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Leon Paternoster This day’s portion

(Re)introducing Skinny Guardian, a fast, minimal version of The Guardian

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Skinny Guardian is a minimal website that lists the 50 most recent Guardian articles three times a day (roughly around breakfast, lunch and at 5pm: it’s traditional in that way). It’s fast, mobile-first and strips out extraneous content and styling. There are no pop-overs or cookie dialogues (because there are no cookies).

I first built Skinny Guardian a few years back. Over the last week or so I’ve redesigned it.

Why?

Although The Guardian loads quickly enough and employs a smart layout, it’s still, like 99% of commercial sites, a pain in the arse for several reasons:

  • It nags you with popover cookie consent and “Support us” dialogues
  • It loads lots of tracking javascript (from Google, Twitter, Permutive and Amazon ads)
  • It loads lots of user behaviour tracking javascript.
  • Its javascript weighs in at around 4MB on the home page.
  • It can be slow to load on lower spec devices on slower networks, despite being better designed and engineered than most news websites (check out the performance score, although it does pass Google’s Core Web Vitals)
  • It can be hard to simply scroll through articles to find something you like

Skinny Guardian gets round these problems by:

  • Using no javascript at all: no ads and no analytics
  • Serving a pre-compiled, completely static site just three times a day
  • Using a mobile first design that just lists articles on its home page
  • Lazy loading images 6-50 on the home page

Compare the Guardian and Skinny Guardian home pages:

The Guardian home page on a phone is completely obscured by a popover asking for donations. Skinny Guardian home page showing 3 articles and no distraction.

Screenshots of The Guardian and Skinny Guardian on an iPhone SE (2020)

How

The Guardian provides an excellent, open API, which Jekyll uses to grab the 50 most recent articles at build time. They’re then converted to flat, static html.

I’m using Netlify for hosting, which means builds, Github integration, a CDN and a build hook URL which I can automatically post to three times a day using IFTTT. It’s all free.

Who’s it for?

Anyone who wants to browse The Guardian for something to read. I use it a lot: in the morning I’ll open it with my RSS feeds, sometimes over lunch. I could see it being useful on a commute (if we still commuted).

It was originally inspired by Evening Edition and Today’s Guardian, both attempts to provide an online news experience free of the constraints of an antagonistic commercial model. The Guardian has improved a lot over the last few years, but there’s still room for experimentation.

Lastly

I don’t like the name Skinny Guardian. When I first built this site – in 2017-ish – it seemed fine. Not so much now. I might change the URL.

Also, I appreciate the irony of presenting The Guardian sans “Please donate” popovers when user subscriptions are a source of its income. I’ve therefore added a link to its donate page in the site footer.

Anyway, try it out: Skinny Guardian.

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