Width as a Social Idea

A Note on Site Width as a Neglected Dimension

Elgg suffers from a poverty of themes, both in numbers and quality. So far I have not seen a single Premium Elgg theme that is anywhere near some of the FREE themes available at Joomla and Pligg, for instance. But what disturbs me most personally is the wide indifference to the width factor.

The vast majority of computer users (both at home and workplace), still use the good old CRT montior with its 800px width, and this will remain so for years to come (changing the resolution through the Control Panel is a different thing). Can we ignore this hardware situation, which is a social situation? Ironically many programmers go all the hog to make their themes compatible even with IE6.

Width controlling is the in-thing now (it should be that way), usually with three options: Narrow, Wide, Auto.

1. Narrow: This is for the users (the vast majority, including me until recently) who use a CRT monitor. The width should be less than 800px (preferably 780px). Only here an Elgg programmer needs some recoding and a special style sheet.

2. Wide: This is the width of the default Elgg theme (990px, right?). No special coding required.

3. Auto: This is the width automatically used by the theme as set by the hardware or by the user through the control panel. This too doesn't require any special coding. All you have to do is set Body width to 100%

Model: I give a here a link, picked at random, that would give you the idea. See: http://www.joomlademos.de/home?template=templatka11. This FREE Joomla template, in addition, gives you letter-size control and color change control as well.

So the main work comprises creating a control panel that shows the options, and the creation of the 'Narrow' version. Nowadays several FREE Joomla themes come with these options. Elggers need to realize the importance of width as a crucial dimension. Please get rid off that pestering horizontal scroll bar (my most favourite US President Ronald Reagan once said, "Mr. Gorbachev, please remove a few bricks from this wall"). 

In fact, if the default version is the "narrow version", there will still be less exra work (maybe no extra work at all). Let me grab another example. This time from Pligg (one software I had used and deftly discarded): http://dev.digitalnature.ro/fusion/xhtml/index-pliggtest.html (I asked the developer to make a theme like that for Elgg. He said, Yes, he will when he gets time, but it is not created so far.)

Can't we use percentage in place of fixed width values as a norm? Something like Body: 98%, Canvas 95% ... down to colums? I am a light-weight programmer, the anorexia type, but it's a type that is connected with good "looks" -- in programming, I mean :). Seriously, is "all based on percentage" (with, of course, the mini/max stuff put where necessary) possible?

Actually, this is a plea, guys -- from one who is pixel-fuzzy (by the way, the error messages block is a bit wider than the canvas)

Note: The first ever website I created for myself didn't need even vertical scrolling. I merely used a technique already available in HTML. Just create an UP icon and DOWN icon. Users only have to place the mouse on them to browse up and down. This is Ok for a simple website, quite impossible (at least for me) to be implemented in complex sites. But the width factor is different. It's a social, ethical, and political factor. By god, I am not being funny.


  • I am not in agreement with CRT and 800 pixels height being the way things are as what is quickly taking place in the world at large, but that aside i do agree with you. Themes are very much in need of some pep, which in one big way is where I have been spending a lot of my time lately.

    Personally, my first big push is for a multi-purpose theme that takes on the near cutting edge of mobile devices, specificaly the iPhones, Androids, Palm Pre and the ilk because I know what is now cutting edge is going to quickly be the norm.

    Despite the economy, the computer industry is going to pick up again, and according to some recent business news, expectations are that large scale purchases are just around the corner again. With that comes more flat panels with wider screen ratios and cheaper computers with more power. Much of what should be done needs to think what will be rather then geared towards what has been.

    Social platforms differ greatly in use over a site built with Joomla, and there is already a small push in the direction of allowing information to move between other platforms because different software is better at certain needs, and in fact I have started putting a site together with Joomla on the front end with ELGG on the social side of things.

    But the need of a social site is an interesting thing when considering a theme. Unlike a lot of web sites there is nothing static about it, but having something relatively concrete in appearance underneathe creates the ability for the user base to not only navigate through the site, but also allows the user base to help the next generation behind them figure things out as well.

