Fixed Width Metafilter? July 5, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Request/suggestion: fixed width Metafilter.

I just got me one of those wide-screen monitors that are inescapable nowadays. Now that I've started using it, I notice that Metafilter and Ask Metafilter, unlike most newspapers/magazines/entertainment websites, has no fixed width; i.e. lines of text stretch all the way from one side of my elongated screen to the other.

This is a little awkward-looking, and not the best for reading.

Perhaps I've missed a setting somewhere, and there's a way to configure Metafilter or my browser so that I don't need to see such long lines of text (without resorting to resizing my browser window, I mean). But I've not found it yet.

So, why not switch to (or give users an option to select) a fixed width design?
posted by washburn to Feature Requests at 9:52 AM (91 comments total)

You get used to it. Also, if you're running Windows, WINDOWKEY+LEFT or WINDOWKEY+RIGHT. Now you can do two things at once. Welcome to the big monitor club.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:53 AM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yep, congratulations on your graduation from maximized windows.
posted by carsonb at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


With Chrome I use this plugin that lets you add your own CSS to a page. I just set the body tag to have a width of 900px or so on MetaFilter.
posted by chunking express at 9:55 AM on July 5, 2010


I'mma fix you width!
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 AM on July 5, 2010


Now if we could fix the depth issue...
posted by Toekneesan at 9:58 AM on July 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


I like that Metafilter is flexible enough to adjust to my monitor's needs and wants. I would not look kindly on any alteration of such highly esteemed and venerated feature, nor upon those who would champion such a despicable change.

Tread carefully sir, for I am an excellent fencer and consumer of vigorous health tonics. You would not want to meet me in a duel.
posted by new brand day at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


without resorting to resizing my browser window, I mean

Why isn't this an option?
posted by cj_ at 10:14 AM on July 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


How wide of a monitor are we talking about? I mean I might be able to come up with a 19" (or if pressed a 17") I could trade for yours. I am sure metafilter would look just fine on one of those, since I am currently viewing it on a 15", but in the even that the above two proffered monitors are still too wide I will attempt to write up directions on how to resize the browser window.

Let me know! Oh, you have to be fine with a CRT and willing to pay shipping.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2010


I think that max-width would be the property to be used, rather than implementing fixed width, were this to go ahead.

I'm personally not a fan of having this as default - you can just resize your browser window, or use user styles (I think that's the correct term, I've not done any in-browser CSS definition) to adjust MeFi to suit your needs.
posted by djgh at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2010


Indeed, if Google isn't lying to me, User Styles might be just what you're after.
posted by djgh at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2010


I'm looking at MeFi on my 60" HDTV right now. It seems like a complete perversion of all the technological achievements of the past 50 years.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2010


Try lowering your resolution. 640x480 should make everything exceptionally readable on your widescreen monitor.

As an alternative, turn your monitor 90 degrees. Portrait viewing is the new black.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:57 AM on July 5, 2010


See, here I was saying to myself: what the hell is washburn talking about? Metafilter already has a fixed-width option. Just set the "body font" in your preferences to "mono," and every page in Metafilter is in fixed-width!
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 AM on July 5, 2010


What you need is an adjustable-width monitor.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


> What you need is an adjustable-width monitor.

Some pieces of black construction paper cut to fit on both sides would work also.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:14 AM on July 5, 2010


Man, this is something I consciously thank almost every day. On my widescreen computer I always have a split screen going. I hate having to resize when I go to fixed-width sites so that my text doesn't get cut off. It's always so nice coming back here where the text goes where I want it to. Same with wikipedia. Thank you thank you thank you.

Unless you've got Windows 7 and it does it already, try using AeroSnap to make the split screening even easier.
posted by phunniemee at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the department of wildly unrealistic solutions, I suggest you reformat your hard drive, install your favorite flavour of linux and switch to a tiling window manager. Once you get used to it, you will marvel at the fact that people once needed to futz around with a mouse to get their windows arranged properly.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Given that there are options for font face and font size, I reckon an option to display the site in fixed-width mode (with a user-selectable width to boot) would be a pretty straightforward thing to add as an option in the user prefs.

But then again, I've heard it's all held together with gum and string back there, so maybe not.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:01 PM on July 5, 2010


My question on fluid width layout tools slowly devolved into a browse maximized or not war. I'll reiterate a bit of what I said there here:

1. Readability is not as well studied as people would like. I've seen evidence that longer lines are more readable, because you have to move back and down a line (visual \r\n) less. There's counter evidence that this eyeball maneuver is harder with longer lines, so I'm not sure which way it comes out or where the sweet spot is.

2. Not everyone with widescreen browses in splitscreen. It seems to be about half and half. People can trot out stats for their website, but in order to be valid they need to determine how much influence an existing fixed width layout has on that. It really shouldn't surprise people that a fixed width website has a lot of visitors that don't run maximized, or that people will increase browser size if a layout is more flexible.

