The Developer's Diary
CoolPageHelp.com is proud to present the Chief Developer of Cool Page and CEO of 3Dize Inc. - Shelby Moore III
Chapter 4 - To Space or Not To Space?
(that WAS the question)
©2000-2002 3Dize Inc. All rights reserved
Many people were taught in school to put two spaces after a period between sentences, yet the overwhelming advice is to use only one space for webpages. I personally feel that this advice is incorrect and
I will present a very solid logical argument below.
When to Use Two (2) Spaces
Always use 2 spaces after periods for web pages, typewriter, handwriting or any document that will NOT be viewed primarily printed on a piece of paper or other very high resolution device.
Not on Printed Pages
On very high resolution devices such as printed pages, the spacing between letters (called kerning), and the fine detail on the letters, is sufficiently uniform such that a larger spacing is not necessary to adequately distinguish the end of a sentence.
Yes Every Where Else
However, on lower resolution devices (or approximately monospaced devices such as a typewriter or handwriting) the spacing between letters is often larger and varies for each letter combination juxtaposed. Thus a single space after a period will often be confused by the eye with the spacing between letters. On top of this, the low resolution of these devices causes aliasing (jaggies) which can randomly shift a letter stroke 1 whole pixel from it's intended position, and thus larger spacing is needed to counteract (make reliable) the weaknesses in (unreliable) spacing consistency of the device. On top of this, the period is the smallest character, and is often only 1 pixel on these low resolution devices. It can easily be lost in sea of weaknesses of such devices.
For example, when the user highlights the text, the contrast (sometimes blue on black or white) can be decreased. Also the resolution, fonts, layout consistency, monitor size, ambient light, gamma, etc... can be different for each viewer of the web page.
Be considerate of the medium and the different people and viewing situations. Some people may even be viewing the site with reduced vision or suffering eye strain from overwork.
For web pages, the clear advantage is to err on the side of larger spacing after periods between sentences. In very few cases will the extra spacing be so obvious to be considered highly unasthetic, and rather in the majority of viewing cases (remember different for each viewer...for example I am on a notebook often in sunlight) the extra spacing will be attractive and help the comprehension of the web page.
Purpose of Punctuation
Why do we put a period and space(s) between sentences? To stop a sentence and clearly delineate the next sentence. Thus by definition, one of the requirements of sentence punctuation, is for the delineation to be CLEAR. If the relative spacing between letters and sentences is too similar or confused, then it is not CLEAR. Reading should not be made a more tedious activity than it is by nature.
The Counter Argument
Basically the purest (such as highly respected web guru Jacob Nielson) argue that the browser can widen as necessary the single space to adjust for the viewer's preferences. And they argue the such nuances of layout be left to the user agent (the browser and viewer combined). I agree with this in theory, but in reality it ain't gonna happen. The reality is that browsers aren't this sophisticated and won't improve on this issue for years if ever.
Yet those purests are often the same ones advising useability and the
concept that visitors SCAN web pages, instead of reading them from start tofinish. If visitors are SCANNING web pages as those purests claim, then certainly they are also trying to scan for next sentence in some cases. Those purests are the same ones who tell you not to use Cool Page because pixel-exact layout violates the user agent's freedom to reformat the page as desired. Note we are addressing this reformat weakness for Cool Page version 3.0. more info
I feel this is a contentious issue for two (2) primary reasons. First, because people are basically lazy to make sure they always type 2 spaces, and people don't want to have to remember to do it one way for web pages and another way for printed pages. Second, because more of the "experts" are coming from a professional publishing and design background where they do mostly commercial print work. They want the web to reflect the same professionalism and pure typesetting norms. However, they are ignoring the
current state of technology.
Theory is nice, but it is not reality. I know my position will get me attacked by many people, but hopefully also this page will quoted by other web sites that want to present both sides of the debate. Besides, I am used to it, as I alluded above, the purest attack Cool Page all the time, but the users love Cool Page. (reality vs. theory again :-)
Why Follow My Advice
A few reasons I feel I am qualified to advise on this subject. First, because of my fairly extensive experience as the programmer of Cool Page. Unlike theorists such as Jacob Nielson (who I respect immensely), I am down in the trenches with the users. I even programmed Cool Page to handle the case of 2 spaces following a period so that the browser won't ignore the 2nd space.
Second, because in 1986 I released WordUp, one the world's first wysiwyg word processors (predated MS Word wysiwyg), and I was one of the leaders in the revolution of software typesetting, which relates back to the history of this issue as the typewriter was replaced by affordable, personal print publishing.
Third, since 1999 I have been blind in one eye, and I deal every day with eye strain on the web.
Fourth, because I travel a lot and view web pages on every range of screen device from very crappo 13" CRT at 640x480 and 16 colors to my 14" notebook screen with rays of sunlight glancing the screen. I understand why those using 19" monitors and very high quality video cards think my point is silly, but they haven't related to the millions of viewers out there on the web.
Go to a Third World country and view your web page, then you get closer to the varied experience I have. The web is supposed to be the liberator of information between the have and have nots. Don't play the myopic, exclusivity mindset. Be open and giving and understanding to varied readership.
Solution Submitted to W3C
I (Shelby Moore) have submitted a proposed solution, which would eliminate the double space, to the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C sets most of the major standards for web programming and HTML. The links below pertain to that discussion, which show (as of time of writing this) that W3C was against my proposed solution, because they felt sentence parsing is too difficult.
Note: You can click "In Response To" links on the pages linked below to walk the entire discussion. (this discussion is for developers and programmers)
Submission to W3C
Presents the same facts as I do, but with a different advice:
Shelby Moore III
CEO 3Dize, Inc.
Lead programmer of Cool Page and Art-o-matic
In this article, Shelby answers the question that has plaqued web designers, web grammarians and IT students for quite a few years:
to space or not to space?
Huh? To space or not to space, that is the question, referring to whether or not one space or two spaces should be used after a period at the end of a sentence, before the next sentence begins:
This is the first sentence. This is the second sentence with ONE space between. This is the third sentence. This is the fourth sentence. Notice the single space between sentences and how this paragraph, if not studied tediously, on glance looks like one long run-on sentence.
This is the first sentence. This is the second sentence with TWO spaces between. This is the third sentence. This is the fourth sentence. Notice the double spacing between the sentences makes the sentence easier to read.