    If i were to pick on anything about the themes on here is that nothing is unique. I mean this in the sense that what i see still looks like ELGG (not necessarily bad, but there is no real work being done to make one theme really stand apart from another).

  • Hi Shillo,

    I'm curious about what country you are from? Even the BBC, a huge mass audience website, abandoned a 800 pixel site design quite a while ago.

    I'd be curious to hear what part of the world still uses that width.

    But I agree with the larger point that Elgg needs more themes!

  • @ Zakary

    Good sites, very popular sites, fit themselves into the screen width available, be it CRT ot wide screen. I am using both. I don't feel a difference. I just want to point out two things.

    1. It may be true that "the computer industry is going to pick up again", but a wide/flat screen is beyond the financial reach of most 3rd world computer users -- it used to be so even before the economy hit the low, and it will remain the same for at least a decade (the best case scenario).

    2. A narrow screen format could be made to fit the whole width of wide acreens, with the use of percentage and mini/max values, with the use of "float"; but not the other way round. Such a program would still work even if all the CRT monitors have disappeared from the planet. Fluid themes are what we need. And resolutions vary in the flat types. It looks like we will have to build sites horizontally instead of vertically.


  • @ Kevin

    I am in India at present, after my father's recent death. But that is beyond the point, I suppose. Recently I read somewhere that most programmers use a 960px width format. Why this fixation? Personally I feel 960 it is neither here nor there. It's not a "golden" number in maths or computer science (or, am I wrong?)

    But more important is the fact that PHP programming allows us to make sites that uses the optimal screen width automatically.

    BBC is just a website, Elgg is a software that allows others to make their own sites.

    I was using a CRT when I first started using Joomla. The default templates that came with the package neatly fitted the screen. I recognised their fluidity only when I bought a Samsung flat screen (in which I use the 1440x900 resolution).

    P.S. Here is something interesting. When I was using Buddypress (which miraculously changed a mere blog site into a social network), I have been irritating the moderatots with my demand for a "narrow' version :) You know what? IE6 is the only browser that displayed my Buddypress site withing 800px!

  • @ zakary

    "I have started putting a site together with Joomla on the front end with ELGG on the social side of things"

    I am working on the same combination, but I am also trying out the potential of Spotlight.

  • Hi Shillo,

    Although Elgg is not a website, the default Elgg theme needs to cater to the large majority of people.  There are definite advantages to being able to display more information horizontally and limiting your designs to those that also work with the narrow 800 pixel displays forces you to avoid many good design options.

    This is why the BBC, for example, has abandoned its old 800 pixel design.

    Elgg can use many themes, however, and I'm sure that a "narrow" option or a fluid option that works with 800 pixels could be done and might be used by some sites. I don't think that developing that theme should be Curverider's responsibility, however. It would be a niche theme, like the iPhone theme that is also being developed by an independent designer.

  • Kevin,

    I didn't not bring forward the isssue as a"Curverider's responsibility" in any sense. I am sorry if my postings seem to imply it. I was just comparing what is available here and elsewhere.

    Another thing is that a "narrow" model with fluidity (with width value given in % and with the use of "float", etc) will fit all resolutions horizontally.  Won't it? My emphasis is on that.

  • Yes, fluid themes are of course possible, but they are limited. For example, text can flow, but columns cannot. The standard Elgg profile page layout with 3 widget columns would be impossible in a 800 pixel design - the widget columns would be too narrow to display reasonable content.

    The same is true for the current BBC four column layout.

  • What is a"CRT" ?


    BTW... Can you you by any chance EMail me or post - that Admin only Pages code from your Elgg install - that Carlos sent you ? He seems to have lost his copy... I'd appreciate. ;-)



  • Hello Kevin and Shillo,

    It may sound as if i'm salesman, but again, Google Wave tackles this problem very very nicely in their application. Any programmer that wants to do something new and fresh, please take a look at the way Wave displays the user info.

    I'm currently travelling, and have little time for showing a wave video, but i will do soon, and show these principles, how completely flexible the design is, and it uses every single pixel in the browser screen.

    Uddhava dasa