3. The major flaws of fluid layout are not present on MeFi -- there's only like one image in a corner and user img tags are banned. The only problem is that short paragraphs are exposed as such -- the average paragraph size on this post seems to be roughly two sentences. Not long enough to really call it a paragraph but still long enough to wrap on my monitor as if it were one.
posted by pwnguin at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2010


Some pieces of black construction paper cut to fit on both sides would work also.

That sounds dangerously close to letterschlocking, sir.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:25 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is a feature, not a bug.
posted by killdevil at 12:29 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


At a bar, I just watched a three-year old sing "Don't Stop Believin'" in her mother's arms.
posted by jonmc at 12:38 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's funny to me is that the only people who care in any way whatsoever about whether you browse with a maximized browser or not are web designers, or maybe just font-obsessed designers in general.

Notice, for instance, that nobody would even know what "fixed width" means if they weren't a web designer. And I'm not one, so I've been a bit befuddled all through this conversation about how in the hell it matters whether your browser is maximized or not. Maybe somebody can explain it to me (although I guess I don't care enough for it to be worth it) – in my browser, the lines of text aren't even. That's true no matter how big the browser is. Are people asking for a version of metafilter that has line endings in the same place no matter how much you resize Metafilter? Why in god's name would you want that?

Seriously, this is some arcane web-designer/font-layout perfectionist shit probably brought on by the fact that web design is so freaking complicated because of differing standards. And this is why I do database programming instead of web design: because when I write code, I want to be able to run it and have it run the same way every time. I think I would find this whole "oh look, it looks different on that browser" thing so maddening that I would stab people.
posted by koeselitz at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


the
best
website
on
the
internet
is
mcsweeney's
posted by DU at 12:51 PM on July 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Suck.com did
it first?
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:02 PM on July 5, 2010


I’ve been meaning to file the same bug as this for a long time, but didn’t bother for fear of being shot down for expecting elementary readability on a Web site. Any number of options are available, most involving max-width and some involving advanced CSS3 relative-linespacing, ‑font-size, and ‑measure settings à la Andy Clarke.

I suspect mathowie just wants the site to look the same in advanced 21st-century browsers as it did when we all had PowerMac 7100s with IE5 Mac and a 17-inch monitor. I’d prefer for it just to be readable. I don’t see why that’s controversial.
posted by joeclark at 1:11 PM on July 5, 2010


I don’t see why that’s controversial.

Because this is metafilter, dude.
posted by jonmc at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2010


joeclark: “I suspect mathowie just wants the site to look the same in advanced 21st-century browsers as it did when we all had PowerMac 7100s with IE5 Mac and a 17-inch monitor. I’d prefer for it just to be readable. I don’t see why that’s controversial.”

Actually, as I recall, he hired a design firm a few years ago to rebuild everything and make it look nice and clean, fixing stuff like this and making the site fixed-width. And in the end, when he a-b tested it, the newly-redesigned site, with clean looks, nice text, and everything easier on the eye, was universally unpopular, whereas the old site was universally popular even with first-time visitors who'd never seen the site.

Sometimes ugly is better.
posted by koeselitz at 1:14 PM on July 5, 2010


Also, when in god's name did "we all" have PowerMac 7100s? If that's your impression of "us all," then you'd be understandably disappointed with the way things are.
posted by koeselitz at 1:15 PM on July 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


jonmc: At a bar, I just watched a three-year old sing "Don't Stop Believin'" in her mother's arms.

Aww, she likes Glee!

But wait, why was she at a bar 3:38 PM?
posted by Houyhnhnm at 1:32 PM on July 5, 2010


Because her mom was, and they didn't seem the Glee type. They also liked it when I played "Devil Went Down To Georgia" on the jukebox, the little one dance with her fingers to the fiddle parts. She also called my bartender "Uncle Bruno."
posted by jonmc at 1:35 PM on July 5, 2010


koeselitz: "Maybe somebody can explain it to me (although I guess I don't care enough for it to be worth it) – in my browser, the lines of text aren't even."

It has nothing to do with lenient HTML parsing and varying degrees of CSS compliance, annoying though such things may be. It's got to do with the challenge of designing for multiple screen sizes, and telling the browser when to word wrap.

Think of it as a constraint system. People want to put the text in a rectangle and constrain it's size to be narrower than the your browser width, to enforce a similar look on all screen sizes. Generally this is more of a problem on sites that are image heavy, where the images are part of the layout framing the content - posts, comments, etc. It's also slightly unaesthetic to have what was intended to be a paragraph appear as a single line, or to have an image that was roughly the width of your paragraphs suddenly appear misaligned or oddly centered.

