Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Long content and linking pages

So far we've been working with single short pages of information. But what happens if you've got some big slabs of text to present? How would you present long texts so that people don't get overwhelmed? In this post we'll have a look at a few different solutions...

Setting up a template

Before we start let's create a space and some pages to work with.

We'll be using Twitter Bootstrap to style our pages. So if you haven't already got a copy, head over to the Bootstrap site and download a copy, then go to the template section of the 'Getting Started' tab and copy their page template.

We'll need some text on the page too. So that it's not too distracting, we'll use something nonsensical. Lorem Ipsum is the text of choice for web developers. Go to a lorem ipsum generator, grab 5 paragraphs and paste it into your template just below the 'Hello World' header.

Edit the text you just pasted so that it has <p> </p> tags around each paragraph.

Now you've created a template, save it into your bootstrap directory as page1.html
Now make 4 copies (page2.html, page3.html, page4.html and page5.html); we're set to go...

Linking separate pages

The traditional approach to presenting large amounts of information is to create separate pages of and link them together. You may need to put in several links so that viewers can navigate directly from one page to any other.

Add this code just after the body tag on page1.html:

    <a href="page2.html">Page 2</a>
    <a href="page3.html">Page 3</a>

To get your other pages linking back to the home page and to each other you just need to copy this code and edit it so that it points to the other pages. For example, on page2.html it should look like:

    <a href="page1.html">Page 1</a>
    <a href="page3.html">Page 3</a>

Update and test for page 1, 2 and 3.

Beautifying your links

The bootstrap css allows you to style your links so that they look like buttons. Just add the btn class to your anchor tags:

    <a href="page2.html" class="btn">Page 2</a>
    <a href="page3.html" class="btn">Page 3</a>

Adding some icons

You can add some icons to the buttons using the 'icon-xxx' class. See the Boostrap icon documentation for the various icon names available*.

                <a href="page2.html" class="btn"><i class="icon-book"></i> Page 2</a>
<a href="page3.html" class="btn"><i class="icon-book"></i> Page 3</a>

* If you want more icons, you can change the icon set available. This post tells you how to use the famfamfam icon set instead

Creating one long page 

Instead of creating separate pages, you could make one long scrolling page and linking to headings inside the document.

Open page4.html in your editor, copy and paste your H1 and lorem ipsum text a three of times so that you have a nice long bit of text (you should have 4 headings now, with text after each one of them). Change the heading text in each section so you can tell them apart (I just added a number after each one).

To link within the page we're going to create sets of anchor tags. One acting as a target, and the other linking to it. Just above the first H1 tag add the following code:

     <a name="1"></a>

This is our target.

Go to the bottom of the page and enter this code:

   <a href="#top">Top of page</a>

This link looks for the target with the name '1'. Clicking on it will take you to that anchor tag.

To complete the navigation for the page, we need to add named anchors above each of the H1 tags on the page: <a name="2"></a>, <a name="3"></a> and <a name="4"></a>

Below them we need to create links to the other sections, but instead of the anchor tags we used with our 3 page experiment, we'll use another Bootstrap component: the navbar.

To create a navbar for our page, add this code to the top of the page:

  <div class="navbar">
    <div class="navbar-inner">
      <ul class="nav">
        <li><a href="#1">Hello 1</a></li>
        <li><a href="#2">Hello 2</a></li>
        <li><a href="#3">Hello 3</a></li>
        <li><a href="#4">Hello 4</a></li>

Here we're using an unordered list of links to the named anchors on the page. We could copy this nav bar onto the page 4 times, so people could navigate from the end of each section, but a better idea would be to fix the navbar to the top of the page so that it remains visible as you scroll up and down through the content. You can do this by adding the class: navbar-fixed-top to the navbar link:

<div class="navbar navbar-fixed-top">

Making a tabbed interface

A solution to the confusion our 'scrolling page of death' might create, is to hide sections of the page until they're needed. You can do this by making a tabbed interface.

The easiest way to start is by copying the code from the Bootstrap site:

<div class="tabbable"> <!-- Only required for left/right tabs -->
  <ul class="nav nav-tabs">
    <li class="active"><a href="#tab1" data-toggle="tab">Section 1</a></li>
    <li><a href="#tab2" data-toggle="tab">Section 2</a></li>
  <div class="tab-content">
    <div class="tab-pane active" id="tab1">
      <p>I'm in Section 1.</p>
    <div class="tab-pane" id="tab2">
      <p>Howdy, I'm in Section 2.</p>

You can see that each of the tabs are defined in an unordered list and that they link to an ID on the page (#tab1, #tab2). Each of these are IDs for the divs that contain the content (e.g. <div class="tab-pane active" id="tab1">)

Replace the code: <p>I'm in Section 1.</p> with our H1 and Lorem ipsum text (and the other <p>Howdy, I'm in Section 2.</p> with the second section) and we've got the start of a tabbed interface. Add two more tabs for the remaining sections and we've converted our page altogether:

Something to explore

A different approach than using a tabbed interface is the collapsible or accordion page but I'm tired of typing now so I'll leave this one for you to explore and learn about ;-)


Image: 'The Long Book
Found on flickrcc.net

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