Should external links really open in the same window?

9 Jul 2008 - 10:20am
5 years ago
13 replies
1197 reads
Trevor Thompson
2008

Hi folks,

The conventional wisdom is that a link should not open a new window,
even if it's a link to another site. Neilsen listed this as number 9
in the top 10 design mistakes.

But an unofficial survey around our office found that most people
prefer links to new sites to open up in new windows/tabs. They said
that new windows or tabs make it easier to explore links to other,
possibly- irrelevant, but possibly-useful sites, and still come
quickly back to the main site at any time, exactly where you left it.
Some people said they *expect* sites to behave that way.

Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
revisited? Does anyone know of any real study or data that relates to this?

Trevor Thompson
User Experience Architect

Comments

9 Jul 2008 - 3:08pm
Jens Meiert
2004

> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
> revisited?

Going for the very short answer: No, as this choice should be left to
the user. Talking studies I do not know any that does not verify what
Nielsen suggested in another article, namely only to open new windows
for non-web documents [1] (albeit there might be other, rare
exceptions […]).

[1] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/

9 Jul 2008 - 5:25pm
Jeffrey D. Gimzek
2007

On Jul 9, 2008, at 1:08 PM, Jens Meiert wrote:

>> Trevor wrote:
>>
>> The conventional wisdom is that a link should not open a new
>> window, even if it's a link to another site. Neilsen listed this as
>> number 9 in the top 10 design mistakes.
>>
>> But an unofficial survey around our office found that most people
>> prefer links to new sites to open up in new windows/tabs. They
>> said that new windows or tabs make it easier to explore links to
>> other, possibly- irrelevant, but possibly-useful sites, and still
>> come quickly back to the main site at any time, exactly where you
>> left it. Some people said they *expect* sites to behave that way.
>>
>> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
>> revisited? Does anyone know of any real study or data that relates
>> to this?
>>
> Going for the very short answer: No, as this choice should be left to
> the user. Talking studies I do not know any that does not verify what
> Nielsen suggested in another article, namely only to open new windows
> for non-web documents [1] (albeit there might be other, rare
> exceptions […]).
>
>
> [1] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html

As with many questions on this list, I dont feel there is a hard and
fast rule, but that context and user base plays an important part as
to wether the new window function is appropriate.

I personally always open external links in a new tab by right/command
clicking. I think that if the link is to an external site - ie: not
within the main site the user is browsing - that this functionality is
preferable.

In fact, I wish google searches would do it without my having to right
click, as each time I don't right-click, I lose my search results.

I think the tab feature of modern browsers trumps all the reasons
listed on the above link for not creating a new window/tab

It may be helpful to indicate a new window is going to open with a
little icon, or to make sure the window size is smaller than the one
below it, but the newbie mistake of losing your window is mainly a
Windoze problem. This problem can also be addressed the way About and
Google Images does by having a top frame that allow one to return to
the previous window, or if it an internal page that needs a new
window, bread-crumbing or having an internal [X close] link.

jd

--

Jeff Gimzek | Senior User Experience Designer

jeffreygimzek at springstudio.com | www.springstudio.com

9 Jul 2008 - 6:25pm
Chauncey Wilson
2007

If you want to do comparisons, then you might want to have an item
created in a new window. Tabs are great, but sometimes you want to
compare items using multiple windows. There might also be some legal
reasons for completely separating one source from another source.

Chauncey

On Wed, Jul 9, 2008 at 4:08 PM, Jens Meiert <jens at meiert.com> wrote:
>> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
>> revisited?
>
> Going for the very short answer: No, as this choice should be left to
> the user. Talking studies I do not know any that does not verify what
> Nielsen suggested in another article, namely only to open new windows
> for non-web documents [1] (albeit there might be other, rare
> exceptions […]).
>
>
> [1] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html
>
> --
> Jens Meiert
> http://meiert.com/en/
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

9 Jul 2008 - 9:49pm
John Vaughan - ...
2004

Context. Context. Context. It's what we do.

Whenever you open an external site in the same window as your own site,
you've just blown any Context you had "out the window", so to speak.

We expect certain app-like behavior within our site to mimic other desktop
behaviors. Lots of a site's "domain" reference info, like online help,
errormessages, status popups, etc. are expected to appear as popup windows.

Seems sensible that - if I send you to info that's not in my site (an
external link) - then it'll appear in its own window (with it's own
behaviors).

Net/Net: Do I really want to voluntarily orphan my own site?

There may well be viable exceptions, but most casual links should open in
their own windows.

As an interim solution: I've always thought it would be helpful for my site
to have it's own startBar control (i.e. If I'm allowing you access to other
sites through my site, then I should take responsibility for helping you to
"manage" those new browser windows, too). The "tabbed browsers" we have now
are a step in the right direction, but a more robust multiwindow management
feature/tool could be very useful to our craft...

John Vaughan
The Communication Studio LLC

----- Original Message -----
From: "Trevor Thompson" <trevor.thompson at the-group.net>
To: <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2008 11:20 AM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Should external links really open in the same
window?

