One Big Print Button?
Is the web's tendency to paginate big topics
a feature or a bug? April
Synopsis: Why do I have
to print out hundreds of separate pages to learn a topic that
is on an otherwise great website? And don't tell me to read
I frequently use the web to learn whole subjects, not just
to research snippets of information. So one thing that often
frustrates me is finding a great site that takes a conceptual
topic and breaks it up into dozens or hundreds of HTML pages.
I then have to print out each page individually to read the
whole story... in traffic jams, on a walk, on the exercycle,
in bed and so on.
The last time this happened was after seeing a new type of
radio-controlled plane at my local park. It was launched by
just throwing it, and looked so easy to maneuver that I thought
I'd get more serious about taking it up. I found a site http://www.monte-thompson.rchomepage.com/ that
told the story, but page-at-a-time. I wrote the author and
he graciously converted it to a PDF. What a guy!
Now if that's the way it always worked—ask the owner
for a PDF and you get it—there'd be no issue. (Any solution
that creates such duplication of course is flawed.) But what's
the real issue here? For starters, I still haven't found a
web app that lets me scan a site or portion thereof, see a
list of pages, and check the ones you want to print. That might
be nice. More recently web design allows for print vs. online
style sheets. This help per page. Does "format for paper" necessarily
mean include a cover, TOC, index, headers, footers, and page
numbers? This whole thing loop-de-loops back to my obsessive
complaint that web sites' "site maps" and various "indexes" should
be acknowledged as TOCs and indexes (full-text search is a
separate, new online-only thing) and we just need a technology,
or actually a toolset that serves both output needs. At the
base is the need for database organization of info... separate
pages any way you cut it. In the middle is the need for navigation
and accoutrements (indicia?) suited to the delivery mechanism.
At the end is the need for consumers to choose the output they
There's another side issue here. The reason large topics are
broken up is because of 28.8 modems (for those who still know
what 28.8 or even "modem" means), yet they don't exist any
more. Sreaming data may be another whole solution to this problem.
On a recent techwriting job, I used for the first time RoboHelp's "single-source" technique.
About 500 topics are in a single online help system, but also
can be spit out as two separate guides. The process is still
far from consumer-ready, but it's getting there. Some day sites
will have a "Print as Book" facility and you'll see
a lot of presets and default choices for the "paper navigation" and
one big Print button... "Print All?" I think that's
where we're headed.