There's also a font size problem. The pixel size shrinks with higher DPI displays, and suddenly that font that looked plenty readable on your display is tiny. You can kinda solve this by using a relative unit like ems. I just pump up the font size in my profile to 12 from what was 10 I think, and that's plenty readable. Perhaps there's some CSS3 trick I haven't studied that works; I've only studied enough to improve my homepage to where my incredible lack of design talent is obscured.
posted by pwnguin at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2010


From the department of wildly unrealistic solutions,

Yeah, the only way to fix this problem is to open a terminal and type RM-RF / and then go outside, look at the clouds, smell the flowers and trees.
posted by fuq at 2:00 PM on July 5, 2010


People other than my mom and dad browse the Internet in maximized windows?
posted by floam at 2:02 PM on July 5, 2010


At a bar, I just watched a three-year old sing "Don't Stop Believin'" in her mother's arms.

Aww, she likes Glee!


Or The Sopranos.
posted by hippybear at 2:06 PM on July 5, 2010


I just maximised my window for the first time ever. I agree it makes metatalk hard to read. Solution: Don't do it.
posted by meech at 2:10 PM on July 5, 2010


For anyone having a problem understanding what a fixed-width layout is, try the BBC or Engadget. Maximise your browser window. Drag it out until it fills all seven of your ultra-wide cinema displays. Shrink it until it's as slender as a woodland sylph. Lo, see how the content remains the same width!

Some people like to put a limit on how wide a paragraph of text can be, the issue being that they find it makes it easier to read the text; shorter lines aid reading because it's easier so scan back to the beginning of the next line if your eye doesn't have so far to travel.

Personally, I like about ten words to the line. Your preference may be very different. But an option to limit the width that doesn't involved resizing the browser would be quite nice.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:11 PM on July 5, 2010


At a bar, I just watched a three-year old sing "Don't Stop Believin'" in her mother's arms.

Aww, she likes Glee!

Or The Sopranos.


or Journey.
posted by jonmc at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Well, if such a thing is implemented, I hope it's an option and not a requirement. Because I don't have any issues with how MetaFilter is displayed in my browser at all.
posted by hippybear at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2010


If the lines of text get too long, use Ctrl + or Ctrl - to reduce the characters per line.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:31 PM on July 5, 2010


pwnguin: “It has nothing to do with lenient HTML parsing and varying degrees of CSS compliance, annoying though such things may be. It's got to do with the challenge of designing for multiple screen sizes, and telling the browser when to word wrap.”

Er. So tell the browser to wrap words a certain distance from the edge of the window. That's what Metafilter does now, right? What's wrong with that? Can't people resize their browsers?

I guess that's the argument that's going on now. Hm.

So, again; either people really, really want to keep their browsers maximized, or they're hoping for a few more inches of nice empty blue space to stare at next to their text. Both of those possibilities seem really weird to me. Maybe one of the pro-"fixed-width" peopel can explain it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:43 PM on July 5, 2010


joeclark: “I’d prefer for it just to be readable. I don’t see why that’s controversial.”

Look, it's controversial because not everybody wants you to impose your specific word-count requirements on them. I like to resize my browser to change the number of words per line; sometimes I want more, sometimes I want less. What the hell is wrong with that? And what ancient browser are you using that doesn't allow you to do the same thing?
posted by koeselitz at 2:46 PM on July 5, 2010


Here's a Greasemonkey script for anyone who'd like a 900px-wide fixed-width option.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:48 PM on July 5, 2010


Metafilter's lack of design is one of the things I love about it.

If you desire a narrower Metafilter, narrow your browser window to your preferred width. Problem solved!
posted by killdevil at 2:51 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


> And this is why I do database programming instead of web design: because when I write code, I want to be able to run it and have it run the same way every time.

Cool! Oracle, SQLServer, or MySQL?
posted by ardgedee at 2:53 PM on July 5, 2010


I would like a YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES version, please.
posted by oulipian at 2:57 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can't people resize their browsers?

But then I have to have a different browser open just for metafilter, either that or keep changing it back for the other sites I use which aren't a big wall of text. My monitor at home isn't huge either but its' a 15.4 inch widescreen, so wider than it is tall, and yeah, metafilter is harder to read there than anywhere else. If I could set a fixed width in the user settings for that one computer (like all the other user settings) then I would.

The question specifically asked for this an an option, not something to impose on everyone. Given we can change the font and stuff I don't see why it's such a big deal.
posted by shelleycat at 2:58 PM on July 5, 2010


I wish people would stop feeling so threatened every time someone suggests a minor change or addition to the way the site looks or works. The last thing you could say about MetaFilter is that users get unwanted changes foisted on them with no consultation.

Oh great, my Greasemonkey script broke during preview. I'll have another go in the morning...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:58 PM on July 5, 2010


Let's talk about pie. If you are against pie, you're against America.
posted by killdevil at 2:59 PM on July 5, 2010


1. The best rhubarb pie.
posted by phunniemee at 3:02 PM on July 5, 2010


Can I have pancakes with that pie?
posted by ardgedee at 3:02 PM on July 5, 2010


No.
posted by killdevil at 3:02 PM on July 5, 2010


I like my pies to be fixed-width.
posted by new brand day at 3:15 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


lkoeselitz writes: So, again; either people really, really want to keep their browsers maximized, or they're hoping for a few more inches of nice empty blue space to stare at next to their text. Both of those possibilities seem really weird to me. Maybe one of the pro-"fixed-width" peopel can explain it.

