Poll: How Should Links Behave?

Original image by laurakgibbs on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Original image by laurakgibbs on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Earlier in the week NoelMr. OraTweet” Portugal asked a question over OraTweet, natch, that created some interesting discussion.

Do you think that all links in websites should open on new tabs (or windows)? I think so, but thats just me…

I figured I’d share it with you all to widen the audience, but first, my take.

I’ve never been a fan of websites that mess with my browser, including popping new windows or tabs when I click on links. It’s much easier to live with new tabs (thank you Firefox) than new windows, but still, it’s disruptive.

Even so, for a long time, I set the links here to open in new tabs, thinking it would a) keep you on my oh-so-important blog posts and b) make it easier to read accompanying content and then come back to my still-very-important post.

Then one day, I decided to stop doing that. The main reason was the additional memory consumption of tabs. I love Firefox, as I’ve previously documented, but it gets really bossy with memory when you open a slew of tabs. Firefox 3.5 has made great improvements over Firefox 3, but still, I didn’t want to pop tabs all over the place because I’ve become increasingly sensitive to that myself.

Yeah, Chrome/Chromium do a better job of handling the memory, but still, there’s overhead you don’t see if the links open in the same tab.

Besides, the Back button works just fine, *if* you want to come back and read some more.One contributer to Noel’s thread pointed out correctly that I was penalizing the feature for a defect in Firefox. This is true, but at its base, my objection is more about controlling the browser’s and my reading behavior.

Like I said, I find it disruptive if a link opens in a new tab. Yeah, I know I can open in a new tab myself, but what if I don’t want to do that? It’s all about me.

Others on the thread prefer new tabs because they can refer have both the original page and the referenced one open at once. I’m not completely sure that’s different than what I want, minus the ability to control the link’s behavior.

This reminds me of reading an article with a sidebar. Your eyes are immediately drawn to a sidebar because it’s a different UI element; it says, “Hey, look at me I’m not boring text. Check out my colored background. You know you want to read me.”

But it disrupts the reading flow.

Anyway, I was in the distinct minority on this one. So, what do you think?




  1. For me always a new tab. but I think that should be standardized browser preference.

  2. +1 for new tabs. Then again, I have my middle mouse button mapped to force that behavior, so I rarely notice sites that don't already do it that way, unless they're doing something really funky. What I really hate are the sites that break my new-tab preference w/ javascript. So maybe my real answer is, “Don't do anything that limits the user's browsing choices.”

    I hear ya on the multi-tab thing. I spend lots of time with 5-6 FF windows open, 10-15 tabs each, and then start wondering why I can't seem to do anything on a machine w/ 4GB of memory. Not that it's all FF, mind you, but kiling the browser sure does free up a ton of memory.

    …and yes, yes, Chrome, etc., but I have to use My Oracle Support on a frequent basis, which rules out Chrome for Mac until it supports Flash 🙂

  3. I used to do open-in-new-window too, but then stopped, when I read about the usability issues it creates, much like you said Jake.

    As ever, there are 10 billion articles on the web whenever one wants to get some backup for one's POV!


    I stopped doing open-in-new window too because I found the target attribute is not allowed in valid XHTML 1.1 or XHTML 1.0 Strict and I was going all uptight about getting my site to validate as XHTML strict.

  4. To be clear, this is a new tab vs. new window question. In that case, I agree, new tab. I'm asking if any link-outs from a page (e.g. blog) should open in the current tab or in a new one. You think all links on a page that link away should always open a new tab? Not sure a browser could handle that, but OK.

  5. I'm w/you on Ctrl-Shift-Tab, use it all the time since I've become more managerial about cleaning up tabs.

    It almost sounds like you're agreeing with me b/c we both want to control link behavior but can't completely.

    Re. Flash, it's coming soon to Chrome. I'm happy running both FF and Chrome. Each is good at certain sites, and I like competition 🙂

  6. You're right about new window and how it behaves in IE6. Another reason I stopped, although very few people read this blog w/IE6. Last I checked, the Friend Connect bar was preventing it from loading. Wasn't that you using IE6 at work?

    I guess I just like the choice factor, like John P, let the user decide.

  7. >It almost sounds like you're agreeing with me b/c we both want to
    >control link behavior but can't completely.

    Yeah, looks like I misinterpreted the poll. Instead of “should links open in new windows,” I read “do you like tabs?”, and responded with “Tabs woooo!” Not one of my finer reading comprehension moments. 🙂

  8. Don't beat yourself up; I think the writing might not have been clear enough. I think we all agree new tabs > new windows.

  9. How about something different like a mouse click on the link brings up a dialog box or a mouse hover? That way all information will be in one single window/tab. As the user reads, if he wants to know what information is there in the hyperlink, he can just hover or click on it. Once done he can cancel it or click somewhere on the background.

    Ofcourse, the dialog box needs proper ui design so that it does not make or cause clutter. May be call it something different?

  10. There are services that allow you to pop a preview of links, similar to Panels, which I use on this blog. Panels doesn't preview the content; it tells you about the company behind the domain. WordPress.com blogs all have Snap Shot built in by default, which pops a preview of the link.

    I've always found those services only mildly useful, but I can see why they're used. As long as the box only pops when you click (not on hover), they're not too bad. I guess that would work.

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