Should links open in a new window?
June 7, 2009 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Is it better to have links open in a new window, or to open in the same window? Maybe this belongs in projects, but I'll ask here. When I launched my magazine site in January, I had links opening in a new window. But then, I noticed that the sites I liked the most, like Kottke and Metafilter, didn't do this. Instead of opening a new window they had links go straight to the page they were linking to.

But recently some people have complained. They don't want to have to go back to the page, because you follow one link, and then another. They said they'd prefer if the original window remained and the link opened in a new window. So, I'm wondering if there's a reason metafilter and Kottke do this, and if people prefer one linking system or another?
posted by Stephen Elliott to Technology (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Metafilter uses a preference system, so logged-in users can choose new windows or not. This is probably the ideal answer, if you have persistent relationships (cookies or logins) with your users.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:12 AM on June 7, 2009


It's a personal preference, really. I manage the website for the business my wife works for and I have all off-site links, as well as a couple of on-site documents, open in a new window. This is primarily because the off-site links contain additional information pertinent to what the visitor is looking at on-site. So, it just made sense to have the links open in a new window.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2009


the rule of thumb my old company adhered to was:

- if you're linking within the site, no new windows
- if you're linking off site, make it a new window
posted by philip-random at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Web sites that create new windows (or do other things that overly control the user experience) are annoying as fuck. In all popular browsers there is a modifier key you can hold down when clicking on a link to cause it to go to a new window or tab (Shift and Ctrl respectively for Firefox and Internet Explorer). This is what users should use, and as a bonus these keys work on any web site.
posted by grouse at 8:19 AM on June 7, 2009 [14 favorites]


Hi Thorzad and Grouse,

These two answers explain a bunch. Most of the links contain additional information on what the person is looking at.

Grouse, I figured that was why Kottke and Metafilter kept you in the same window, but they word I've been getting from a lot of people is they'd rather a new window open automatically. That surprise me. Most people probabably aren't aware they can do this themselves.

But... I definitely don't want to annoy my readers.
posted by Stephen Elliott at 8:23 AM on June 7, 2009


I think you're likely to get people arguing as fervently for one position as for the other. Personally, I really hate (HATE) having a webpage make the decision that links will open in a new tab/window — I know both how to command-click and how to right-click for a context menu if I want a link to open in a new tab, and if I want it to do so I will. Having that hijacked, so a link I was expecting to open in the same tab opens somewhere else, really annoys me. (To the extent that rather than clicking a link, I will drag it up to the address bar to force it to open in the same tab. (Sometimes this is accompanied by a subvocalized "hah, so much for your forcing a new tab!")

If you can do persistent relationships and let people choose how they want it done, do that.

(on preview, what grouse said.)
posted by Lexica at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The purist answer, as grouse points out, is to make it entirely a user choice (i.e. don't open any links in new windows).

However, the reality is that (a) your mom* probably doesn't know how to do this, and (b) most corporate clients will insist that links to external sites should open in a new window, and this is such widespread practice it's practically standard.

There are also cases when it makes sense to force windows to open in a new window, e.g. when the user is in the middle of a checkout process and clicks on a Help link.

So, because you probably will end up opening links in new windows, do the user a favour by making it obvious which links will do so. Put a "new window" icon before or after such links, and give the link a title attribute "Link opens in a new window" (which will appear in a tooltip when the cursor hovers over the link.)

* No disrespect to anyone's mothers intended. I mean inexperienced computer users. Like my mother.
posted by snarfois at 8:29 AM on June 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, I should add: if you do open a link in a new window, use the correct HTML/Javascript practice to do so. Check these articles.
posted by snarfois at 8:32 AM on June 7, 2009


Most people probabably aren't aware they can do this themselves.

So tell them. An additional bonus of keyboard shortcuts is not only can the users decide exactly when they want a new window or tab, but also whether it is a window or tab.
posted by grouse at 8:34 AM on June 7, 2009


[Link to site removed from question. Folks can look it up in your profile, and in on a general UI/preference question including it comes off as gratuitous turfing.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:38 AM on June 7, 2009


I'm 100% with grouse and Lexica on this. Opening a new window by default is extremely annoying, so much so that I find myself avoiding sites that do it.
posted by Zonker at 8:44 AM on June 7, 2009


Purely anecdotal, but I find that most sites handle it the way philip-random describes above.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:57 AM on June 7, 2009


I almost always open links in a new tab and yet am beyond incensed when a page forces a tab/window. Leave it to user choice.
posted by youarenothere at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2009


...and as for users who don't know keyboard shortcuts, they surely know how to access a right-click menu.
posted by youarenothere at 9:17 AM on June 7, 2009


If I want a new window/tab, I will either control-click or middle-click. Opening a new window (when I might not want it) is annoying. If I want to go back to someone's site, I'll do so.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:26 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm another member of the grouse camp.
posted by box at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2009


This is a battle I've fought at work. My opinion is that if I want to open a link in a new window, I can right click and select "open in new window". But if the site forces it to open in a new window, there's no way for me to override that, so I'm stuck with a window I don't want. Which annoys me.
posted by jferg at 9:39 AM on June 7, 2009


My clients are people in corporations, and they're also used to the style philip-random describes: off-site links open in a new window, on-site links don't. It's the style I use in my business sites because it's the sort-of standard in my world.

