the "print version" - a misnomer

May 24th, 2007

There was a time in the earlier web when you could open a web page, read it, and print it. Pages were mostly text, with some markup, and sometimes illustrations. With the popular use of frames, this convenience was lost immediately, as a content frame inside a frameset wasn't printable unless you did something voodoo-like as opening it in a new window. (And even then, the "fancier" sites had javascript to detect this and would restore the frameset for you, how helpful.)

Granted, today frames aren't popular, they went out of style with the Spice Girls. But, over the years, with the adoption of ever more useful sophisticated technologies, content on the web was rendered generally unprintable. Even so, we still wanted to print content, occasionally. In what is an instructive case of solving a problem by introducing a new problem and having to solve both, the answer was the print friendly version.

As it turned out, the print version came to be the readable version. With the web boom, and the consequent dot com burst, ad revenue went from easy-to-get to omg-we're-going-under. To stay afloat, sites grew ever more ad infested. What used to be a matter of principle (okay one banner at the top, but nothing in the content area), were scruples melting away to nothing. Even a few years ago, it was possible to open a website, ignore whatever was on the top, left and right, and read the content in the middle undisturbed. Not so now, lots of sites have both banner/flash ads right in the text, as well as the horrendous ad words, words/phrases in the text highlighted with a popup window when you mouse hover. Another popular gimmick among publishers is to divide up the text on several pages (under the pretext that the content is just too long, you don't want to load all of that at once, you'd rather load our ads), so you have to page your way through while reading and load new ads on every page. If you try to print this, you get snippets of the story with the same header and footer you don't care a toddle about (and all the ads included).

All of this basically makes quite a few sites unusable, at least without Adblock and Flashblock. Take Extremetech, which integrates all these awful gimmicks. They sometimes have good in-depth content, but would any human being want to read this article? Not only is the site ad infested like the worst of them, it also divides the story up into 11 pages. Salvation? The print version. The print version is actually continuous, you can read it without having to click yourself through. And it has less ads in it. As it is, the print version is actually the only readable version many sites offer. It's not for print, it's for reading. It's become such a reflex that I always look for the print icon, and if it's not there I bid farewell.

In contrast, this makes blogs wonderful to read. Blogs with a nice design, little to no ads and good typography (and there are lots of these) are a delight, because they don't have all these things that prevent you from reading the content. Blogs are much more fun to read that papers and magazines.

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1 Responses to "the "print version" - a misnomer"

  1. erik says:

    Straight to the point this one, very well written. Shame there are few political blogs that I can rely on for my daily dosage of news