Should external links really open in the samewindow?

9 Jul 2008 - 6:27pm
6 years ago
5 replies
390 reads
gretchen anderson
2005

<self-referential design point>

I hate it when links open in the same window, unless they are navigational within a site. Usually I'm opening a few references (links from blog, for example) and I want to keep the main context to read more/find other links.

</self-referential design point>

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jens Meiert
Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2008 1:08 PM
To: Trevor Thompson
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Should external links really open in the samewindow?

> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
> revisited?

Going for the very short answer: No, as this choice should be left to
the user. Talking studies I do not know any that does not verify what
Nielsen suggested in another article, namely only to open new windows
for non-web documents [1] (albeit there might be other, rare
exceptions […]).

[1] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/
________________________________________________________________
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Comments

9 Jul 2008 - 9:52pm
Jeff Howard
2004

I view sites that take it upon themselves to spawn new windows in
about the same vein as sites that automatically resize my window or
move it around. It's too presumptuous.

Keep your code off my browser.

I can anticipate how links on any given site will behave based on
past experience with other websites. Past experience tells me that a
single click on a link opens that link in that window.

But past experience also tells me that hyperlinks can be opened in
baroque ways if I choose, depending on the controls my browser
provides and my situational preference. If I prefer to open links in
a new window or a new tab, I can do so with no trouble; but it's my
choice, not the site's.

Automatically targeting links to a new window is draconian. It can't
be circumvented. It enforces a particular conception of appropriate
behavior. If I prefer links to open in some other way I'm out of
luck.

Even when I don't have a preference, the behavior is usually
unexpected because by default external links look no different than
internal links. If an object behaves differently it should look
different. Some sites get this right but generally there's no way to
anticipate whether a link is going to suddenly spawn a window. So I
expect them to behave themselves.

Even if there weren't philosophical objections, the practical
problems of users not realizing a new window had been opened and then
subsequently being confused about the disabled back button should be
enough to discourage the behavior.

// jeff

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31169

9 Jul 2008 - 10:01pm
John Vaughan - ...
2004

> Even when I don't have a preference, the behavior is usually
> unexpected because by default external links look no different than
> internal links. If an object behaves differently it should look
> different. Some sites get this right but generally there's no way to
> anticipate whether a link is going to suddenly spawn a window. So I
> expect them to behave themselves.

Good point, Jeff.

I probably should've mentioned that I try to identify my site's "external
links" with a unique visual (my favorite is a small globe), supported by an
on-screen legend and - of course - a mouseover tooltip that tells you
explicitly what'll happen when you click on that link happening.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jeff Howard" <id at howardesign.com>
To: <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2008 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Should external links really open in the
samewindow?

>I view sites that take it upon themselves to spawn new windows in
> about the same vein as sites that automatically resize my window or
> move it around. It's too presumptuous.
>
> Keep your code off my browser.
>
> I can anticipate how links on any given site will behave based on
> past experience with other websites. Past experience tells me that a
> single click on a link opens that link in that window.
>
> But past experience also tells me that hyperlinks can be opened in
> baroque ways if I choose, depending on the controls my browser
> provides and my situational preference. If I prefer to open links in
> a new window or a new tab, I can do so with no trouble; but it's my
> choice, not the site's.
>
> Automatically targeting links to a new window is draconian. It can't
> be circumvented. It enforces a particular conception of appropriate
> behavior. If I prefer links to open in some other way I'm out of
> luck.
>
> Even when I don't have a preference, the behavior is usually
> unexpected because by default external links look no different than
> internal links. If an object behaves differently it should look
> different. Some sites get this right but generally there's no way to
> anticipate whether a link is going to suddenly spawn a window. So I
> expect them to behave themselves.
>
> Even if there weren't philosophical objections, the practical
> problems of users not realizing a new window had been opened and then
> subsequently being confused about the disabled back button should be
> enough to discourage the behavior.
>
> // jeff
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31169
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

10 Jul 2008 - 6:45am
whitneyq
2010

On Wed, Jul 9, 2008 at 9:52 PM, Jeff Howard <id at howardesign.com> wrote:
> I view sites that take it upon themselves to spawn new windows in
> about the same vein as sites that automatically resize my window or
> move it around. It's too presumptuous.

Hear, hear.

Rules can always be broken for a good reason, but start with the
default that a link is just a link.

I've spent hours watching people be confused, even if only
momentarily, when anything else happens. It's not that they can't
recover, it's that you've made them think about something that should
not require thinking.

It's also a much more serious problem for people using some kinds of
alternate browsers, who may have much more difficulty navigating back
to their site. In the same window, it's a simple, well-known action:
BACK (or the equivalent key or voice command). In a new window, they
have to switch to concentrating on navigation in order to figure out
where the old window is, or what it's called, and how to get back to
it.

I've never understood why sites are so self-important that they must
treat other sites as foreign bodies. If you don't want me to follow a
link, why did you put it there? Why are you making people learn your
particular convention for "this link does something unexpected"?

I've even seen this behavior between different sections of corporate
intranets, as though the XXX Department is in a completely different
world. I watched while one user opened no less than 12 windows while
trying to complete a single, relatively straight-forward task, but one
which meant he needed to gather information from several sources.

This is not to say that there is never a reason to open a new window,
but not for simply linking to a new page.

--
Whitney Quesenbery
www.wqusability.com

Storytelling for User Experience Design
www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/storytelling

10 Jul 2008 - 7:33am
Elena Melendy
2008

This is such an interesting thread.

