[pmwiki-users] Proposition for a new PmWiki Skin

John Rankin john.rankin at affinity.co.nz
Wed Oct 12 18:41:41 CDT 2011

> On Tuesday 11 October 2011 23:02:40, John Rankin wrote :
>> Is there a reason *not* to follow generally-accepted practice of an
>> average 12 words per line?
> More than one. A narrow column width may be a generally-accepted practice
> in
> print, and may be better and easier for long texts like books of fiction.
> But people don't read on the web like they read books. On the web, people
> scan
> the pages for section titles, bold/highlighted keywords, links, bulletted
> lists... looking for some pieces of information they need. When they find
> that
> information, they read it and they go away, and their whole visit lasts on
> the
> average no more than 30-60 seconds.

I don't think it's valid to make such a generalisation, although it is
true in the case of many sites. For sites with longer articles, such as
blogs, online newspapers or magazines and the like -- ones designed to be
read, in other words -- narrower column widths are common.

But you are right that the more common use case for visitors to pmwiki.org
is likely to be people looking for some pieces of information they need,
so the points you make are fair ones.
> ... The following report
>   http://www.useit.com/alertbox/screen_resolution.html
> recommends to optimize layouts for 1024x768 and it uses "max-width:50em"
> for
> the content column; for larger screens, this width is still very readable,
> for
> smaller screens the page will adapt itself and become narrower and taller.

It also uses line-height: 130% but this may be too small with a font other
than Verdana, which has a small x-height. It would be worth testing 150%,
in my view. This may give slightly more balance to the competing goals of
readability and scanability.
> We couldn't know what width would be best for the content of other
> pmwikis;
> even if the new layout of pmwiki.org is wider than 33em, it will be
> possible
> for an admin to make it narrower, for example by adding a line in
> local.css.

I suggest documenting on pmwiki.org the reasons behind the layout design
decisions. Given that so many online web style guides recommend a line
width of 45 to 75 characters, explaining that pmwiki.org made a conscious
decision not to follow this guideline would be a good thing to do. See for

Perhaps something like: pmwiki.org chose to use max-width: 50em because
visitors to pmwiki.org scan more than they read and a longer line reduces
the need to scroll looking for the information they seek, without
unnecessarily sacrificing readability. On the other hand, if a site's
visitors read more than they scan, and the articles are longer, it may be
better for the designer to choose a narrower measure, such as max-width:
33em. The pmwiki css file makes it easy for site designers to set a
measure appropriate to the needs of their visitors.

John Rankin

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