There's also a marketing "reason" for this: if your goal is to provide useful information but keep your site sticky, it's to your advantage to open off-site links in a separate window. That way unsophisticated users (there are many) are less likely to wander far from your site and never come back.

Telling your users to right-click if they want a new window means putting the instructions...where? On every page they might have landed on? Next to every link? This seems clunky and intrusive.
posted by PatoPata at 9:41 AM on June 7, 2009


I'm with grouse. If people want to open stuff in a new window, they can already do that. A website that opens its own pages in a new window is really, really annoying.

However, I think that any links to pages outside of the site should open in new windows by default.
posted by Nattie at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2009


I've always grumbled about clients demanding external links in new windows, and recently have started being much more forceful in resisting it. It makes sites look insecure ("OMG please don't forget about me, my window is still here in the background!"), it's annoying and unexpected, and doesn't succeed in holding users captive. Just link normally and be done with it, the web doesn't need more clutter.

Yes, some users may prefer it for some specific sites, but I don't think that's a strong enough reason to impose it on everyone. Remember, lots of people really adore Comic Sans.
posted by malevolent at 10:20 AM on June 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


(Also, novice users are more comfortable with using the Back button than with manipulating multiple windows, so launching new windows may actually make it harder for them to return to your site)
posted by malevolent at 10:27 AM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let me decide when I want a new window, thanks.
posted by nitsuj at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2009


If you set to open in the same window, the user can make it a new window (or tab) by middle-clicking their mouse.

If you set to open in a new window and the user doesn't want to, he's SOL.

Thus it is better for you to open in the same window, so that the user has maximum choice and control.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2009


What philip-random said. Links offsite should open in a new window/tab. Links within your site should open in the same one.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2009


Have links open in the same window. Users hate it when a website behaves differently than they expect it to.

Nitsuj really summed it up perfectly: "Let me decide when I want a new window, thanks."
posted by 2oh1 at 11:27 AM on June 7, 2009


While I personally prefer to open links in new tabs, I have recently concluded that the world hasn't been designed to run precisely the way I want, so I agree that you shouldn't make links open in a new window UNLESS

1) it actually helps the visitor, and
2) it's clear and predictable

Opening a small pop-up, with the link clearly labelled as such, to clarify a site policy or define some terms makes sense. In some specialized publishing, such as Flash produced via Captivate, opening supporting documents in a new window and pausing the play of the lesson in the main window is also useful.

But when developing in HTML, you're generally best keeping the default and offering the visitor a choice of changing the default. This site makes it dead easy by allowing people to add or remove a checkmark at the upper right to control the behaviour of all links.
posted by maudlin at 11:38 AM on June 7, 2009


I prefer links to open in new tabs, so when I open a new link, I select "Open In New Tab." I don't expect all websites to pander to my specific preferences.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2009


The intensity of the argument over this is a bit surprising. Doesn't every modern browser give you the option of making a new window open in a new tab instead? Wasn't that what was supposed to be so great about tabbed browsing: you could have all these different webpages open at the same time? And if some site makes a link open a new window, so what? Close it when you're done looking at it. If you've got a machine that can't handle two browser windows or two tabs, it's time for a new one.
posted by sageleaf at 11:54 AM on June 7, 2009


Sites that refuse to let you click away from them without opening a new window have always struck me as desperate. I understand why corporate types might want to set "off-site links in a new window" as some sort of standard, but it's not. To a lot of folks it feels rude and sleazy.
posted by mediareport at 12:23 PM on June 7, 2009


I'm firmly in the let me decide camp, middle clicking isn't anymore difficult then left clicking. Easily overriding the control freak open in new window behaviour of web sites is one of the things that first attracted me to firefox.

Every once a a while websites that try to force this behaviour end up purging history when it's suppressed so if you are going to go ahead with new windowing make sure it fails gracefully.
posted by Mitheral at 12:30 PM on June 7, 2009


New windows are browser hijacking unless they are help pop-ups for a form or some such. You aren't going to please everyone unless you do it the MeFi way with user preferences, so I'd wager that having looked at your site, new windows would irritate more of your audience than they would appease. Go with how the good lord intended hyperlinks to work and let the user decide if he wants to open in a new window or tab.
posted by drpynchon at 1:09 PM on June 7, 2009


Wasn't that what was supposed to be so great about tabbed browsing: you could have all these different webpages open at the same time?

