A Vituperation to Links
Links are a distraction for the internet reader. In a world that lives on the web, where the internet consumer is the spider searching for its next choice meal, links are the non-edible things caught in our web. Links are the flashing neon sighs that cause diligent drivers to crash into ditches.
They are everywhere; with many different forms. They are in the banners on your favorite blog. They hide in the harmless text of a scholarly essay. They pop up link ninjas as you amble down a page. They are the wolves in the forest that entice little red ridding hood to step off her path. They create one big case of A.D.O.L “Attention Deficit… ooh Link”
Yes, the parent of the link may have had only the best intentions for their little creation. But even Frankenstein created a monster out of the best of intentions. But this apple has fallen far from its tree. What was meant to guide readers to new discoveries has become a bombardment of whack-a-mole proportions.
If we need them, they they should…
Have enough info to be skipped
Johnathan Price, author of Hot Text: Web Writing that Works, comes from the perspective that links should be written in a way that they shouldn’t need to be clicked. Thank you Mr. Price. Thank you for giving us enough information in the text of the page to know we can skip the link that may take us to something we already know. This is how it should be done. None of these “mystery-because-I-didn’t-have-enough-info”links
Fit the Audience
Price also suggests that if links much be used, *shudder* they should be tailored to the readers of your material. This is where links fail us. We already know a fair amount about the subject matter and hope that the provided link will take us to newer, cutting edge information- not a noob’s “Let me spell this out for you, chapter one style”
We weren’t introduced to the web yesterday. No one like to be belittled in their net exploration. Yet, a lot of pages out there still have their links labled: “Click here.” Or they tell us “surf on over, point your browser” to show where the link is. We know what a link looks like. A kindergartner could tell you that its the words in blue and that are probably underlined.
Show relative location
Links help get web users get lost. It’s hard enough to navigate internal links on a site and know where you are at all times. External links add more paths to get lost on. Once again the reader assumes that the link to the outside will take them to a place with more useful information. But what happens when you give into the ADOL, click on the link full of hope, and you come to a page that says “broken link.” Or the link no longer links to a relevant page.
That’s just poor management.
So far these have all been about external links, but don’t think for a second that internal links are off the hook. They are just as bad. Before it was mentioned that it can be hard to know where you, the visitor of a site, are in the site.
Mark Bernstein, the creator of Hypertext gardens, has entire site set up to go in one giant circle. While this is a fine idea for those out for a sunday stroll on the web, those with a mission don’t appreciate run around.
His site is set up to leisurely browse from one page, or ‘garden patch’ to another specific page. Some pages will take you have to a previously viewed page when all you want to do is get out of this mad hatter’s garden. Alice would be so lost and the momeraths are of no help.
Yes there are times when the reader may stumble out of the Hypertext Garden by clicking on a link, but the effect of being ousted from the garden is jarring. With this you have two options: wash your hands of the garden and go off in search of something else, or march back in and demand it make more sense.
To count the sins against Hypertext Gardens for its use of links it has failed. Here the links need to be clicked on in order to move forward. They also don’t give a big enough hint as to where the link will take you. Fitting the audience is a hit or miss. As said before, Sunday strollers may love this lackadaisical site, those with missions to complete will get road rage with this. C for trying? But a fat F for not letting the viewer know where they are in the site.
Both Price’s Hot text and Bernstein’s Hypertext Garden show the short comings of links. Price points out the potential A.D.O.L syndrome that may occur while Bernstein is a prime example of getting a reader lost in a well groomed site. Both of these men have good intentions towards the use of links. But both fall short of man up to the monster they are raising.