, which claims to be optimized for fast browsing and blocks ads natively. I think you should try it. For science.
posted by instamatic at 3:30 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi! Web developer here.

If any of the news sites you visit provide RSS feeds, I'd suggest bookmarking them in something like Feedly, which loads only an article's content/images, not all the crap from the rest of the site. However, many sites will only send article previews to their RSS feeds, so you still need ways to read articles on those sites directly.

I use Disconnect for Chrome to block ads/tracking beacons/social media plugins on sites I visit. Depending on the site, this can speed up load time quite a bit.

You describe a specific desired load order for site content in your question, which I'm here to tell you is not possible across the board, no matter what browser or plugins you are using. Browsers parse and render web page elements in the order they encounter them in the code. Text usually takes less time to load and render than images do, but it depends on how the site is built, what fonts are being used, etc.

Also, nowadays many sites will send the browser an empty shell of a template (masthead, navigation, etc.) to load immediately, then load different content (text, article-specific images) dynamically as the user clicks around the site. The content is loaded, in part, with JavaScript, so disabling all JavaScript in your browser isn't a great idea.

Out of curiosity, what's your internet connection like?
posted by Owlcat at 4:26 AM on February 2, 2016

Response by poster: What's your internet connection like?

About 10 Mbps usually on wifi at home, which is pretty good for Australia.
posted by lollusc at 4:52 AM on February 2, 2016

Here's an idea. If you get a user agent spoofer you can tell your browser to lie to websites you visit and say that you're a mobile device. The mobile version of most popular sites is very streamlined and text-centric with fewer flashy design elements, but you'll still get a fully-functional website.
posted by deathpanels at 4:54 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: There are several text-only browsers that also support JS so you don't miss content (do a Google search). There are also text-only apps for Apple and Android devices; just search Play or Apple apps.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 AM on February 2, 2016

I have found that Ghostery has radically improved load speeds of many web sites, some of which were running two dozen or more trackers. One nice thing about Ghostery is that you can whitelist certain trackers or certain sites (like metafilter).
posted by slkinsey at 5:39 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

AdBlock Plus combined with Ghostery is the only way my circa 2007 Macbook can even browse the web at all. I whitelist some sites I specifically want to support, but everywhere else it's a lifesaver.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:04 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Similar to slimjet, there is Brave currently in alpha, but usable.

I wouldn't go as far as disabling JavaScript, because it's too prevalent nowadays, but a nice combination of Ghostery, your preferred ad-blocker, and Flash blocked by default (some details here; Google will help otherwise), should do the trick.

Perhaps Readability or Instapaper might be of advantage, too? Especially if you want to share your reading over the three devices you mentioned.
posted by KMB at 6:46 AM on February 2, 2016

Second Adblock + Ghostery (although I prefer uBlock Origin for ad blocking). Adblock by itself doesn't do anything about the third-party scripts (analytics, etc.) that big sites love to use these days. Some sites have an absolutely preposterous number of these. There's a cascade effect too, as scripts load other scripts, etc.

Definitely turn off plugins too. I highly recommend this not just for speed, but also security.

Turning off Javascript is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The days of sites having a non-JS fallback are long gone, and many many sites rely on JS libraries (Backbone or Angular or similar) to display content. (Full disclosure: I write JS for one of these sites, so I could be biased.)

Spoofing a mobile device will work on a bunch of sites too. If you're feeling adventurous: Open Developer Tools in Chrome (F12 I think, or right-click and pick "Inspect Element") and click on the little phone icon in the upper-left corner. Bam. I think by default Developer Tools disables the browser cache though.
posted by neckro23 at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the iPad, there are a number of content filters out there. Some of them have a sleazy pay-to-play model, where advertisers can pay the content-filter developer so their ads go unfiltered. I've been using 1blocker, which I don't think is doing that. With any content filter on iOS, you need to set a configuration in Safari's prefs so that it knows to use it.

Ghostery is one of those pay-to-play plugins, so I've stopped using it. Instead, I'm now using ublock. (I now see the ublock developer has created an iOS content filter called Purify).
posted by adamrice at 9:12 AM on February 2, 2016

NoScript in FireFox speeds up web browsing dramatically and allows you to whitelist specific domains for when you do need JavaScript to run. As an added bonus, it will make your browsing much safer, as it blocks a tremendous amount of the bad stuff out there. On the downside, many sites will either not work at all without Javascript enabled or will cause you to have to go through five or six domains or whitelisting one by one to get them to work.
posted by Candleman at 10:50 AM on February 2, 2016

Some ideas that do work and have worked for me:

Give Vivaldi a shot. It's a new browser by the original developers behind Opera. It has a little button at the bottom of the browser where you can turn off images.

For basic information / research on any topic, try switching to searches. These are less likely to contain malware, ads, etc.

Use DuckDuckGo as your search engine, and learn to recognize the "official site" label it uses on canonical information sources. Those websites are less likely to contain lots of junk.
posted by circular at 11:45 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: uBlock Origin is an ad blocker that's sort of specialized version of uMatrix by the same developer, an add-on for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera, which permits writing very fine-grained general rules about what sort of content to download or not as well as a nice spreadsheet-like UI for quick modifications, plus sundry other features like user agent spoofing.

So uMatrix might be the sort of thing you're looking for: per domain you can separately shut off cookies, css, images, plugins, scripts, XHR, frames, and an "other" category, and you can make rules specific to items from one site that are embedded in another's pages. The Guardian loads quite quickly for me with all of it shut off.

You need one basic rule to make blocking the default:
* * * block
Then my ruleset to let most things on MeFi work is 1st-party cookie allow 1st-party css allow 1st-party image allow 1st-party script allow 1st-party xhr allow css allow image allow script allow css allow cookie allow css allow image allow script allow
and some other handy rules are image allow image allow image allow
You can have uBlock Origin installed at the same time as uMatrix and it will download filter lists and apply them in combination with your own list of rules.
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

And btw they're both open source; the add blocker called simply "uBlock" was the original project the developer Raymond Hill founded but after others joined he forked off uBlock Origin due to "serious incompatibilities in the spirit of the project" and then
Shortly after the project division, Chris Aljoudi created to host the Safari version, promote the extension and request donations. In response, uBlock founder Raymond Hill stated that "the donations sought by are not benefiting any of those who contributed most to create uBlock Origin."
posted by XMLicious at 4:15 PM on February 2, 2016

Response by poster: Wow, okay, I installed uMatrix and uBlock Origin, and even with their default settings, they work really well. I had no idea Firefox for Android allowed add-ons now, so I have switched to that on my phone so I can use those blockers there too.

Meanwhile, I cleared my cache and then tried loading the Guardian again - bearing in mind that the only changes I have made so far were to install uMatrix and uBlock Origin. It took less than 3 seconds for me to get text. Woot!

I am going to play with those text-only browsers too, because I am intrigued, but I think the add-ons above might be sufficient for my daily needs.
posted by lollusc at 7:05 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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