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).
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?