I do sometimes prefer to read things in maximized windows, and I'm a little surprised that this is so controversial. Of course, I'm happy to use windows aplenty, resized as needed, when the situation requires it; however if I'm just reading or working on one thing, I prefer that it be the single focus of my attention.

I prefer not to have my desktop icons visible, or other visual static in my peripheral view if there's no reason for it to be there. So, for much the same reason that I don't watch tv or movies in windows on the LCD screen in my living room, I'll often read or compose documents centered or full-screened on the LCD on the desk in my study. I also find that browsing maximized often saves a bit of hassle moving around and adjusting the sizes of windows.

In any case I certainly don't mean to be chauvinistic about my windowing preferences--my request is just that those who prefer a fixed-with (or, more accurately, a "max width") option would be able to read Mefi comfortably in a maximized window, as is possible with the NYT, BBC, and the large majority of widely popular internet sites. If fixed width were to be added an option, those who don't prefer it could still browse Mefi in widows of whatever size they prefer, or perhaps even read four foot lines of mefi text on one of these glorious monsters.
posted by washburn at 3:15 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


ardgedee: “Cool! Oracle, SQLServer, or MySQL?”

FOOLISH MORTAL. THE ANCIENT SAS IS ALWAYS THE SAME. NOW GO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PARSE THIS EBCDIC FILE.
posted by koeselitz at 3:16 PM on July 5, 2010


> I like my pies to be fixed-width.

I like my pis constant.
posted by ardgedee at 3:22 PM on July 5, 2010


I like my pis constant.

You'll ruin your kidneys doing that!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:37 PM on July 5, 2010


or Journey.

Firstly, that Steve Perry guy ruined a perfectly good band. Furthermore, it was a Power Computing Power Center 150.

As an old man who wears bifocular monocles on both eyes, I'll say when I have a browser window wide enough to even mostly fill up my 20" display, I have to physically swivel my head in order to keep the text here in focus. 800 pixels-max-worth of text would definitely make things easier to read, but I'm old enough to remember when I had to actually reach out to turn the pages of my books, so I'm mostly okay with minor effort of dragging the browser resize triangle with the mouse pointer. I'd probably click the pref button if there were one in my profile, but I ain't a-gonna get het up about it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:39 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't feel threatened, I just genuinely do not understand why people want to browse with their window maximized and the content smushed into the corner. If it's just to hide icons on your desktop, consider getting a rid of them? I fucking loathe desktop icons and have exactly 0. Whenever I use someone else's computer and the entire thing is filled with icons I start twitching.
posted by cj_ at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2010


I always maximize all windows, regardless of the size of the monitor in question. Floaty windows give me vertigo.

Also, I'm happy with the wide layout, even on my widescreen monitor at work.

If you want to change it, get Stylish (or the equivalent for your browser, assuming it exists)

and try

#page {max-width:1200px; margin:auto;}

where 1200 is whatever width you feel comfortable using for your custom setting for *.metafilter.com.

The margin:auto just centers comments for you. Omit it if you like.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kind of hate desktop icons, too. I have a picture of awesome South African Ground Squirrels as my desktop background right now (squirrels are awesome, they are sort of my power animal) and I like to look at them without all the clutter. I also set my terminal to "transparent" so I can gaze at their squirrely awesomeness while I'm hacking.
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2010


I'm reading this thread in fullscreen on a stupidly wide monitor. You get used to it.

Browsing in half-screen is almost perfect except my thousands of tabs shrink to uselessness. I really should get into the habit of splitting them out into two windows but old habits die hard.
posted by Skorgu at 6:13 PM on July 5, 2010


Dude, the deal is that, with really good web design, you are in control of the browser size, the word wrapping, the text size, and so forth. If you want to hide your desktop icons, get a desktop manager OR (hacky) open a second browser window showing a blank page behind the browser window you're using. Or stop having so many icons on your desktop and put them into a start menu folder or two. Or maximize Notepad. Or get some other attractive software.

Fixed-width designs are the easy way out and reflect a lack of oneness with the web, IMO.

A max-width attribute for the appropriate class *might* be helpful, depending on the overall design philosophy here.
posted by amtho at 8:36 PM on July 5, 2010


Fair point about tabs.. When I get that much stuff open, I go into triage and start bookmarking or nuking stuff.

Back to the original topic, I see a lot of people mention stuff like BBC's website as a reference model. Yes it's true that these websites have very static layouts. I disagree (vehemently, as it happens) that this is an ideal design model that websites should strive to emulate. The reason these websites have static layouts tends to be that their complicated "professional" design completely break if given the freedom to reflow to your browser dimensions. It's not a coincidence that the websites mentioned are all online versions of old media behemoths, which try to force outmoded design conventions (pixel-level control of presentation) on a medium not really suited for it. I am just grateful they don't use Adobe® Flash™ in pursuit of this misguided goal.

