The Calm Web: A Solution to Our Scary and Divisive Online World

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

April 19, 2023

Illustrated by

 Jeffrey Phillips

The Internet isn’t the most welcoming place to be. Between the frequent bullying, data mining, and rank manipulation (which isn’t an exhaustive list of issues) it’s no wonder that sometimes it feels like something has gone wrong with the defining human achievement of the 21st century.

The Calm Web is a reimagining of the online world that envisions an Internet that is better for everyone. It’s a place that welcomes visitors, respects them, and does its utmost to delight them. It does away with bloated third parties designed to track and manipulate and instead focuses on delivering a lightning-fast experience with truly helpful content.

This approach wouldn’t just help site visitors—it’s also better for business. The Calm Web advocates for a more minimalist approach to web design that eliminates much of the ads and third-party code that litters websites today. Businesses would no longer need to pay for some of these services, and they’d see benefits from better SEO and UX.

If the Internet is to be a place for good, we all need to confront what it’s become. It’s time to invest in the Calm Web and create a place where visitors thrive, businesses grow, and the world is made better by what it finds online.

Why it’s time to rethink the Internet

For many people, the web is a scary place to be.

According to a comprehensive 2019 study of around 25,000 people across 25 countries, people have severe misgivings about the Internet. It found that one in four people didn’t trust it, while eight in ten were concerned about their privacy.

These people are right to feel this way. Here are just a couple of ways the Internet has become a worse place since its inception.

Social media has harmful effects

Around 4.62 billion people are subscribed to some form of social media today. Despite this popularity, research shows that social media platforms often negatively affect the people who use them.

Studies have shown that social media use:

The worst part is that social media companies know about these outcomes. For instance, the Wall Street Journal published leaked internal Instagram research that unequivocally stated about Instagram: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

In another report published by NBC, Meta found that Facebook’s algorithms encouraged “a barrage of extreme, conspiratorial, and graphic content” for a set of test users they created. This is a known problem, and yet it seems like nothing is changing.

It’s clear from these reports that many of these companies don’t respect their visitors. Instead of helping people be happier or connected with their communities, they hook them with advanced algorithms, play on their insecurities, and then mine them for profit.

Search engines obscure information and reinforce stereotypes

Every day people trust search engines to find the best resources on the web. However, Google, which accounts for 84% of the search engine market, often doesn’t meet this expectation.

Google’s pages are now filled with advertisements dressed up as helpful links and info. Everything from product carousels to paid results litter these pages, all trying to compete for your attention:

Google search results for 'best air purifier' showing all sponsored content at the top of the page and below.

Another issue is that Google’s algorithms have been found to give people biased results. For instance, Safiya Umoja’s 2018 book titled “Algorithms of Oppression” outlines how Google results reinforce negative racial and gender stereotypes. More recently, a 2022 paper argued that Google’s autocomplete algorithms promote conspiracy theorists by not identifying them with proper subtitles.

Recently, Google has been inundated by low-quality pages explicitly written to rank. These pages often lack research, grammar, or original ideas that add any benefit to readers. Although Google is not creating these articles, its algorithm is instrumental in promoting them to wider audiences, making the Internet a less helpful place overall.

It’s no wonder so many people are looking for new ways to find actual answers from real people. According to a poll of 2,400 people, around 70% reported adding “Reddit” to their searches to find honest discussion of a product or topic on the popular forum Reddit.

Search engines may be less flashy than social media, but they are vital to making the web worse for everyday visitors.

Third-party tracking invades people’s privacy

Although some websites need to be concerned with how they profit, it’s also important that they create a space people want to be in. It seems like too many websites have mistaken tracking more visitor data for creating better experiences.

For instance, open up any random site, and chances are you’ll see one or more of the following:

  • A request to join a mailing subscription list.
  • A pop-up asking for people to consent to tracking cookies.
  • Several ads placed throughout the content.
  • A chatbot trying to engage you.
  • Large banner ads that dominate the screen.
  • Autoplaying videos.
  • Pop-ups asking you to log in or sign up.

Many of these things negatively influence the visitor experience. If you’re looking for specific advice, you don’t want to waste time agreeing to cookies, rejecting a newsletter signup, and then finding a way to turn off your ad blocker. You want to find what you came there for and then leave.

Nowhere is this problem more apparent than with third-party trackers. Third-party trackers are tools that record what people do on sites. They’re used for everything from seeing where people go, where they click, or even where they leave their cursor. Although some cases can be made for trackers to help improve UX, the problem has spiralled into an Orwellian nightmare.

One study found that the average person encounters around 177 unique trackers on the web every week, with half of these trackers being picked up after just two hours of surfing. These trackers hurt every aspect of the visitor experience:

The truth is, these noisy design elements of the Internet often aren’t necessary to run and grow your business. If you contribute to these elements of the Internet, don’t feel bad! Most people do because they seem relatively harmless.

But that doesn’t mean you have to accept the status quo. We can all work together to make the Internet better for everyone.

The Calm Web alternative

The Calm Web is a better way of framing the Internet that puts visitors first in all design choices—no more clogging the Internet with lacklustre content, obnoxious ads, and intrusive tracking.

In the Calm Web framework, teams create pages that are:

  • Quick and responsive for visitors.
  • Accessible to everyone regardless of who they are, where they live, or how much money they have.
  • Helpful, insightful, and knowledgeable.
  • Straight-forward to navigate and operate.
  • Safe and secure for visitors and their data.

That may seem like a lot, but the effort it takes to reach these ideals will benefit everyone: visitors and website owners.

Why the Calm Web is worth pursuing

You might think the Calm Web isn’t a reality because it’s not profitable (we beg to differ). Sure, people may not like pop-ups or ads, but they obviously work, or why else would people use them?

The truth is that many of these “tried and true” practices may not improve profitability. For instance, in 2021, industry giants P&G and Chase stopped buying paid ads online and saw no noticeable change in revenue. In another example, digital marketing expert Jared Bauman showed that deleting old, outdated, or poorly written content leads to increased search traffic and sales.

Other benefits of prompting a Calm Web approach on your site include:

How to create a Calm Web experience

Creating great, calm websites is already possible. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Strip away unneeded third-party code: Trackers and gimmicky marketing features like pop-ups don’t help visitors, and they slow your site, sometimes dramatically.
  • Remove low-quality content: Bad, poorly-written, or outdated content is of no use to your readers, and it can hurt your SEO rankings on Google.
  • Invest in better performance: Optimise your performance so visitors worldwide can visit your site, no matter their connection speed or device type.
  • Listen to your visitors: Create channels and processes to listen to visitor feedback so you can provide a better experience with fewer trackers.

Not all changes need to be made right away. Start seeing where you can adjust to put visitors first, monitor for feedback, and adjust as needed. Even small victories add to a safer, more inclusive, and more helpful Internet.

Your visitors deserve to be treated respectfully

Everyone can be a part of the solution when it comes to making the Internet a safer and more respectful place. Investing in or advocating for making your website a part of the Calm Web is the part you can play.

To learn more about how to make your site better, sign up for our newsletter or check out the resources below:

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

Karolina is a Co-founder and Product Design Lead at Calibre. With years of design experience under her belt, she’s responsible for the comprehensive user experience spanning over product, visuals and content. Find her on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

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