Let’s kill Click Here

Click here to go to my last post.

Let’s stop doing that. As much as I love hyperlinks and the Web, I think it’s a bit unnecessary (and poor form) to have explicit link text saying something like “click here”. If you’re not really interested in the links these phrases just break the flow of your reading.

I’m not sure how this convention started, but I can imagine it being useful in the early days of the web. Before the idea of linking became ubiquitous it was a good idea to explicitly call out a link, especially if it was important. But I think we’re at the point now where most users can tell from the styling if a certain piece of text is a link. Think of how the movie Inception didn’t go to lengths to explain how people to get into others’ dreams – the Matrix movies have made the concept of “jacking in” pretty ubiquitous. The details aren’t very relevant to the story, the basic concept is well-known and movie makers can focus on more important things.

By and large the web conventions of the last two decades have established that underlined text in a different color is a link. This isn’t universally true of course. Thanks to CSS I can make my links look however I want, I can even make them look like plain text. But why would I want to? If I’m trying to attract attention to something, I want to do it clearly without being obnoxious. Using different colors and styles gets the point across perfectly well: this text is different and merits further attention, you might want to click on it.

Let’s look at natural speech. If we want to say something important we don’t preface it with “I’m going to say something important now”. We don’t end with “I’m done saying important things now”. Instead we speaker slower, louder, with greater emphasis in order to show what we’re saying is important. We don’t talk in a monotone all the time. We vary our tone, speed and volume to convey the different meanings of our speech. Web design (including designing links) should be similar: let’s put in the effort to make our links stand out without having to spell them out.

Aside: Along those lines, in daily speech if you’re saying “My point is” or “What I’m trying to say is” a lot, you should slow down and think carefully about what you want to say before you say it. I think public speaking and rhetoric should be a mandatory part of education for similar reasons, but that’s a whole other blog post.

I’ve been putting more links in my posts recently (especially since I ditched the WordPress web editor in favor of the excellent org2blog Emacs mode). My posts are often the result of stuff I’ve read on the Web fermenting in my head along with other ideas I’ve had. I want to link to relevant readings and I try to do that inline as much as possible. In an ideal world, we would have intelligent, automatically generated links as well as manual ones. For example, whenever I mentioned a person there would be a link created either to their personal website or their Wikipedia page. Lacking that, inline links is the next best thing I can think of. In doing so I’ve been trying to avoid making said links explicit. So far I’ve been pretty successful, it’s not that hard once you get used to it.

As with all communication there’s a lot to be said for brevity, precision and flow. I want my posts to be readable as pieces of writing even if someone is not interested in the links. By keeping links inline and using design choices to making them visible I think we can create online articles that are easy to read as well as being well linked to relevant resources – just the way it was meant to be.

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