The leanternet principles

  1. The user's goal is your website's top priority
  2. Users come to the website with a goal. Your website must answer that goal. Users don't like to be annoyed, their time wasted, tracked, spied, slowed down, infected, used. You don't like to be used like that also, right?
  3. Use as little resources as possible
  4. A well thought out, user centric website simply does not need a bunch of frameworks and bootstraps to serve its purpose. It does not need to use a big chunk of the CPU during idle or otherwise non-interaction from the user. Always look for the plain, minimalistic ways of doing things, particularly when it comes to JavaScript, do you even need that particular JavaScript function? There are people loading various frameworks to do very basic things which can be achieved far more effectively otherwise.
  5. Design for slow devices with slow internet
  6. Design as if the user has a slow device with slow internet. That way, while you ensure a good experience for your user with slow device and internet, you have automatically created a lightning speed website for the ones with fast computers and internet. What's not to love?
  7. Jumping content
  8. Avoid designing your website in such ways that content jumps around many times until the page finishes loading various assets. This typically goes hand in hand with the bloat, some of the culprits being improper use of external fonts, no arbitrary size set to various elements such as the img tag and so on, follow #6 and you should notice any issues.
  9. Less is more, keep it simple
  10. Think more along the lines of "what can I remove or consolidate so the user can achieve their purpose more effectively" rather than "what features will I add up today to look like we are improving and get in the way of the user". Design is a language and on your website, the user should be able to quickly create a basic mental map of your website's structure and where a certain option might be found.
  11. Use the product everyday as a regular user
  12. Usually people only take action when a problem becomes their problem. Case in point, use your website daily and see what annoys you and fix that. Use it on a slow device with slow internet. If you don't have such conditions, Chrome browser can simulate slow connection and CPU, you can also simulate by throttling the actual CPU and internet connection.
  13. Get as stateless as possible
  14. This one is ahead of times since the attention economy is in full swing. Design your website to be as stateless as possible, that is, to serve the user's purpose as fast and effectively as possible. If it's to inform then present the information clearly, visibly, unobstructed, fast and without distractions. Only the user should decide if to explore further. If it's to take some input and provide an output, then do it as effectively and straightforward as possible without unnecessary signups and other friction designed to collect data and annoy the user. The list can go on, you get the idea.
  15. Ads can be good
  16. If you are in a line of business where ads are part of it such as news publishing for instance, do it in a non intrusive way and avoid distracting ads, avoid ads that cover the content for which the user came to your website, avoid making the user doing extra unnecessary clicks to hide the said ad in order to access the content, avoid ads that track and consume resources with a heavy payload slowing down the user's computer. Think of newspapers ads, they are typically well designed and they don't interfere with the reader's activity. Adblockers did not raise because of ads, but because of intrusive ads, there is a difference, find that balance and ads can put to good use.

The internet is fast, we've come a long way since the days of dial-up, where one would have to wait several minutes for a page to load, guess what, in some cases we still do to this day. The problem is that today's websites have grown unreasonably large, bloated, even for displaying a few paragraphs of text, making the internet feel much slower than it really is, wasting time and data while putting the users privacy at risk. We have very useful technologies, both server side and client side yet in many cases they are used in a wasteful and unproductive way.

That's where leanternet comes in. leanternet (portmanteau of Lean + Internet) is a set of principles for user centric, fast and lean internet.

Bloated websites are those that collectively download several MB of frameworks and ads only to display a few paragraphs of text while using an enormous amount of CPU during use (just one example out of many: studyfinds.org, open the site with JavaScript enabled, load an article page on the website, open the console then check Network, just watch and count what happens while you are not even interacting with the site).

These kind of websites:

I don't ever remember being bothered by newspaper or magazine ads, they were generally well designed, they would not track, they would not send or sell data, they would not hog system resources and they would not cover the article content. Autoplay would be out of question. Yet they brought great revenue for the publications! There is a way to balance this out on the internet. Let's make the internet user centric, the way it should be.

A website following the leanternet philosophy should function fine with JavaScript disabled. Dynamic content can very well be addressed through server side scripting of choice such as PHP, among others. We recommend a minimal JavaScript and CSS mindset.

Something has gone terribly wrong if so many websites that are not web apps, present the user with a blank page or a spinner if the JavaScript is disabled. These are websites that would normally display a few paragraphs and some pictures, things that clearly do not require forcing the user to enable JavaScript.

It's time to focus on a user friendly approach in designing websites, web apps and apps in order to fully realize the internet's potential.


Here are a couple of websites that follow the leanternet principles:

News : Hacker News
News : NPR
News : CNN
News : The Christian Science Monitor
News : Legible News
News : ReadSpike
Search : DuckDuckGo Lite
Search : Wiby
Weather : wttr web and console
Game : Klondike Solitaire
Service : Self Destruct Websites
Forum : Whirlpool.net Forums
Forum : Crazy Guy on a Bike - A place for bicycle tourists and their journals
Service : Hurricane Electric DNS
Reference : Ycombinator Startup Library
Reference : RefDesk.com
Reference : Cars101 - Subaru research and information website
Reference : GOV.uk
Reference : Mobile Wikipedia
Reference : Health A to Z
Reference : Harward Law Review
Blog : Paul Graham Essays
Blog : Arts & Letters Daily
Blog : Words and Buttons
Blog : Gwern
Blog : Hugo Tunius
Blog : Kelly Sutton
Blog : Fabrice Bellard
Blog : Peter Norvig
Blog : Sam Altman
Blog : Science Hobbyist
Blog : Alex Dragusin (my blog)
Archive : Yarchive - Usenet Archives
Archive : TextFiles.com


Have you got a leanternet website? Let me know at


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