The comment on tutorial about making nice and useful links led me to a strange idea about how the links should be (not) done. Nicholas Carr explores the idea of delinkification, i.e. not placing links inside of the text, but putting them on the end of it, like the footnotes in the printed text.
Links are wonderful conveniences, as we all know (from clicking on them compulsively day in and day out). But they're also distractions. Sometimes, they're big distractions – we click on a link, then another, then another, and pretty soon we've forgotten what we'd started out to do or to read.
I beg to disagree.
Well, to partly disagree. Links can be distractions. Due to links, text is not linear anymore, it forks all the time. But links are (sorry for sounding so evangelistic) the bloodstream of the Web. And Web's non-linear nature is what makes it so great. One can argue that the same or similar effect could be achieved with footnote links so the question is which model is more convenient and efficient.
photo by Diricia De Wet
My first reaction when I heard about the links as a distraction in the text was that it comes from somebody who haven't discovered the middle button of the mouse. You know, the one that silently opens the link in the background. That way you fire up the wanted page in the new tab for later reading. Sure, the brain has a bit more of processing to do with every link in the text (deciding whether to click or not) but so it would with the superscribed number that annotates the reference in the footnotes.
But, with footnotes on the end of the text, your brain has to remember which links to open. Or you have to scroll down and back up during the reading which would be completely insane.
Other argument against delinkification is that humans are not the only ones that read the web pages. As I mentioned in the previous post, link text is important for the good functioning of the search engines.
Still, Nicholas' post shows some valuable points. Links can be distractive. But, in most cases, that's the question of bad web design and stuffing too many links, not of the structure of the web itself. So, don't make your links glow and blink in eye-hurting colors, simple underlying is quite enough. Avoid stuffing-in anything that comes across your mind. Make a link only where the reader might need it. And everything will be fine.
On the reading side, get used to it, if you haven't already. For most of us, born in the past century, Web might be a tricky place. Non-linearity is something different from how we read and write since the writing was invented, thousand years ago. But there's no reason to change those habits now when we have something that changes the way we communicate and think.