> Hi folks,
>
> The conventional wisdom is that a link should not open a new window, even
> if it's a link to another site. Neilsen listed this as number 9 in the top
> 10 design mistakes.
>
> But an unofficial survey around our office found that most people prefer
> links to new sites to open up in new windows/tabs. They said that new
> windows or tabs make it easier to explore links to other, possibly-
> irrelevant, but possibly-useful sites, and still come quickly back to the
> main site at any time, exactly where you left it. Some people said they
> *expect* sites to behave that way.
>
> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
> revisited? Does anyone know of any real study or data that relates to
> this?
>
> Trevor Thompson
> User Experience Architect
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

9 Jul 2008 - 7:43pm
Ray Shah
2008

With respect to tabs, I really like the ability to turn a tab into a new window. Safari 3 has this feature, Firefox 3 does not as yet.

Nielsen's point is still valid in certain instances. In the case of PDAs /phones a new window is not possible, I think. Observing some less tech-savvy people I work with, I think tabs are somehow less frightening than a whole new window.

So there are two unknowns here (in the web environment at least) that are beyond our control. How will the platform behave and what does the user (reasonably) expect.

It would be interesting to see a reappraisal of this issue by Nielsen.

Best,

Ray

----- Original Message ----
From: Chauncey Wilson <chauncey.wilson at gmail.com>
To: Jens Meiert <jens at meiert.com>
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Sent: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 7:25:23 PM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Should external links really open in the same window?

If you want to do comparisons, then you might want to have an item
created in a new window. Tabs are great, but sometimes you want to
compare items using multiple windows. There might also be some legal
reasons for completely separating one source from another source.

Chauncey

On Wed, Jul 9, 2008 at 4:08 PM, Jens Meiert <jens at meiert.com> wrote:
>> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
>> revisited?
>
> Going for the very short answer: No, as this choice should be left to
> the user. Talking studies I do not know any that does not verify what
> Nielsen suggested in another article, namely only to open new windows
> for non-web documents [1] (albeit there might be other, rare
> exceptions […]).
>
>
> [1] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html
>
> --
> Jens Meiert
> http://meiert.com/en/
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

9 Jul 2008 - 11:27pm
abhijith.rao@gm...
2008

Jeff,

In fact it does have that as an option and you can set it up in your search
*Preferences*. Scroll down the *Preferences* page to "Results Window: Open
search results in a new browser window." and check it.

- Abhijith

2008/7/10 Jeff Gimzek <listserv at jdgimzek.com>:

>
> In fact, I wish google searches would do it without my having to right
> click, as each time I don't right-click, I lose my search results.

10 Jul 2008 - 2:02am
Björn Simonson
2007

The Swedish Administrative Development Agency, Verva
(www.verva.se/english), publish accessibility guidelines and they
clearly state that (my translation) "No matter if links lead to
pages within the same site or to an external site they shall open in
the same window".

I'm also quite sure that W3Cs Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
state something along the same lines somewhere.

And, the target="blank" attribute is deprecated in HTML and not a
part of the XHTML specification so there is no way to open a link in
a new window without Javascript.

My personal opinion is that I can easily choose to open a link in a
new window/tab but there is no way that I know of to choose to open a
link that opens a new window in my current window.

So make every link open in the same window but inform the user when
the link leads to an external site so they can choose to open the
link the way they see fit.

Best regards

Björn

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31169

10 Jul 2008 - 3:53am
Jens Meiert
2004

> And, the target="blank" attribute is deprecated in HTML and not a
> part of the XHTML specification so there is no way to open a link in
> a new window without Javascript.

(@target [1] will be available in HTML 5 though, and opening new
windows/tabs is currently even specified in CSS 3 [2].)

> So make every link open in the same window but inform the user when
> the link leads to an external site so they can choose to open the
> link the way they see fit.

And still it's hypertext. Understanding the Web as a whole there is no
concept like an "external site", so there might be no point in marking
links as "external", especially when current document/sites fails in
helping the user.

[1] http://dev.w3.org/cvsweb/~checkout~/html5/spec/Overview.html?rev=1.1046#the-a
[2] http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-hyperlinks/#the-target-new

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/

10 Jul 2008 - 4:31am
Sven Jenzer
2008

>> So make every link open in the same window but inform the user when
>> the link leads to an external site so they can choose to open the
>> link the way they see fit.
>>
The above way is be the best and clearest for users that are not very
familiar with browser-functionality and for people with assistive
technologies (the back-button is one of the importest things for
beginners). A Screen-Reader e.g. JAWS dos'nt inform the blind that a new
window opens, what is very hard (and for blind beginners impossible) to
recognize.

The swiss foundatiion access-for-all recommends this for good
accessibility.
In reference to WCAG 1.0 CP 13.1: "Clearly identify the target of each link"
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#link-text

And it ist very easy for advanced users to open a link (by
right-clicking) in a new window/tab.

