The Rise of the Landscape Web

I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that several of my favorite websites were becoming, well, wide. It’s become increasingly common, in fact, for me to find myself scrolling sideways as well as up-and-down when out there browsing, and frankly, it was getting to be a bit annoying.

But with my entry (yes, at last!) into the ranks of those who are getting to play with the Google Wave preview, it hit me: the fundamental orientation of the web is changing. And Wave may well cement that change.

Here’s the thing. Early web pages were composed vertically, in portrait layout, partially because of the limitations of screen width and partially because of the rear-view mirrorism that caused us to think about these new digital forms as “pages.” That concept has proven surprisingly sticky: web “pages” scroll vertically to this day, and very few sites have played with the horizontal axis.

Enter Google Wave, however (and possibly, as its necessary precursor, Google Chrome, though being a Mac user I can’t really speak to that at all).

wave

Its three-column orientation demands horizontality — if the columns are too narrow, you lose a lot of the toolbar options, and everything just feels out of proportion.

So this makes me wonder, if Wave gets the kind of buy-in that the hype suggests, whether we’re seeing the fundamental orientation of the web switching from portrait to landscape — not that we won’t still be scrolling vertically rather than horizontally, but that the basic screen unit will be wider than it is tall.

This has deep implications for contemporary web design, I think, and not least for me; the other Planned Obsolescence works quite well in a wide window: you can stretch the main text and comments columns to be as wide as you would like. But it doesn’t work well here at all, as I’ve been using a fixed-width theme, and that ugly gray background block at right just gets bigger and bigger.

I’ll be curious to see whether this shift becomes — no pun intended — broader. Is the basic assumption of web layout becoming landscape? How do we organize a wider window?

3 thoughts on “The Rise of the Landscape Web

  1. An increasing use of landscape orientation / navigation does go against another current trend, the use of netbooks (and phones also). Since my previous laptop died, I picked up a new one with 10″ screen and adjusted my blogs width accordingly. Coming across fixed landscape-style sites, or using hotmail in such a guise, is rather annoying now!

    Best, Sean.

  2. Its just gonna mean more space for ads….you wait and see.

    Ever notice in a newspaper the shrinking space left for text? .com’s seem particularly vulnerable to ad encroachment on text space. Seems to me many sites might get perhaps .5 percent of space available for text. The rest is for navigation and advertisement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *