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Julien Couvreur's programming blog and more

Web links and usability


The web holds mainly three types of links: regular (target="_top"), popup (target="_blank") and javascript ("javascript:...").

Javascript links aren't very usable (see Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten Web-Design Mistakes of 2002), as they often won't reveal their target location in the browser's navigation bar when you hover on them. Also, most won't work properly after you bookmark them.
Regular and popup links are nice, as you can see where they lead before going there, but the problem is you can't tell them apart from each other.

I have been using Phoenix 0.5 for quite some time now, and use the Tabs constantly. But from time to time, when clicking a link that looks normal (no javascript) a new window pops up. I then close this window only to click the link again with "Open in a new Tab".

I guess it would be possible for Phoenix to handle new windows better and force them in Tabs, but the problem would basically remain: you can't tell if clicking a link will navigate in the same Tab or not.

Another solution would be to have the cursor look different when hovering over a regular link vs. a popup link. This might be possible using CSS and customized cursors, but your custom cursors will probably look different than the default cursors from the user's system.

Here is a less intrusive solution, with some conventional markup for popup links: a regular google link and a popup google link (#).
I'll try to use this convention on my blog, to see if it actually helps or not. Let me know what you think about this experiment.

Unrelated browser usability interrogation
While on the subject of usability on the web, here is a question I have on web browsers: does anyone actually use the "Open" entry in the context menu for links?
IE has this context menu entry ("Open" then "Open in a new Window") whereas Phoenix has ("Open in a new Window" then "Open in a new Tab").

Update: A list apart published a great article on Accessible Pop-up Links.
But they still don't offer a nice convention to be able to tell popup links and regular links apart...

Update: A firefox extension, TargetAlert, "that provides visual cues for the destinations of hyperlinks". You can choose which type of links you want to get visually warned about, including pdf or word documents as well as popup links.

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