Whitney Quesenbery wrote
> I've never understood why sites are so self-important that they must
> treat other sites as foreign bodies. If you don't want me to follow a
> link, why did you put it there? Why are you making people learn your
> particular convention for "this link does something unexpected"?
>
> I've even seen this behavior between different sections of corporate
> intranets, as though the XXX Department is in a completely different
> world. I watched while one user opened no less than 12 windows while
> trying to complete a single, relatively straight-forward task, but one
> which meant he needed to gather information from several sources.
>

I'm not defending this practice, but I think I do understand it. It all
depends on what kind of site you're talking about.

I haven't seen much discussion of content in this thread, but let's
take, for example, an e-commerce site. Perhaps there are business or
marketing concerns that end up affecting the site design. Say, for
example, it's a travel agency we're talking about. The user has done a
search for possible vacations and has an array of options that link to
external vendors. Those vendors have multiple ads, some of which may be
competing travel agencies. Or the user may choose to make a purchase
directly from the vendor.

If the IA people present a design with a single window, the
marketing/business people might think: the customers will end up making
their purchases from another source. Whereas if the original window
stays open, we'll remain visible and in the forefront of the customer's
mind, thus more likely to be the point of purchase.

(Uh oh! this is reminding me of the thread about the "purity" of site
design! No, I don't mean designers should be thinking in these terms
when they design--I mean they should want to keep their jobs.)

It's similar with those big corporate websites. The divisions are
staking out their identities at the expense of the site design. I'm
relatively certain that the people responsible for the design of those
sites were making compromises from political pressure--not designing out
of conviction that they were doing what's best for the user.

But this raises an important point, related to what Jens said here:

> And still it's hypertext. Understanding the Web as a whole there is no
> concept like an "external site", so there might be no point in marking
> links as "external", especially when current document/sites fails in
> helping the user.

Was it on this list or somewhere else that someone referenced J.J.
Garrett? Conceptually speaking, the hypertext model absolutely does
reflect the foundations and ideals underlying the web--but imho it
doesn't reflect the direction in which the industry is heading. As the
web becomes increasingly commercial and its front and back-end
technologies develop, we're designing software more than hypertext. Of
course, it depends on who we are (academics? consultants? coders?
information architects?), where we work, and what kind of sites we produce.

I think I've said enough for one morning.

Elena

11 Jul 2008 - 10:03am
John Vaughan - ...
2004

Perhaps we're getting to the heart of the question: Do we differentiate
between sites (points of view) on the web?

The issue isn't necessarily one of foreign-ness or designer-ego. As
UxP/IA/IxD/whatevers, we are constantly grouping and naming things so that
this big confusing world of ours becomes more managable. The mere fact that
we now have technology that allows any page to be linked to any other page
doesn't diminish our need to be able to differentiate one thing from
another. Hypertext linking is not the end of usability - Quite the
contrary, it seems.

The assumption that the Web is a boundary-less continuuum is intellectually
tempting, but kind of unrealistic - given the limitations & power of our
understanding. Ultimately, the question is whether we can - or need to -
maintain perspective: "Self" and "Other". Boundaries have value in and of
themselves. Differentiating things is an essential step towards
understanding the whole.

Saying that "a link is just a link" is sort of like saying that "a thing is
just a thing". It is a tautology, redundant, true and relatively
meaningless. A menubar navigation link is not a sidebar navigation link is
not a "contact us" link is not an in-page anchor link is not a link to an
external site, etc. They don't act alike and shouldn't. Context. Context.
Context.

Vulcan Mind-melds and Borg-like absorbtion by The Overmind ("Resistance is
futile"...) are cool in a scary, "Childhood's End" kind of way, but for the
time being I'll opt for useful, usable boundaries and frames.

* If part of our mandate is to provide useful meta-information, then we
should helpfully identify when we are guiding someone to info that is not
"in" their current domain/POV. Especially since it's entirely likely that
the new domain may display different structure, behaviors and terminology.

John Vaughan
http://www.jcvtcs.com

BTW: We've all been frustrated when we encounter the counter-productive
barriers identified in Whitney's example of unneccessary corporate
information silo-ing: Yes, anything - anything at all (including UI
design) - can be done badly. But that's why we have job descriptions.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Whitney Quesenbery" <whitneyq at gmail.com>
To: <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2008 7:45 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Should external links really open in the
samewindow?

> On Wed, Jul 9, 2008 at 9:52 PM, Jeff Howard <id at howardesign.com> wrote:
>> I view sites that take it upon themselves to spawn new windows in
>> about the same vein as sites that automatically resize my window or
>> move it around. It's too presumptuous.
>
> Hear, hear.
>
> Rules can always be broken for a good reason, but start with the
> default that a link is just a link.
>
> I've spent hours watching people be confused, even if only
> momentarily, when anything else happens. It's not that they can't
> recover, it's that you've made them think about something that should
> not require thinking.
>
> It's also a much more serious problem for people using some kinds of
> alternate browsers, who may have much more difficulty navigating back
> to their site. In the same window, it's a simple, well-known action:
> BACK (or the equivalent key or voice command). In a new window, they
> have to switch to concentrating on navigation in order to figure out
> where the old window is, or what it's called, and how to get back to
> it.
>
> I've never understood why sites are so self-important that they must
> treat other sites as foreign bodies. If you don't want me to follow a
> link, why did you put it there? Why are you making people learn your
> particular convention for "this link does something unexpected"?
>
> I've even seen this behavior between different sections of corporate
> intranets, as though the XXX Department is in a completely different
> world. I watched while one user opened no less than 12 windows while
> trying to complete a single, relatively straight-forward task, but one
> which meant he needed to gather information from several sources.
>
> This is not to say that there is never a reason to open a new window,
> but not for simply linking to a new page.
>
>
>
> --
> Whitney Quesenbery
> www.wqusability.com
>
> Storytelling for User Experience Design
> www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/storytelling
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

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