Text in columns

Monday 5 January 2004This is over 19 years old. Be careful.

Who’d have thought there was anything else to say about displaying text on screens? Everyone just creates a long vertical scroll, and gives the user a scroll bar. On top of that, the whole thing might be chopped into pages. But here’s another way: a few people have been trying out displaying text in columns no taller than the screen, then laid out horizontally. This gives a feel more like reading a book or newspaper.

Try it out at the International Herald Tribune. Read any story there, and notice the controls at the bottom of the page. The whole effect if very slickly accomplished, including the ability to click anywhere in the first or last column on the page to move in that direction, complete with highlighting of the action at the bottom of the page (try it, you’ll see). They also let you change the size of the type, with the page count adjusting automatically, and even the number of columns changing to properly accommodate the font.

It turns out the code to accomplish this trick is available at smokinggun (no, not the site that has Britney Spears’ marriage license application affidavit).

Another example of the same technique is Tofu, a text reader for the Mac.


This is pretty cool. I might make use of this.
The columnar layout doesn't seem to work in Opera. Is this an IE only type of thing? I did try it on IE and it worked there, looks good too. Is there some browser detection going on?

After a little more looking, the source is different between the two browsers. The Opera version looks to be missing a lot of the CSS markup. I wonder why it's different?
Whoa, late to the party!

It's amazing that IHT has had this for literally years now and it's still impressive and one of the few examples online of this approach.

It probably is browser-sniffing, and either IHT or Apple had to modify files to get it to display correctly on Safari -- basically it's not cut and dry everyday simple Javascript goin' on, and probably has glitches when straying from you-know-what-browser.
Forget browsers, I want to make it work in the Notes client!
I love it. I noticed it about a month ago and mused to myself how much more enjoyable it is than the typcial vertical scroll. You still have to click but you don't have to scroll w/ your eyes as you do w/ a vertical layout. I am always having to come up w/ little strategies to find where I am and the where the next line is once I scroll down.

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