Without any apparent irony, Google marks Chrome's 'small' role in web ecosystem

Chrome Dev Summit also brings resolution of tabs vs. spaces fight, for now

Anil Sabharwal, VP at Google, at Chrome Dev Summit '19

At the Chrome Developer Summit on Monday, Google finally settled the tabs vs. spaces debate and celebrated web community diversity, now at risk of becoming a monoculture thanks to Chrome's market dominance.

"Chrome is here today, and every day, to show up as one small member of this much, much bigger community," said Anil Sabharwal, VP at Google during the keynote presentation.

Sabharwal showed a slide with 21 different browsers as if they were all equal players in this community. But Chrome's presence dwarfs the competition.

Google's web browser has 65 per cent market share worldwide, according to Stat Counter. That's enough to set the web tech agenda, something that a few attendees approached at random said concerned them, even as they confessed to liking Chrome and using it.

Less-popular browsers like Firefox and Safari can still influence the ecosystem, but their minority presence puts them at risk of being ignored by web devs.

A poll conducted among attendees to resolve the heated tabs vs. spaces debate illustrated the situation. Audience members were pointed toward the website bigwebquiz.com where, using their (mostly) mobile devices, they could vote on whether tabs or spaces provide a better mechanism for source code indentation.

As the votes were being tallied, an attendee in the audience shouted out, "It doesn't work in Firefox." And later, Google developer advocate Jake Archibald, was brought back on stage for a light-hearted scolding in which he confessed that he hadn't tested the page in Safari. Doubtless many others in the audience have done the same.

For those interested in the poll, spaces won with 51 per cent of the vote. It's unclear whether votes from excluded browsers might have swayed the outcome.

Much of the morning went to recapping recent technological changes in Chrome and revisiting how Chrome deals with the consistent concerns of web developers: making the web faster, easier to use, more accessible, more secure, and more private – provided your definition of privacy leaves space for advertisers and data collection.

Speedshaming

Perhaps the more significant news to come out of the event is that Google is exploring shaming developers of slow loading websites with a loading badge that calls out their bloated code while it crawls to the screen.

"In the future, Chrome may identify sites that typically load fast or slow for users with clear badging," said Chrome engineers Addy Osmani, Ben Greenstein and Bryan McQuade in a blog post. "...Badging is intended to identify when sites are authored in a way that makes them slow generally, looking at historical load latencies."

There's no timeline for when this might be implemented and the final form of the speed signaling could still change. Google thoughtfully offers various speed measurement and optimization tools to help developers craft more responsive websites.

A new addition to Google's speed toolkit includes Lighthouse CI, which allows developers to automate their website performance testing routine.

Some APIs discussed at Google I/O earlier this year have made their way into Chrome, where they can be tested, including Portals – imagine iframes with navigation features – and Web Bundles – a way to turn websites into shareable files that work offline. Two other APIs, Background Periodic Sync and Content Indexing, intended for making content available when connections are spotty, have entered into origin trials.

Dion Almaer, director of engineering, said Google has developed two new metrics for measuring site performance: Largest Contentful Paint, the time until the largest page element become visible, and Cumulative Layout Shift, the degree to which content has shifted on-screen.

And the Web Almanac, an educational resource for web tech, got seventeen chapters about various web-related topics.

Security and privacy

Emily Stark, a Chrome security engineer, explained and defended Chrome security decisions, delving into how Chrome's look-alike site warning works, justifying how the browser handles URL visibility and explaining Google's decision to move Extended Validation Certification signaling to the Page Info popup.

Michael Kleber, a Google software engineer, went further still with a full-throated defense of Google's ad ecosystem. At a time when third-party cookies are being blocked by default in Firefox and Safari, Kleber insisted third-parties are great.

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"Just like most homeowners get a professional to do their electrical work, lots of websites have third-party experts to do their analytics, their video serving or other specialized functions for them," he said, offering an analogy that omits the role played by web visitors in this scenario and implies equivalency between entering someone else's surveillance-wired house and requesting files from a publicly accessible IP address.

Privacy, Kleber acknowledged, matters. "People should be able to browse the web without worry that someone is collecting a dossier on them for what they're doing," he said, "and developers should be able to build sites without worrying that their infrastructure is compromising their users interests."

Google answer is to provide third-parties with privacy-respecting measurement tools, such as the company's poorly received Privacy Sandbox scheme.

"I know it's hard to think about something specifically meant to help ads being built into web browsers," said Kleber. "But the browser is the place where we can offer privacy guarantees. And these capabilities turn out to be really important for them to flourish."

Without the ad personalization enabled by all this tracking, websites earned 52 per cent less ad revenue on average, according to Google's figures, and news publishers earned 60 per cent.

In short, Google remains committed to privacy, but with ads. Imagine that. ®

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