Wide Screen Web

Every screen these days is wide. As if the traditional 3:4 landscape ratio wasn't hard enough for presenting text, now we have lap-tops with 800 pixels crammed into a six-inch vertical frame, and 1.6 times that many horizontally; yet we're somehow expected to present information — textual information — in this environment. I don't know about you, but I have trouble scanning text when the lines are too long. I'm no design or typesetting guru, but I'm pretty sure it's a Bad Thing™ to make your text too wide (why else would newspapers use columns?) The two solutions I've seen employed most on the web that attempt to deal with the issue are:

  1. make the text huge — which, yes, makes it easier to read, but the fact that you can only fit a couple of lines on the page makes it feel uncomfortable, and I have a feeling it limits our ability to scan the text; or
  2. create a portait-oriented panel, with acres of blank margin-space to either side — which is much neater, sure, and it looks more like printed paper and all that, but think of all those pixels going to waste! Something makes my inner programmer feel really uncomfortable seeing all that real estate laying fallow, or worse — filled with horrible wallpaper backgrounds. I actually dislike the narrow-column-with-wide-margins layout more than the hard-to-read, kludgy feeling huge text.

I have an idea — one which (surprise surprise) I'm pretty sure I'll never implement, but I'll put it out there anyway: imagine a web browser that defines its viewport as half the width of the screen (say 640px) but twice as high (1600px). Now imagine that insane 2.5:1 portait viewport split laterally and rendered side-by-side on the screen. Each of those columns would be around 1.25:1, not far off the √2:1 ratio we're used to with A4 paper. Because there would be, effectively, two (let's say) A6 pages side-by-side, we could quite easily present text to the user in a familiar format (i.e. like a book) without having to unnecessarily supersize anything, and without wasting half the screen's real estate on empty margins. We could put the scrollbar on the right, as per normal, and marvel at the awesome effect we get when the stuff at the top of the right page scrolls onto the bottom of the left page. I think that would be cool. Page Down could either flip a half-page (the right page onto the left, and the next page onto the right) or a whole page (like a real book). The finer details of the design are pretty free, but I reckon there's a bit of potential there to make something really intuitive, fun, and useful.

I've never actually seen an e-book reader, but apparently they do a similar thing when presenting high volumes of text. Why don't we have that for the WWW on our regular old general-purpose computers? I think it would be great. Now someone implement it for me, so I can see if I'm right.

PS yes I have a little 11-or-so-inch 1280×800px lap-top, which would roughly equate to two A6 pages (with some space left over for important things like skyscraper ads and sidebars), and at work (where the germ of the idea was originally planted) I have two 1680×1050px monitors: yes, that's a total of 3360 pixels wide! I could fit almost five A4 pages there, and yet most websites present me with a single (a single) column of text! What a waste!

... Matty /<

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Matthew Kerwin

CC BY-SA 4.0
software, web
What is the correct solution to the problem of presenting pages of text on ever-widening displays? And who will implement my ideas?

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