Xkcd, Kerning, Full-Width Justification, Kerning, and Light Sabers
Today the webcomic turned its attention to kerning again, this time focuses on the unsolved problem of full-width justification.
The bane of ebook readers and developers alike, full-width justification is a digital holdover of a print formatting decision. It’s intended to make a body of text look prettier by giving it nice and even sides, but that comes at a price.
Justification has to be handled automatically in ebooks and on the web, and that leads to one of several compromises.
As you can see at right, a rendering engine can either leave gaps at the end of the line, insert space between words and characters, or hyphenate the words which span two lines (a common web solution which the Kindle platform is still working to adopt).
And to make things more complicated, when it comes to ebooks we also have some publishers setting the justification by CSS fiat, choosing to either force full justification or left justification (aka ragged right).
While the comic does mention stretching, filler, and snakes, those aren’t real options for text formatting (or at least not yet). And curiously, even though today is 4 May there is no mention of light sabers as a filler option – just snakes.
None of the real options are an ideal solution, but they all have their advocates in the ebook realm. I, for one, prefer a ragged right when I am reading ebooks because stretching words to fill the space looks like crap, and hyphenation is not always an option in all the apps.
How do you like to format text in an ebook, when you get to make a choice?
images by xkcd, hans.gerwitz