Culture

Google project shows when Web content is hiding

The Browser Size tool provides an overlay to reveal how likely it is people are reading the extremities of a Web page.

Google Browser Size shows how much of a Web page browsers can show on average.
Google Browser Size shows how much of a Web page browsers can show on average. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google published a tool Wednesday called Browser Size that lets Web developers gauge how much of their pages are visible in people's browsers.

With its own analysis, the search giant found that a lot of people couldn't see the download button for Google Earth because they had to scroll before it would show in their browser. Revamping the page increased download rates 10 percent, according to a blog post by Browser Size team member Arthur Blume.

The tool loads a Web page behind a pastel overlay that indicates what fraction of people can see a particular point on the Web page. The upper left is of course 100 percent, but when the point is farther down or toward the right, fewer and fewer can see it. The overlay statistics are based on a fraction of the people who visit the Google.com home page, said programmer Bruno Bowden.

"For example, if an important button is in the 80 percent region it means that 20 percent of users have to scroll in order to see it," Bowden said.

I'm intrigued by this sort of data. It's interesting to see the jump between old-style screens with a 4:3 aspect ratio and newer HD-style models that usually are in a wider 16:10 proportion. I'd be particularly curious to see how the overlay changes from one Web page to another--for example, I'd imagine gaming site visitors have bigger screens than mainstream Web pages.

Here's a hint if you're reading this on a laptop with a modest screen size: to see more of the Brower Size overlay, try pressing Ctrl-minus to zoom out.

I spend a lot of time looking at Web pages and have no particular fondness for scrolling. I therefore appreciate various efforts to maximize browser real estate devoted to actual Web content. Perhaps Google's tool will help on the Web design end, too, helping justify redesigns to put the good stuff in plain sight.