---
best regards
Sven Jenzer
http://www.zonicdesign.ch
http://www.access4all.ch/blog/

10 Jul 2008 - 6:16am
Carolynn
2008

Personally, I'm a big fan of opening links in a new window or tab BUT
the important usability issue here is that I am not a good
representative of the end user of the sites I build and I would
imagine the majority of people on this list, as well as most of their
colleagues, aren't either.

Obviously this depends on your end user but one of the main usability
reasons for not opening links in new windows is that it confuses
inexperienced users - it makes the back button useless and they
don't know how to close new windows and get back to where they were.
It does sound a bit insane ('People don't know how to close windows
in 2008??!') but I think given our work environments and personal
knowledge, it's easy to forget that there are heaps of people out
there who do not have our level of experience and general computing
confidence! I recently did some usability testing in Scandinavia and
one of the testers mentioned that he helps a lot of people shop
online because they cannot do it on their own - they have access to
the internet but are scared of e-com for various reasons. To give you
some context, this man heads up a society for an illness and the
internet is the easiest way for these people to get products but they
phone him and ask him to talk them through the process... my point
being people who are confused by new windows are probably less, but
definitely still exist!

Another thing to consider, Carolyn Snyder mentions a geographic
effect... I don't think the article has been updated in a while but
I wonder if anyone has been able to gather more information on this?

'The geographic effect

It's possible that non-technical users in high-tech areas such as
the Silicon Valley may learn these tricks sooner than users in other
places. I don't have proof that this geographic effect exists, but I
became aware of the possibility when comparing notes with another
usability specialist from San Francisco. She'd been conducting
usability tests for years, and had never seen some of the problems
I've described. We theorized that she was drawing her test
participants from a pool of people who had an unusually high
probability of learning Web-browsing tricks from tech-savvy friends
or family.

Suggestion: If you're located in a high-tech area, it's a good idea
to screen out usability test participants who have anything to do with
Web site development unless they actually are your target market. And
talk to people who are developing and testing sites in other parts of
the country (or world) to hear what they're finding. '

http://www.snyderconsulting.net/article_7tricks.htm

After a discussion with a group of usability folk a few years ago, I
work along these lines:
- formatted files such as a PDF always open in a new window... most
users (me included!) close the 'Acrobat' window and then they've
lost the site
- when help pages are accessed from a contextual link (for example
'Delivery charges' whiIst in the payment process) these info pages
open in a new smaller window so that the user doesn't lose the info
they have typed in so far and they can keep the help information
visible while moving through other pages in the site
- if a link will open in a new window it has an icon with alt text

:-)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31169

10 Jul 2008 - 8:01am
Elena Melendy
2008

One more thing--

Trevor Thompson wrote:
> But an unofficial survey around our office found that most people
> prefer links to new sites to open up in new windows/tabs. They said
> that new windows or tabs make it easier to explore links to other,
> possibly- irrelevant, but possibly-useful sites, and still come
> quickly back to the main site at any time, exactly where you left it.

Safari has this lovely "Snapback" feature that provides that function--a
temporary bookmark or placeholder. It's the only thing I really like
about Safari.

Elena

10 Jul 2008 - 11:59am
jo frudd
2008

Hi Trevor

I think your unofficial survey of the office probably included
individuals who either are involved in the design and build of sites
or who use the internet everyday.

Its very easy for us super users to start designing interfaces that
support the way we work, but you should always consider the target
audience of the product. As super users we can easily choose to open
a link in a new window or tab if we want to.

In many usability studies I have conducted on web applications and
sites, users (including those who use the internet everyday and those
who use it a few times a week) consistently struggle with new windows
and popups spawning and often get disorientated. This problem is
magnified for screen reader users.

One of Nielsen's internationally recognised usability heuristics is
user control and freedom. Let the user choose how they want that link
to open, don't make that choice for them.

There are some instances where you may be forced to use a new or
popup window (some virtual learning environments for example) in
these cases always inform user that you are doing so via the title
tag and an icon if possible (the @media site has a nice one opens in
new window icon)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=31169

11 Jul 2008 - 12:22pm
Terry Fitzgerald
2008

I have encountered that condition where you left one site on activating a
link. My question is, since one presumes that the web was designed to
attract, capture, and retain the viewer's interest why would you allow them
to leave - they might not come back for any number of reasons. If you open a
new window, you still have them.

Terry

On 7/9/08, Trevor Thompson <trevor.thompson at the-group.net> wrote:
>
> Hi folks,
>
> The conventional wisdom is that a link should not open a new window, even
> if it's a link to another site. Neilsen listed this as number 9 in the top
> 10 design mistakes.
>
> But an unofficial survey around our office found that most people prefer
> links to new sites to open up in new windows/tabs. They said that new
> windows or tabs make it easier to explore links to other, possibly-
> irrelevant, but possibly-useful sites, and still come quickly back to the
> main site at any time, exactly where you left it. Some people said they
> *expect* sites to behave that way.
>
> Should the rule that links should always open in the same window be
> revisited? Does anyone know of any real study or data that relates to this?
>
> Trevor Thompson
> User Experience Architect
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

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