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Link target abbreviations

[de] - Target page is in German
[p] - Paywall - content might not be freely available
[s] - Subscription required
[w] - Wikipedia link




February 2006


Abbreviations for link targets

The concept of hypertext needs little introduction - its simplicity is immediately obvious to novice users of the internet. However, one aspect of hypertext remains problematic: How do you describe the link target without breaking the text flow? The use of placing the link on a 'here' after a short description fell from grace quickly.
People advocate the explicit description of the link but that is no solution if you want to link from text that is styled as in a book or paper magazine. Some sites (e.g. Wikipedia) use icons to show that links refer to external pages. Many commercial publishers only link within their own publications and contain links to external pages in yucky boxes, together with a disclaimer that they have nothing to do with the content, thus completely splitting text and links.

For a blog, this is usually not an option. However, Notes from the Biomass often links to content that need to be identified for users: Links to sites requiring subscription - mostly scientific papers, and links to German content. Both types of links annoy me quite a bit when I find them on other sites but I am also appalled by the ugly insertions of '(Subscription required)' or '(Danger, German language)', hence I found myself constantly violating my own ideas on how to write for the web.

At first, I developed little icons that could be inserted after the link. Little flags to indicate the language were surprisingly difficult to choose, after all, German is an official language in Switzerland as well as parts of Belgium and I have even less desires in littering my blog with German flags. Locks or toll barriers, indicating links to content requiring subscriptions or one time paid access, are difficult to identify, let alone that I am not a Photoshop gimp.

After some thinking I invented just a simple code of letters and place to explanation in the sidebar of this blog.

[en] - Target page in English (usually omited, only to be used if there are ambiguities)
[f] - Free access (default, again for disambiguation only)
[de] - Target page is in German
[i] - Internal link - link to other posts at Notes from the Biomass
[p] - Paywall - This link might require paid access - news papers such as the New York Times often restrict access to subscribers or individual paid access after several days.
[r] - Free registstration required (I think these sites are on the decline - but just in case, you can try if you don't want to give away your personal details)
[s] - Subscription required (Many scientific journals)
[w] - Wikipedia

It still does not solve the problem of where to place the link in a given sentence but I hope it's a start. I restyled some of my recent posts accordingly - let me know what you think of the idea.
Stew (guest) - 2006-02-08 00:28

Nice idea

It's a nice idea. The only thing I noticed was that I'd already forgotten what each letter stood for by the time I'd gone back and read an older post. The explanation in the sidebar would fix that, though. Also, couldn't you merge [s] and [p] (and possibly even [r])?

spitshine - 2006-02-08 13:35

Sidebar is a good suggestion really

... let alone that a reader would forget the abbreviation she is looking up if she has to scroll down to the table. A post too long really and another call for an advanced 3-column layout.
tom (guest) - 2006-02-12 17:53


Minimize the number of web pages you link to. I do not see a need to mark the language unless you are a linking to a web site using a different language then the current, and why not use standard language codes like [en] and [de]? Internal links need not to be marked, [p] links will be useless for nearly all your readers, so you might just as well omit them IMNSHO

spitshine - 2006-02-13 13:01

Links vs. references

Minimizing the number of links enhances readability but links often act as references and substantiate claims voiced. You are certainly correct in that a high number of links alone does not make a good post.

The language code should be [en] or [de] as the they become self-explanatory.

Links to content behind paywalls is commonly seen on many blogs and usually annoys me. As it is difficult to predict when a certain link no longer will be freely available, I think it is required.

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