It's a feature, not a bug, of good web-targeted design to separate presentation from content as much as possible and be agnostic about details like what size your browser is, etc.. It's hard to do this perfectly with the standards and tools we have in place (hence stuff like iphone-specific stylesheets), but that's not a reason to throw the idea out the window.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that you want it to look a certain way and that is not an option, but as mentioned, there are user stylesheet options for every major browser that can help you out here...
posted by cj_ at 8:56 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, when in god's name did "we all" have PowerMac 7100s?

If Apple had never released the PowerMac 7100 with Metafilter-only browsing, Metafilter would never have achieved anything like the market penetration that it has. So you can thank Apple for Metafilter as well as USB.
posted by flabdablet at 1:28 AM on July 6, 2010


If a properly working version of that fixed-width Greasemonkey script interests anyone, here's a new one that appears to work pretty well throughout the site.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:10 AM on July 6, 2010


The reason these websites have static layouts tends to be that their complicated "professional" design completely break if given the freedom to reflow to your browser dimensions.

Perhaps you're misunderstanding why I mentioned the BBC website. I mentioned it as an example of what people meant when they were saying 'fixed-width', because a few people apparently didn't grasp what that meant. Image a browser containing a completely blank, black page. Now imagine a vertical grey stripe, say 800 pixels wide, running down the middle of that page. Now put text inside that strip. Such a minimalist page would have served as a less confusing example. Some static-width layouts are indeed a consequence of wanting a very specific layout of boxes on the screen. That however doesn't really apply to MetaFilter, and so wouldn't be the justification. The reason given by those who'd like a fixed-width option is that it makes the text more easily readable for them without having to mess about resizing the window. On could even argue that a fluid layout is just as much an imposition on people as a fixed-width one; it depends entirely on which you find more comfortable.

It's not a coincidence that the websites mentioned are all online versions of old media behemoths, which try to force outmoded design conventions (pixel-level control of presentation) on a medium not really suited for it. I am just grateful they don't use Adobe® Flash™ in pursuit of this misguided goal.

It's nice to vent occasionally, even if it isn't germane.

It's a feature, not a bug, of good web-targeted design to separate presentation from content as much as possible and be agnostic about details like what size your browser is, etc.. It's hard to do this perfectly with the standards and tools we have in place (hence stuff like iphone-specific stylesheets), but that's not a reason to throw the idea out the window.

Separation of style and content isn't really about that. It's about making it possible to display the same content on a variety of platforms, or in a variety of different styles. When people talk about separating style from content, they're usually talking about how things work on the back-end, in the code. From a design standpoint, content and style should be seamlessly integrated to give the best possible user experience.

The purpose of good design isn't necessarily to produce a single layout that satisfies the lowest common denominator - that would be bland. Good design looks at the requirements of different types of end user and at usability heuristics. You can't make a site look identical on every platform, so you tweak the user experience where necessary. That isn't a problem with the standards or the tools; it's just a bit of work that needs to be done to accommodate your target audience. As an analogy, while it's a good idea to make one entrance to a store wheelchair-accessible, it doesn't mean that there's a fault with the entrances that aren't.


I'm sympathetic to the idea that you want it to look a certain way and that is not an option, but as mentioned, there are user stylesheet options for every major browser that can help you out here...


Of course there are ways to hack about with your browser styles, but those techniques aren't necessarily accessible to people at large. On that basis, you could also do away with the 'professional white background' version of the site, as well as options for font size etc. The idea (as I understand it) was simply to add an extra option to the user preferences to allow people to tick a box and choose a fixed-width layout. From a coding standpoint it's a simple matter of applying centering to the body tag and then wrapping the body content in a fixed-width div with auto margins. End of story, and nobody's feathers ruffled in any way whatsoever, because it's not the default option.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:47 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


FUNNY STORY 100% TRUE WHEN I FIRST STARTED WEBDESIGN I USED A LOT OF MARQUEE TAGS BUT ONE TIME I WANTED TO MAKE THEM GO IN THE MIDDLE SO I USED BUT IN HTML CENTRE IS SPELT CENTER :(

For serious, though, I think the OP's suggestion/whatever would be a nice option. I like low maintenance browsing. I don't want to have to resize windows every two minutes (especially because MetaFilter links to other sites, many of which are fixed width). All those people saying "EASY SOLUTION RESIZE YOUR WINDOW VOILA" are missing the point. That's like me parking in the middle of the street and saying "EASY SOLUTION DRIVE ON THE KERB". Yeah, it avoids the symptoms, but it doesn't solve the problem.

posted by doublehappy at 5:48 AM on July 6, 2010


The other point is that anyone browsing at work (where I imagine there's a lot of IE < 8 happening) probably don't have the same ability to customise scripts etc.
posted by doublehappy at 5:50 AM on July 6, 2010


Can't people resize their browsers?

shelleycat : But then I have to have a different browser open just for metafilter,

This is what I do. And once I realized that I dedicate a browser window specifically to this site, I actually went a step further, and now opt to keep it open at roughly half the width of my 17" monitor. since that feels the most like the word-per-line I get when reading a book.

