diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 08, 2015

When I started blogging, 13 years ago today, my blog looked like this.

Actually it didn't, it was green, but my template hasn't changed a great deal other than a switch to silver. It's still a low-fi Blogger template circa 2002, with a bank of freeflow text to the left and a 200 pixel sidebar to the right. I've never tried to force what I've written into a particular width, preferring for my words to fill whatever space you've got instead. Think of it as an early accidental example of responsive design.

By six years ago, things had changed a bit... not just the blog itself, but also the manner in which you read it. Back in 2002 the most common screen resolution had been 800×600, but by 2009 screen widths had leapt up and were well into four figures. I've scaled this second image down, but see how much more you could read in one go, with wider lines across the page and deeper paragraphs down the screen. Some readers didn't like this approach, as lines of text on some computers got so wide they were hard to scan, but I've always preferred reading more rather than less.

Nowadays it's all change as screens proliferate in a wide variety of sizes. Those attached to desktop computers tend to be large, even massive, which means my wordier posts must now flood your screen. What's shown above is how my blog appears on my laptop today, which is considerably broader than it is tall, making the paragraphs wider still. That's one reason I recently decided to display photos larger than they used to be before - see how much bigger 2015's Herne Bay statue is compared to 2009's red London bus. But not all of you are viewing my blog this way.

On a smartphone my blog looks very different. Its screen is narrow rather than wide, which is the complete opposite to the way larger computers have been evolving. My smartphone copes with my blog by shrinking down the page, meaning I have to zoom in to have any hope of being able to read anything (or I can simply turn the screen around the other way). But my current template's not ideal, indeed Google decrees it positively mobile-unfriendly, adaptable for one form of modern screen but not the other.

Even though I don't provide a mobile template, my smartphone allows me to select one anyway. As you can see the stripped-down site looks very raw, and such is the emphasis on large readable text that sometimes only three words fit on one line. I think it looks bloody stupid, but needs must, and if this format helps you to keep in touch with what I write then great. But the end result is that my blog has become little more than a string of text with pictures, and I have very little say over how you choose to see it.

My blog at least has some flexibility over how it's viewed, but many modern websites no longer offer you a choice, they make it for you. For example the BBC website was recently updated to a responsive design, in which the template checks to see what kind of screen you're viewing on and then serves up a layout to suit. I often see this coding revealed when I switch to a new news article, as a slimmed-down mobile-friendly design briefly appears before the layout reorganises itself to show me more. But alas not much more.

This is how a typical BBC News story appears on my laptop. I can always see the headline and about three-quarters of a photo, but never anything of the actual story without scrolling down. In this particular case I have to scroll down four times before I can read the entire article, because the text and photos are so relatively large, and because the wasted space alongside is so relatively wide. Auntie's coding boffins think they're delivering me an optimal experience, whereas in fact I could have read far more in one go if things were still presented as they were several years ago.

And it's not just the BBC, almost everybody's doing it these days. White space, large text, big images and chunky buttons - all of these are the modern way to present a website. That's ideal for smartphones and tablets, where clarity is required, fingers are inexact and scrolling down is expected. But those of us with big screens are being increasingly sidelined, as designers prioritise "smartphone portrait" over "laptop landscape", which isn't truly responsive design at all. If I'm still blogging in 13 years time, or even just five, I wonder whether you'll still be able to read what I've written.

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