Save the Rainforest, Google

In my last post championing a printable web, I rallied publishers to sort out their print.css, and shamed them, tongue in cheek, for destroying the rainforest1.

But yesterday, I had an idea that would circumvent this challenge. The idea is to get Google to take on the task of fixing our not-so-printable web. Here’s how.

When you choose to print an article on Chrome, this is the screen you get:

Screenshot of the printing prompt in the Chrome browser

First, just appreciate how much time Google have spent on designing their own printing prompt instead of just using the system default. Again, this is still on Windows 8, for what it’s worth.

The settings are so manageable to configure in this interface, for one because it’s all available in one simple sidebar; here is no labyrinthian back and forth between “Advanced” settings rabbit holes and section panes that oftentimes have been redesigned by the installed printer software. Two things stick out to me:

Screenshot of the printing prompt’s display of the number of sheets to be printed Screenshot of the printing prompt’s few output settings

The first image shows the number of pages (sheets) that will be printed—valuable information that is normally hidden in a sea of interface hell in the default system prompts. Its prominent display adjacent to the print button ensures that the user is as likely to see the statistic as humanly possible. In other words, it signifies that Google, too, think this is important to the user.

The second image shows the inklings of a customizable print output; here, you can decide whether to show or hide headers and footers, and background colours and images. In a sense, this is tantamount to overwriting the default print.css yourself.

Can you see where I’m going?

Summarized as briefly as possible, what I’m proposing is a programmatic equivalent of Instapaper/Readability for printing.

This is how I imagine it would work:

  1. A user decides to print a page, and the prompt pops up.
  2. Chrome processes the page to be printed programmatically.
    • It processes the default layout preview of the page, as it would appear in my previous post.
    • It processes a prettified layout preview that treats the default layout to an Instapaper/Readability-like script.
  3. Chrome then compares the two layouts to each by some basic parameters:
    1. Number of printed pages: num_sheets
    2. Number of text characters: num_chars
    3. Amount of “ink” (i.e. toner used): amount_ink
  4. If either of these parameters exceed a certain threshold—by percentage or hard number—Chrome issues a non-scary warning notification in the area of the first image:
  5. “Using an improved print layout, Chrome decreased the (number of printed pages to X)/(toner used by Y%)”—or something like that.2

    Immediately below is a checkbox where users can disable (and re-enable) the improved design; as they do so, they can see the values for the three parameters go up and down accordingly.

One of the things to be ironed out is how Chrome rules on the default design; at the very least, people should be able to use the prettified design, regardless of what Chrome thinks of the default design.

Google could improve on this by recording when users use and don’t use the prettified design, and feed a Bayesian algorithm that creates a naughty-and-nice list of print designs across all printed websites. This can be done on both a global and per-user basis.

Speaking of a per-user basis, Chrome has several core features it can leverage towards this goal:

  • First of all, the user share is one of the main reasons this has to be done in Chrome.
  • Second, Chrome allows users to store preferences across devices using its cloud synchronization.
  • Third, Chrome’s Fonts is a huge asset to be leveraged to deliver gorgeous print-outs to displace criminal typefaces like Arial in print.

    It would also protect us against print designs that require typefaces unavailable to a large number of users.

Furthermore, Google could improve the lives of people with dyslexia by including a print design specifically for them. They are already in talks with the author of OpenDyslexia, and this would be a great use for the typeface.

Consider these the rough sketches of an idea that not only helps save paper and toner, but also make the reading experience an infinitely more joyous experience.

What’s not to like?

  1. It’s an important read that will help you understand the urgency of a printable web, and why this is not just random feature creep. 

  2. Let’s not sweat the details of how this is going to read for now. You can A/B test this in development either way.