the horrible whiteness of the pageI know a page is scandal bait inside the beltline, but let’s restrict ourselves to the meaning of the word in the context of print and screen. For the most part it’s pretty clear what we mean by a page in the print context: it’s one side of a leaf, one half of a spread. Take nine sheets of paper and fold them in the right way and you can make a 144-page book. True, the situation gets a little more complicated when you get into fold-out pages, accordian-fold publications, and Asian scrolls, but by and large the term’s meaning is established and accepted.

So why do we use the word page to refer to web documents? On the web a page is not the reverse side or the opposite face of anything but rather a complete unit, a document in itself, however it may be connected to others. It’s a file. It can be the target of a link. Its length is virtually limitless.

On his blog Subtraction, Khoi Vinh meditates thoughtfully on our use of the word page in the context of the web. “The fact that we call the basic organizing unit of a Web site a “page,” as in ‘Web pages,’ has,” he says, “made the lives of Web designers immeasurably more challenging, and it’s a disservice to those coming to the Web from the world of print, too.” He concludes that

Pre-existing knowledge is a trap for print designers working online, and clearing the trap is one of the most challenging things about becoming comfortable with the medium. A lot of Web design today barely escapes the traditional confines of a digital translation of a printed page. But it’s also a trap for Web designers, too. It’s too easy to forget that the defining characteristics of a Web page are in continual flux; we’re creating new innovations regularly, and the pages of today are materially different from the pages of tomorrow.

Read the full post here.