Ask not what Mozilla can do for you

Permanent link to archive for 8/9/01. Thursday, August 9, 2001

Doc Searls has been ruminating on the efficacy of the many hyperlinks placed in his Weblog.

Though hypertext has been around since the 1960s, it’s only in the past five years that it has become very easy to produce. So it’s no surprise that people are still wrestling with exactly how to do linking (other than making the ubiquitous lists of favorite Web sites).

Hypertext is actually quite rare on the Web. Links are often used to chain together pages in a site, or to give lists of related sites, but they’re not often used for the purpose of giving a mid-sentence amplification of of a point (such as Dave Winer’s frequent, albeit mildly condescending, links of non-trivial words to their dictionary definition). This is the true beauty of hypertext, I think; if someone wants to explore a particular idea, they can jump mid-sentence into a linked document, returning to the original at their leisure — or not at all.

That ‘or not at all’ bit is probably what scares some online publishers, who try to keep visitors within their own site at all costs. Others may be republishing material originally designed for another medium (such as a newspaper or television) and can’t tolerate the idea of the free online version being more valuable, because of links it might contain, than the original version is. But even those Web-only publishers who do use hypertext extensively often don’t quite get it: CNet articles link single verbs in an unsettling fashion, whereas links on Salon often start and finish haphazardly and leak into surrounding punctuation.

In the future, I think proper use of hyperlinks will be taught along with parts of speech, and tenses, and other basics of grammar. (Hah, who am I kidding. In the future, grammar won’t be taught at all.) But for now, here’s two basic guidelines for making hyperlinks.

  1. Where possible, hypertext should make sense with the links removed. (This doesn't mean removing the linked text — just removing the references to other pages.) Hyperlinks are for adding meaning, not subtracting it. The text should still stand on its own if you print it out on paper, for example, or if the reader can’t be bothered following the link.

  2. Where possible, hyperlinks should make sense with the surrounding text removed. If presented with a list of links only — as generated at the end of each Slashdot story, for example, or as provided by a number of Web browser add-ons — a reader should have a fair idea of what each of them mean. And if link text includes a verb, it should probably be a complete clause.

I could go into a lot more detail, but I’d end up being really boring. Just like any book on grammar tends to be. So, determining how the following common annoyances break my two guidelines above is left as an exercise for the reader:


Yes, I’m still here

Please excuse the davewinerism of quoting relevant song lyrics at this point, from New Zealand artist Che Fu’s song Fade away:

No I never thought I’d see the day
When I would get up out of here
So long time friend, we remain the same
Until I return one day — I will say
I would never fade away on you, I would never fade away.

That’s a really cool song.

With that in mind, from the rampant hypocrisy dept.: If you’re living away from your family and haven’t contacted them in a while, get in touch. Do it today.


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Last update: Thursday, August 9, 2001 at 9:26:13 PM