I keep another browser open in the background, and have become a master at alt-tabbing between them if I need to see something in a wider format.

At this point, I like my system enough that even if a fixed width option were added, I doubt I'd use it. This way just works too well.
posted by quin at 7:52 AM on July 6, 2010


Of course, if you want sort-of-fixed-width, you could just browse mefi exclusively via your Recent Activity page.
posted by koeselitz at 8:33 AM on July 6, 2010


I'm looking at MeFi on my 60" HDTV right now.

MeTV
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2010


And this is why I do database programming instead of web design: because when I write code, I want to be able to run it and have it run the same way every time. I think I would find this whole "oh look, it looks different on that browser" thing so maddening that I would stab people.

Yeah, that's why we make the big bucks, seriously. I spend more time explaining to designers and QA testers and such the variants that users will encounter in the real world, than I do coding to support them. It's also why the web developer field is littered with people who came over from the sciences, like geology and biology -- it's a field rich with speculation and a distinct absence of one-true-right-way. You have to be flexible and patient and able to see the forest for the trees.

So, for what it's worth, fluid width (aka what MetaFilter is) is wonderful, because you (as the user) get to decide exactly how wide the site should be, by virtue of sizing your browser window. If MetaFilter set a fixed width, the vast majority of users would wish it were wider or narrower. Even a max-width setting would tick off a lot of users who wanted the max-width to be larger.

shelleycat : But then I have to have a different browser open just for metafilter...

So here's what you do: you presumably have a lot of other sites that are all fixed-width, yes? So you size your viewport to a bit larger than that. Now MetaFilter will be sized that way, too. Done and done. I'm not being flippant, here; I have a 1600x1400 monitor and that's how I roll. Most modern browsers remember your last-selected viewport size, so you won't have to do this more than once.
posted by davejay at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2010


So here's what you do: you presumably have a lot of other sites that are all fixed-width, yes?

No, I have up to thirty different things open which are all different. It's not just the width but the overall layout and what is on each screen. Most of them work fine on the widescreen, some of them don't (metafilter doesn't). If I can change some of the ones that don't so they do then I'm better off. If I can do it without installing a bunch of crap then even better, particularly since I can't change anything on my work computer anyway (at least I don't have to use ie6 anymore!).

I realise the answer is that I'm not supposed to work on lots of different things at once and just focus here but meh, not how it goes. Having another browser session open also sucks because I also have a bunch of other software running so finding what I need is already difficult.

As has been mentioned repeatedly, we can already set user settings by cookie for each computer (background colour, font size). Allowing a width setting won't make any difference at all to those of you happy with how things are, so why not make things easier for the rest of us?
posted by shelleycat at 3:09 PM on July 6, 2010


shelleycat: “As has been mentioned repeatedly, we can already set user settings by cookie for each computer (background colour, font size). Allowing a width setting won't make any difference at all to those of you happy with how things are, so why not make things easier for the rest of us?”

Well, I think the thing is that it's actually a whole hell of a lot of work for pb to create a working stylesheet for all sites that does fixed-width and promise to support it in the future. That's the thing; there are half a dozen browsers, and many thousands of pages on Metafilter that he has to look after to make sure they're all working nicely. So I just don't think hours and hours of his time stack up against this minor inconvenience, although I know it is annoying.

However, if you are on Firefox, it's actually not very difficult to set your style on Metafilter precisely how you want it. Remove everything but comments? Simple. Take away the sidebar and the tabs and everything? Easy. Replace the Metafilter logo with a picture of a flying gorilla? A piece of cake, so long as you have a picture of a flying gorilla handy. Here, I'll show you how. It should only take about ten minutes to run through these four relatively easy steps:

An Introduction to Adjusting Your Metafilter (and other) Styles Easily In Firefox

1. Install two extensions: Platypus and Greasemonkey. (Don't be afraid of Greasemonkey; you won't be writing any code. Just install it and move on.) Restart Firefox so that you're sure those two extensions are up and running.

