Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: September 2011

How Georgia rules the newspaper web fonts

What have the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, FT and Independent got in common (aside from being UK newspapers)? Politically? Not much. Ownership? Couldn’t be more different. Style? Now you are getting somewhere.

If you’ve ever surfed a few news websites and had a sense of deja vu, that’s because you have seen it before. All the papers listed above use Georgia as their main headline font – and most use it for the text as well.

While print editions of newspapers try their best to look different, it seems all broadsheet or quality press outfits online look the same. Georgia everywhere. It’s true of my employer, the FT, which has adopted the font in its last redesign, and it’s true of most US papers too.

Interestingly, the tabloid press are keener on Arial and other sans-serif (ie non-twiddly) fonts.

So why are the newspaper sites gravitating to one font? Georgia is a classy font, but why is it the be-all and end-all?

One reason is web standards. If you want a consistent look for your site, you have to use a font that is compatible with all browsers and devices, so you can be sure of your how it renders, and Georgia (along with Arial and a few others) is one of those ‘base’ fonts.

But this is crazy. In this web environment, you can pick any font using css (stylesheets) and tell the browser what to do if it doesn’t recognise that font. It’s just a list – you could start with something exotic, and then put Georgia as the backup. I’m baffled as to why sites don’t do this. The spacing issue isn’t an issue, as headlines change in length all the time. You can even specify different stylesheets for different devices if you need. The world has moved on, but we are retreating to a handful of fonts.

And before you point it out, yes, I’ve used Georgia as the font for this blog. I just like it, but maybe that’s the reason – it’s just really really good. In which case, hats off to Matthew Carter, who invented it (along with loads of other fonts.)

Here’s a quick rundown (not comprehensive) of who is using which font:

Georgia (for headlines at least):
– Guardian
– Independent
– FT
– The Times
– Telegraph
– Wall Street Journal
– International Herald Tribune
– NYTimes
– LA Times
– Washington Post
– New Statesman
– Time – Georgia and Arial mixed

– Daily Mail
– USA Today
– The Onion
– Reuters and Bloomberg use Arial in their sites (Bloomberg uses a Georgia derivative in its terminals)

Economist uses Verdana. Good for the Economist. A bit different.

Congestion vs population

I’ve seen a few references to a study on big cities and congestion recently, so I thought I’d take a closer look. It’s a survey by IBM – so caveats aplenty are needed. For starters, it’s based on a sample. And that sample is based on perception. (Perception is a good measure for some things, like happiness or success. It’s not so good for things you could actually measure, like travel times or car density or delays.) It also refers to lots of interesting auxiliary questions but gives no data in a usable format. Not very transparent, and weak for a company that you might think is data-savvy.

Anyway, at first glance, it’s quite easy to see where the congestion is: the Bric countries plus Mexico and South Africa. I’ve dumped all the available data into a Google Fusion table. The cities with a score over 75 out of 100 are the red markers. So is this a developing-country issue? Poorer countries don’t have the infrastructure, hence the congestion. QED.

But actually, is this a population issue? Perhaps the bigger the population, the harder it is to move people around, and the more congestion you get.

Without wanting to commit the classic correlation vs causation mistake, here’s the data plotted to population. (The population data is from Wolfram Alpha, which uses these sources.)

Although there isn’t a perfect correlation (score is 0.56), there is a basic grouping in the bottom left corner (lower population, lower congestion) and top right corner (with high for both).The outliers are Johannesburg, with a lower population but extremely high congestion, and New York, with a high population but low congestion.

Upshot: New York is a good place to live, Johannesburg not so. Assuming that there are benefits to a big city such as interesting things to see and do.

Omissions: Why did they leave Tokyo out? It’s a) huge and b) hard to navigate. It would have been interesting to see what the congestion perception was there.

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