My thoughts on Gemini

As I scrolled through my posts on Mastodon, I came across scientiac’s Gemini site and was intrigued by the concept of Gemini.

A Bloated Web

Today’s day websites are filled with lovely designs and transitions and animations and… ads. While there is a certain beauty in these websites, they tend to distract users from real content. See any news site for example, it is nearly impossible to visit these sites without having an AdBlock installed.

Some of these UI “enhancements” may be well-intentioned and may even improve User Experience, but they often come at a cost to accessibility. As web layouts get more complex, and with barely any standardization, those who use assistive devices such as screen readers find it harder to navigate websites.

Technically too, this has certain costs. Websites are styled with (S)CSS and JavaScript, which add a ton of functionality to the websites. So much so that a web browser can even be entire OS, like the chrome OS. But this extra content, which is “hidden” from a user needs to be downloaded from some server, which slows down load times and pushes up data usage.

From a security standpoint too, arbitrary JS, especially “closed source” JS can pose threats. In order to mitigate these threats, additional features like sandboxing need to be implemented which further increases the weight of the browser.

Finally, an increasingly bloated web experience leads to people having to buy newer hardware as the software gets more and more demanding. This leads to increased consumerism and e-Waste, which is a whole another problem that we have to solve. It would make sense if truly newer features which add to the user experience are introduced, but it seems like efforts are put more towards increasing the data collected from users or adding unnecessary UI transitions which reduce accessibility.

The Solution is Gemini

Most of these issues can be solved by “simply” enforcing standardized accessibility features, and better optimizers which strip out unnecessary CSS, and educating web designers that fancy design is not necessarily good design. But enforcing is damn near impossible(which is a good thing, as any mechanism that can enforce design can also enforce content), finding unused CSS classes is a difficult process(someone should check if it is NP-Hard), and even if web designers make simple designs, a focus on fast deployment forces web-builders to use bloated frameworks.

Gemini has a completely different take on this issue. In order to solve the issue for a smaller subset of websites, especially those of the blog/microblog variety, news sites and text heavy sites, Gemini completely restricts the kind of content that can be displayed.

The only things that can be displayed are 3 levels of headings, unformatted text, pre-formatted text, and out of text links. Each site must load within one request of the server. No images or other multimedia can be displayed inline, but browsers can pass over the link to other media players for a perfectly normal multimedia viewing. This allows clients to implement just one thing, and do it properly (yay, the Unix way!). The syntax too is stupidly simple, with no tags, no complex parsing, nothing. Just pure unadulterated content.

This simple website can then be rendered with any font, any colors, any OS. Hell, you can just curl, less and grep your way through it. A lack of layouting implies text readers can easily do what they are designed to do — read text.

This simplicity warms my Vim-using, markdown loving heart.

…but, is it?

The Gemini protocol can be extensively minimalist, with people debating on whether favicons in the form of emojis should be implemented or not. While every site looking the same could be extremely useful, as my friend put it, is r/aBoringUtopia. It prevents web developers from expressing themselves via design. Sure, Unicode art can provide some relief, but it is still lacking. I would have preferred at least “pure” markdown level formatting. But a valid response to this can be found on the Project Gemini website -

Gemini will not replace the web

I don’t want an image sharing website on Gemini, though it could very well be implemented by calling external applications. I don’t want a banking solution on Gemini, because I would prefer a more secure implementation(but open, one can dream) on the web. But I sure as hell don’t want to see 5 transitions, autoscrolling, 3 sign up boxes, 4 newsletter boxes, 15 cookie policies, 10 TnCs and a million ads just so that I can be depressed by a news article highlighting the effects of global warming. Give me just content.

Content is king.

#opinion, #gemini, #web, #minimalism, #tilde