2. Go to Metafilter, and (this is important) go into a thread on the blue. Then, start up Platypus by clicking Tools -> Platypus. Now, you can start editing Metafilter to make it look exactly how you want it to look.
  • Notice that when you hover your mouse over the page, various elements become pink. Click them and – whoop! – they disappear. (Don't worry; you can undo everything by clicking the "Reload" button to start over.)
  • You can click to remove stuff you want to get rid of, but you can also right-click to change things. The thing you fixed-width folks want on Metafilter is to adjust the text, right? So: hover your mouse pointer over just to the left of all the text, so that the whole block of text (including all the posts, not just an individual one) is pink. Now, right-click, and from the menu select Set Style. Now you'll have the Edit Content Style window, where you can set the text attributes for the main block of Mefi.
  • To make Metafilter nice, clean, and fixed-width, all you have to do is constrain the "width" parameter in the box. When you first open this window, it'll display the width you're at right now; if you set it lower, it will stay at exactly that lower width. So drop it down a few hundred pixels or so, click Apply, and see how you like it. Adjust it to your liking.
  • Personally, I like text that is justified, rather than just squashed to the left; so if you wish, you can set the Text Align to Justify. Frankly, I think justified text looks better in a fixed-width format, anyway, but you can do what you want. You can right-align it too, if you want, or center everything and set the width to 200px so you feel like you're reading McSweeney's. Go nuts is the Mefi motto, after all.
  • Oh, and right-clicking anywhere on the page is how you'd paste images or text there, if that's something you're into.
  • 3. Once you've got Metafilter precisely how you like it, go up to the row of buttons for Platypus right below your forward and back buttons, and press the Save button. Platypus is neatly integrated with Greasemonkey, so the styles you just set are automatically wrapped up into a Greasemonkey script, which you can then install; basically, once you click the Save button, then next thing you'll see is a Greasemonkey script Installation box which gives you the option to install it. Go ahead – click Install. Now, your script is functioning. Close any extra windows, reload the thread, and see that your script is functioning perfectly; Metafilter's width is fixed, and stays the same no matter how much you resize the browser. Nifty!

    4. Lastly, you have to enable that for all pages of Metafilter, so click Tools -> Greasemonkey -> Manage User Scripts, and you'll get a menu for doing that. With your new script (which should be the only one installed) highlighted, go next to the "Included Pages" box, select the only entry there (the URL of the page you were editing) and click the nearby "Edit" button. In the text box that pops up, change the URL so that it reads: http://www.metafilter.com/*. Once you've changed it, click Okay, and then click the Close button to close the Manage User Scripts menu.

    Now you've set a style and applied it to all pages of a subsite, including its front page. Click around the blue and see that your script is working – every page now has a concrete text width that never changes no matter what size your browser is (and also whatever else you chose to add to it, including flying gorillas.) You'll have to repeat these steps for any subsite that you wish to add – ask, metatalk, etc. Just go into a page of that subsite, use Platypus to set the style, then save it to a Greasemonkey script and set it for all pages of that subsite. Presto!

    Hope some people find this helpful, anyway. It's certainly not the way I like to look at web pages, but if you want to, you should be allowed to.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


    All of which is nice if I was allowed to change anything on my work computers but I'm not.
    posted by shelleycat at 9:23 PM on July 6, 2010


    Also if pb or matt or someone came along and said nope, too much work, then that's cool. But instead what we have is a bunch of people getting all het up about having things changed on them (which wasn't the orignial request) plus a big pile of 'but I work this way so everyone should work this way'. Both of which are pretty stupid really.
    posted by shelleycat at 9:26 PM on July 6, 2010


    Well, fuck me for trying.
    posted by koeselitz at 10:40 PM on July 6, 2010


    And maybe you didn't read it, but that was the original request: "this is a little awkward-looking... why not switch?"
    posted by koeselitz at 10:45 PM on July 6, 2010


    Actually the full sentence was: "So, why not switch to (or give users an option to select) a fixed width design?". See that bit about giving users an option? The bit your conveniently cut off? So I understand why people were saying no to switching but they still ignored the option part.
    posted by shelleycat at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2010


    Well, we may as well ask for the answer you wanted, anyway. pb? mathowie? jessamyn? cortex? Is this whole "fixed-width stylesheet" thing proposed here something you'd consider at all?
    posted by koeselitz at 11:23 PM on July 6, 2010


    Also if pb or matt or someone came along and said nope, too much work, then that's cool.

    I won't speak for them—Matt's traveling right now so I don't know if he has a specific opinion or not, and pb is a wizard so I'm not gonna underestimate him—but it does seem like it might be a bit of a pain in the ass to do, not because of the preference checkbox stuff since that's obviously a more or less solved problem but because tweaking in an alternate stylesheet that correctly implements a fixed width on every page of the site in a way that doesn't break the layout and behaves in all browsers sounds like a bit of a clusterfuck in the making. Setting aside entirely the question of what the correct width would be and the joy of dealing with people's disagreements on that front.

    So they may swoop in at some point and say "yeah, awesome idea!", but they haven't so far which may be a good sign that it's not happening. We're fairly conservative about tweaking this stuff, most "add this preference setting" requests don't happen. It may be a good idea to look into the sort of client-side tweak that koeselitz is talking about above; it sucks that you can't do it at work, and I feel your pain there having had a very locked-down back-version IE install at my old dayjob, but fundamentally that sort of thing is just going to be a bummer a lot of the time.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 11:26 PM on July 6, 2010


    Can we have a setting to make the background a particular shade of hot pink and also have 14px margins? It's not that hard right?

    I mentioned it as an example of what people meant when they were saying 'fixed-width', because a few people apparently didn't grasp what that meant.

