Re: online vs. paper

Subject: Re: online vs. paper
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 6 Oct 1994 12:16:43 EDT

Lori Lathrop writes:
>"ease of use." Because the resolution of information displayed on a
>computer screen is, at best, a small fraction of the resolution of 10,000
>dots per sq. mm. for information in a typeset document, fatigue sets in
>more quickly when reading online documentation.

I don't think this has much to do with resolution. I've never noticed
any fatigue in myself when reading dot matrix, for example. There have
been testimonials on alt.hypertext (responding to a similar thread) of
people having read full-length novels (mostly on small portables with
LCD screens, which they claimed were more readable). I think the fatigue
has much more to do with the limited number of postures available when your
reading material is in a fixed position (try reading from a lectern for an
hour or three).

>Also, readers' attention spans are shorter when reading static displays.

I'm not sure what you mean by a static display. Isn't a book a static display?
There are certainly readability problems with most online information, but
this has more to do with font size, color choice, and lighting conditions
than with anything inherent to the technology. As evinced by the testimonials
noted above, it is certainly possible to maintain a long attention span
online, given the appropriate display.

>Most computer screens display approximately one-third of the information
>contained on a printed page. I seriously doubt that most readers would
>prefer reading screen after screen of online documentation to reading
>a few pages of printed documentation.

If they're reading the pages sequentially (say the very first time they open
the user's guide), then online does indeed require them to "turn the page"
perhaps two-three times more often. Personally that doesn't bother me, though
I understand how it could bother some people. Consider point sizes in a
book: are you really frustrated by books with a larger point size? Gratified
by books with a smaller point size? This is the same issue, and I think most
people accomodate to the page size (whether online or hardcopy) unconsciously.

If they're reading the pages in a random search pattern (say every time they
read the guide after the first time), then the smaller "chunking" of
information online does no harm, since they are reading in small chunks
anyway. And the online has better search facilities, and more usable
cross-referencing (hypertext).

Take care,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's

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