The Rise of the Landscape Web

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?

The Waiting…

You know what they say about it.

Google Wave went into a wider preview release yesterday, as the first of what was supposed to be 100,000 invites were sent out to folks who’d agreed to beta-test for the developers. And everyone, myself included, has been waiting with bated breath.

Well, not exactly bated breath. More like breath that’s being used to whine and wheedle, hoping for an invite to come sooner.

The developers, however, are (a) in Australia, and so not operating on my time zone!, and (b) apparently pushing out these invites by hand. One. At. A. Time.

So I have no idea whether I made the 100,000 cut or not. I do know, however, that a friend who did passed an invite my way last night, and that invite hasn’t yet been processed, so I’m still locked out.

It’s not like I don’t have other things I need to do (like respond to some of the awesome comments that have been left on [the other] Planned Obsolescence), but I’m still checking my Gmail account every three seconds just in case.

Something’s… Not… Right…

I went to bed last night about 11.30, and got up this morning around 7.30. And inbetween, didn’t receive a single piece of email. For some reason, I’m having a hard time accepting this — nothing from my listservs, nothing from my students, nothing from random spammers. Nothing. Why is it that eight hours of radio silence, over a Saturday night and into Sunday morning, has me convinced that something is wrong?

Blegging: Preservation

I’m deep in the thick of the chapter I’m writing on issues of preservation for digital scholarship, and am feeling fairly acutely the extent to which these issues have not been on my radar before now, so I need to ask for your help, particularly the digital librarians among you.

While there are a number of extremely important reports that have been published around these issues of late (see, for instance, the Blue Ribbon Task Force interim report, “Sustaining the Digital Investment,” the MITH white paper “Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born-Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use”, and the ARL report, “Safeguarding Collections at the Dawn of the 21st Century”, among others), I’m focusing the chapter around a few particular projects of which I could really use a deeper sense.

What I’m looking for is critical accounts of the histories of the histories of projects such as TEI, COinS, DOI, and LOCKSS, accounts that both convey the development and administration of the programs as well as any lingering issues with which the projects need to contend. I’ve found some basic stuff about each project, but if there are particularly good resources out there, I’d love to hear about them!

[Ed: Just critical accounts of the histories of the projects, not critical accounts of the histories of the histories. Not enough coffee yet…]

My New TOS

There’s a fantastic series of tweets in my Twitter stream right now, from folks commenting on the new Facebook terms of service, which indicates that anything a user adds to their account is not only the property of Facebook while the account is active, but remains their property even if removed from the server, and even if the account is deactivated. Two of my favorite tweets:

tweet from georgeonline

tweet from academicdave

My new TOS: Anything you think while reading this blog, or after reading this blog, or while contemplating once upon a time having read this blog, becomes my property.

What’s your new TOS?

[UPDATE, 12.32 pm: Amanda French has posted a fantastic comparison of the terms of service of Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter — and it appears the outrage is well-deserved.]

More Fun with Software

Having blogged my excitement about the public beta of DEVONthink 2, and trying to get myself re-organized for my winter break projects, I spent much of yesterday poking around in my various databases, thinking about how the data I access frequently is organized and trying to imagine better workflows. Over the last year or so, I’ve adopted a number of software packages and systems, and I figured I’d share some of what I’ve been using.

First off, of course, is DEVONthink itself, which I’ve been using to organize my reading notes, pdfs, and other bits of research data. I’ve also, as I noted, been using Bookends as my reference manager; it’s a little costy, but nowhere near so much as EndNote, and far, far friendlier.

This summer, for a whole series of reasons, I found myself getting a little paranoid about data security, and it suddenly occurred to me that not only had I not changed my primary passwords recently enough, but that I was reusing passwords in far too many places. The problem is, though, that I’m far too stupid to be able to remember as many passwords as I’d need to keep things really secure. Enter 1Password, a program that generates strong passwords and securely stores them for you. It also synchronizes beautifully with the iPhone, so that you need never be without that data.

Synchronizing data across computers, however, has been a challenge I’ve been trying to deal with for a while now. For the last several years, I’ve been using ChronoSync to synchronize data between my home machine and my USB drive, and then between my USB drive and my office machine, and so forth. Though ChronoSync is a dream, my system was still mildly awkward — heaven help me if I forget to sync before leaving one machine, or before starting to use the other. MobileMe’s Back to My Mac feature, which allows you to access any of your computers from any other, has gotten me out of a couple of jams, but it’s too slow to be ideal, and it’s not as automated as I’d like.

So yesterday I started tinkering with DropBox, which brings together cloud storage and automatic synchronization across multiple computers. I installed the application and dropped my databases in the dropbox, and then today installed the application on my office machine, which downloaded the contents of my dropbox. Any changes I make on one machine will automatically transfer to the other. (And DropBox uses SSL for all data transport and encrypts all files with AES-256, though the truly paranoid might want to create an encrypted disk image within the dropbox.)

Now to put those databases to work…

Cyberinfrastructure and the Humanities

I’m still running pretty much a day behind–meant to post this yesterday, but never got to it. In any event, and in a hurry:

The Chronicle reported yesterday that the ACLS had released a report, “Our Cultural Commonwealth,” examining the state of “cyberinfrastructure” in the humanities and social sciences, arguing–unsurprisingly, perhaps–that these “softer” areas of the academy have a long way to go in order to catch up with the levels of development and support available to the hard sciences. Among their recommendations is one near and dear to my heart: “Encourage digital scholarship.”

Today is also the final day in the summer institute on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at UC San Diego, sponsored by (among other organizations), HASTAC.

I’m very much hoping to hear what comes out of that institute, and looking forward to seeing how the ACLS’s report is received…

Twelve Steps Will Not Cut It

One sure way to measure your network dependency is to live in a building in which broadband is included with your rent, and see how you respond when the Internet suddenly, completely, and inexplicably breaks. And there is nothing you can do about it — no router you can reset, or DSL modem you can futz with, no customer service hotlines on which to hold. There is only your apartment’s leasing and maintenance office, where you’ll be told, “uh, yeah — it’s broke.”

How many times do you turn to the computer to look something up, only to realize you can’t, before the aggravation really starts to kick in?

How long does it take before you pack up the laptop and head down to the coffee shop, the one with the open wi-fi?

How long before you start picking fights with roommates or family members?

How long before paralysis sets in, in which you feel it impossible to accomplish anything?

Just curious.

[UPDATE, 5.17.06, 11.00 am: Yes, I changed the title of this post. I’m so deranged by my lack of networked communication that I totally fumbled the support group reference. And left the ball lying on the field for a full day. What a maroon.]