Pagination: It’s about Readability, NOT boosting Page Views…

I’ve seen a lot of comment on the Web recently about people using paginated content to boost the number of page views on their sites.

Sure, pagination can be used (abused) for that purpose. And that’s probably what it’s about right now – but that’s really missing the point.

At the risk of repeating myself, it’s all about creating content which will be read by humans…

All humans are the same. We all have the same visual system. Geneticists have found we all share the same gene from a man who left Africa about 50,000 years ago (see The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells)

We all have two eyes. Those eyes all work the same way. A set of complex muscles brings successive scanning targets into the focus of the foveal area of our retina (see my earlier post: Scrolling: A horrible thing to do to humans who’re trying to read)

That’s why we need – not want, need – to read text that’s between 9 and 13 points high at normal reading distances. And the muscles which control our eye movement prefer to read columns of text which are between 55 and 65 characters wide at that size.

On the Web, the way that’s achieved is to limit column width. But that leaves you scrolling down an endless column of text.

The best way to do this would be to break text into multiple columns, the number of columns to be dictated by the size of the text window to stay as close as possible to that 55-65 character column width.

You can’t have multi-column layout that scrolls. Just imagine scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the first column, then all the way back up again to the top of the second column. Crazy!

All of this can be done automatically. If you’ve looked at the New York Times Reader, built on Windows Presentation Foundation technology, that’s exactly what it does. And the reading experience is great – the best I’ve ever found on the Web.

By comparison with this, the Web reading experience is still horrible. But it will get better. CSS 2.1, for instance, has pagination features (although they’re very dumb, they could be improved with some judicious programming).

What I want to see is the same approach as the Times Reader taken on the Web:

  1. Get rid of all navigation clutter while I’m reading. Give me nothing on my screen but content. If you have to put advertising on it, make it tasteful and beautiful – and don’t ever make it flash at me while I’m trying to read.
  2. Give me multicolumn layout which creates text suited to the way my and all other humans’ eyes work.
  3. Paginate that content based on the size of my window. Personally, if I’m reading on my laptop, I’ll maximize my window to the size of my screen. Then I’ll hit the F11 key on Internet Explorer to get rid of all menus, address bars, etc. I have the Start bar on Windows already set to Auto-hide. So there’s nothing on my screen but the content.

Aaaaaaaaaaah! I can just feel my body, and especially my eyes, relax…

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