Blackle: small steps, when multiplied, make a differencce

My next-door neighbor just told me about Blackle, a site that presents a Google custom search on a black background with gray text. The site’s owner, Heap Media, produced this in response to a blog post that claimed megawatts of energy could be saved worldwide if the millions of screens displaying Google’s main page every day didn’t have to fire up all those white pixels. What a constructive idea.

How much energy does Blackle save? There seems to be some disagreement, but it clearly isn’t zero, and even a tiny difference, when increased by seven orders of magnitude and repeated day after day, begins to make a real impact.

What’s really joyous about Blackle is that it’s a typical engineer’s improvement. How different is their action from a software engineer finding a way to reduce the processor time of a critical function by a microsecond? That software engineer is also conscious of how such a tiny change might have a real impact if that function is called a billion times a week.

I imagine that a clever web software engineer might figure out a way to provide energy-conscious web browsers with a set of stylesheets to apply to all the pages they visit, stylesheets clever enough to transform most sites into bright-on-dark displays, which, incidentally, are recommended options for visually impaired readers anyway. A simple set of guidelines for designers could help conscientious web site developers write styles to work with these stylesheets. Or, to sketch out a more top-down solution, a new (or old) @media type could be devoted to this kind of lo-energy display. This might be a good idea anyway. Consider all those wind-up $100 laptops going out to the children of the world soon — they’d run a bit longer between cranks if web browsing consumed less energy.