Links aren’t broken — over-using them is

I very much agree with the sentiment of the article, but I disagree with its headline. None of the offered solutions are really alternatives. They just move the content into better and more obvious context. That’s not fixing “broken links” — that’s just good writing.

The problem isn’t the tool, the problem is the usage. Inline links are over-used. People link to resources without good link text to pad their articles and make them look more relevant. How many times have you seen people linking to several articles in one sentence by linking one word each? This hints at them having done their research, but it is lazy and distracting. It gives the impression that a lot of research had taken place and that the following text is thus much more relevant. It isn’t, unless the author tells us what was relevant and why it is important to have that information before continuing. The better way would be to find relevant quotes from each article and show them. And that’s what you do with your “solutions”.

I am also one of those who twitches when I see an inline link and feel like following it. After all, it should tell me something more that I might miss if I don’t. Otherwise you wouldn’t have added it, right?

Wrong. In many cases people add inline links to give what they say emphasis, to link to another resource to give the text some street-cred, or — in the case of many an online publication — to get another click. I’ve long given up on magazines where every inline link points to another article on their own publication, as if repeating what was said before by the same person makes it more relevant or true.

The test is simple: if the link makes sense with its text content outside of the rest of the paragraph, then it is a link. That is basic accessibility and usability of links as they will be taken out of context as bookmarks, or by assistive technology.

I like the solutions you provide, but that’s no proof that links are broken. It is proof that good writing means you quote and that’s what we have blockquotes for.

If you want to complain about the lack of a tool, then let’s complain about the fact that blockquotes on the web aren’t linked to the source by default, but that you have to do that by hand.

I am not disagreeing with any of the solutions you offer. I am disagreeing with the over-simplified message that links are broken. In a time where people use single page apps for publishing texts and omit deep link targets as controlling the display is paramount we should fight for links not to go away. Many publications have no idea how to structure a proper URL or any defined plan how to keep their bookmarked links from breaking. A sweeping statement like “Links are broken” verifies their refusal to play nice with the medium they publish in.

Maker of web things. Ponderer of new technology. Lover of simplicity. Portfolio: http://christianheilmann.com

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