    I think we all get what fixed-width means. I am contesting that it has any intrinsic value as a design choice. I am certainly biased on this matter, and will not deny that.

    I feel that people should resize their browsers to the size they want, and if it breaks fixed-width sites that expect it to be bigger/smaller, then it is those websites that need fixing. Demanding Metafilter be fixed-width so that various other sites opened in tabs look good seems positively backwards to me.
    posted by cj_ at 1:52 AM on July 7, 2010


    Saying something "should be an option" or optional does not make it ok.

    I'd like a button on Metafilter that kills a kitten. Of course it would be optional to click it.


    OPTIONAL!!!!
    posted by blue_beetle at 8:40 AM on July 7, 2010


    This is already available with a somewhat different interface, if you're OK with god killing the kitten.
    posted by Dr Dracator at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2010


    Saying something "should be an option" or optional does not make it ok.

    No, but having something that would be useful to a reasonable subset of users makes it ok, and making it optional means that the change isn't imposed on anyone who doesn't want it.

    There doesn't seem to be overwhelming support for the suggested addition, so that's fair enough. I'd nevertheless be interested to learn why people's suggestions for minor tweaks to MetaFilter meet with such hostility sometimes. I'm not sure it's an entirely healthy form of brand loyalty.
    posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:41 AM on July 8, 2010


    We aren’t talking about a fixed-width stylesheet. Fixed width is the problem equal and opposite to the one we have now, unlimited width. We need a readable width, and of course admins are going to dance around the issue. Admins are not committed to the readability of this site, merely to its mystique and preserving how it’s always been. This issue will additionally be confused with the old “professional” redesign candidate mathowie has talked about extensively.
    posted by joeclark at 1:03 PM on July 9, 2010


    I'd nevertheless be interested to learn why people's suggestions for minor tweaks to MetaFilter meet with such hostility sometimes. I'm not sure it's an entirely healthy form of brand loyalty.

    People are averse to change. I would imagine a lot of users (especially those in MeTa, who I would hazard simply from gut feeling are more invested in the site - since it's an area purely to discuss the site itself) have their own setups tweaked to transpose MeFi into their desired look. Probably based on how it's set up currently.

    I think people are also aware that, as much as we say otherwise, pb is human. This is probably not a huge priority.

    If anything, I suspect that this is an incentive to have a public-facing site to-do list, so people can see what kinds of projects are brewing and work out how pony requests fit into the current workload. But of course, there are problems associated with that as well.

    We aren’t talking about a fixed-width stylesheet. Fixed width is the problem equal and opposite to the one we have now, unlimited width. We need a readable width, and of course admins are going to dance around the issue. Admins are not committed to the readability of this site, merely to its mystique and preserving how it’s always been. This issue will additionally be confused with the old “professional” redesign candidate mathowie has talked about extensively.

    I had a ton of serious and snarky responses to this, but I'll settle on:
    1. People like things different ways, and like being able to choose.
    2. pb is a busy man, and initiating a site-side fix for this isn't a priority.
    3. The vast majority of people can control this themselves, rendering the utility of a site-side fix relatively low.
    posted by djgh at 4:23 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


    joeclark: “We aren’t talking about a fixed-width stylesheet. Fixed width is the problem equal and opposite to the one we have now, unlimited width. We need a readable width, and of course admins are going to dance around the issue. Admins are not committed to the readability of this site, merely to its mystique and preserving how it’s always been. This issue will additionally be confused with the old “professional” redesign candidate mathowie has talked about extensively.”

    Wow. The first few people who joined this site all seem to have been complete jerks.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:52 PM on July 9, 2010


    You know what's pretty interesting is that behind the scenes on code and site-type stuff, me and pb are always working from the bottom of a 6+ month to-do pile. We're fixing things from way back and development marches on slowly because there are only so many hours in the day.

    One of the best things about MeFi is the highly intelligent and technical readers of the site that point out issues such as this, but even better is that we've been getting occasional emails from members that happen to know their way around code sending us not only suggestions for how something could be improved, but some rudimentary CSS we can quickly roll into the site. If you look at the new IRL site, you should see the day of the week has been added to the date blurbs on the left side of the event listings. That was someone sending over a sample HTML file saying this would help people plan and was easy to implement, and thanks to their code it was.

    If anyone wants to take a crack at throwing together some sort of whizbang CSS3 media hack to base font sizes, margins, leading, and line length based on the fluid properties of window size like this A List Apart demo, me and pb would certainly try it out and if it indeed solved a lot of problems without introducing too many new ones to legacy users, we'd be much more likely to implement.
    posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:57 AM on July 10, 2010


    Thanks to koeselitz, le morte de bea arthur and everyone else who posted suggestions for browser-side adjustments to deal with this issue. Thanks also, mathowie for adding your thoughts to the thread. I wish I were able to provide help with coding on this. Whatever the width of Metafilter, I'll be grateful that it's around, and appreciative of those who keep it up and running.
    posted by washburn at 8:14 AM on July 11, 2010


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