We expect streams of text to scroll down in our browsers. But almost all of them scroll incorrectly.
Figure 1 shows a column of text; the grey bars represent the lines. The blue rectangle shows the area currently visible in your browser. The red line is the last one visible in the current screen, the green one the next one that would be visible were the window a little longer.
Figure 2 shows what you expect to happen when you’re in this situation and you hit next-page or the space-bar; either option is acceptable. The top line visible in your browser window should be either the red or green line from the previous figure. Browsers do this well, and the eye knows where to go.
But there’s a problem, illustrated in Figure 3, when you’re near the bottom of the page, so there’s not much left to display after the last line in the current window.
When you’re in this situation and hit space-bar or page down, what you’d like to see is the exact same behavior, as shown in Figure 4; zero or one lines of overlap between screens.
For some reason, browsers are reluctant to leave white space showing at the bottom of the window, so they refuse to scroll all the way up, as shown in Figure 5, leaving the last line you were reading stranded at some random location in the middle of the page.
When this happens, my flow of reading is disrupted because my eye doesn’t know where to go to pick up where I left off.
There’s another problem. If you link to a particular sub-heading in an article, using hash-fragments properly (unlike, for example, Twitter), the point you link to should show up at the top of the window. This same bug — the browsers’ refusal to leave room at the bottom of the window — means that it’s really hard to link effectively to an article’s conclusion.
In many pages on the Web, this bug has become invisible because the actual content is much shorter than the sidebar and footer apparatus with which it is festooned, which carries on ad infinitum. On this subject, please read Brent Simmons’ The Readable Future.
Could this be fixed, please? It’s really OK to have some white space at the bottom of the browser window.