Yes, this is what's so great about tabbed browsing. Some users haven't yet expanded their skill-set to include tabs, however.

It's an old question -- should a web site be designed to accomodate the newer user, or should it be assumed the site's users are fully knowledgable? I don't have much patience with the former, don't think the power users should be inconvenienced by the possibility of newbie in the house, but then I don't use my site to make money.
posted by Rash at 1:41 PM on June 7, 2009


The only situation in which open-in-new-window is acceptable is when you're providing context-dependent popup windows: help, calculators, definitions, FAQs, etc. The secondary window comes up because the primary window is incapable of displaying that information without being cluttered or breaking the workflow.

Otherwise, I so vehemently and ultimately despise websites that presume to open new windows that I will refuse to frequent them because of it. I feel strongly enough about it that I sometimes experience literal rage against the designer of the site.

I was once talking to a web designer about having him do a site for me. I really liked his portfolio (and still do). Until I went to his personal website, and found that he had links to other sites open in new windows. He lost the contract. The fact that he made pretty webpages was totally and completely eclipsed by his disregard for user experience--not only in popping up windows, but also in site layout.

The intensity of the argument over this is a bit surprising. Doesn't every modern browser give you the option of making a new window open in a new tab instead?

Kind of. Except, I see a lot of people doing the javascript linky thing instead of a regular anchor tag. It doesn't play nicely at all with tabs. And, of course, you can't middle click them, because it's not actually a link. It's some fucking javascript function. These sites I leave immediately. If I can't middle-click a link without Firefox trying to open the URL "document.write(someshit.void)", I don't view the site.

Furthermore, the thing that drives me nuts isn't that there's a new window popping up--as you said, Firefox turns that into a tab (when it can). It's that the site designer presumes to know how I'm going to browse his site. Furthermore, he's so bright, important, or special that he found it necessary to make my mouseclick do something atypical. I expect a click on a link to take me somewhere else. If it doesn't, I get angry--like, Hulk angry.

It's like these fuckers haven't even heard of the Principle of Least Surprise.
posted by Netzapper at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


should it be assumed the site's users are fully knowledgable?

I really don't know. Even here (and I like to think that MeFites aren't exactly new to the internet), you'll see commenters complaining about a link on the blue resizing their browser. Wouldn't a knowledgeable user just turn that off? So I guess the definition of knowledgeable is open to debate too.

I just don't see the point of the angst (see "beyond incensed/Hulk angry" above, etc.) of something that seems so trivial. Either Greasemonkey the hell out of your browser, or recognize that not everyone is at the same level, or just deal, or go for a walk. I sit in front of a browser for around 12 hours a day most of the time, and am just struck by some of these responses.
posted by sageleaf at 2:49 PM on June 7, 2009


I hate sites that have a list of links and then (try to) insist on opening them in the same window, so you have List ...w.a.i.t... read content ...w.a.i.t... list ...w.a.i.t... read ...w.a.i.t... list ...w.a.i.t...

I am amazed at people who say never use a new tab. Maybe they have very fast connections or have settings to pre-fetch everything? (Even so, I think I prefer to go down the list in one sweep, and have all interesting content opening in new tabs for me to read afterwards.)

So I would suggest an important point is, as always, who your readers are? Do they include rural folks, people using battered old work machines on site, people overseas, etc?
posted by Idcoytco at 3:13 PM on June 7, 2009


i'm with grouse. if your site forces me to open new windows for new links, i will never ever visit it again.
posted by lia at 4:41 PM on June 7, 2009


but they word I've been getting from a lot of people is they'd rather a new window open automatically. That surprise me. Most people probabably aren't aware they can do this themselves.

You'd be surprised at how badly the most vocal minority can represent your users. Consider how many pony requests actually get granted on MeTa (for a rough example you may be familiar with).

Your site does what I expect it to, considering its content as a magazine-style site. Opening a new window for each link, unless I specifically ask it to, breaks the back button in the new window, loses a lot of the memory efficiency of tabs if I want to do it that way, and may make small furry animals upset.

External links are slightly different - now that can have value in information heavy, link-heavy gov sites, or for separate but related apps etc (though it never hurts to mark them as opens in another window) but there I think your main aim is to be consistent. From the looks of your site, this isn't so much an issue.
posted by Sparx at 5:13 PM on June 7, 2009


Also, novice users are more comfortable with using the Back button than with manipulating multiple windows, so launching new windows may actually make it harder for them to return to your site

This. I work with newbies a lot (public library) and am amazed at how many people don't understand that they're in a new window, and therefore don't understand why they can't go back to the last page.

I'm in the camp of hating sites doing this on their own. If I want it in a new window/tab, I will right-click and choose that myself, thank you. If the link is doing it for me, it's more difficult to force it into the same window. In fact, I even have a browser style which marks new-window links, so I'm forewarned and can drag the link to the address bar instead of clicking.
posted by timepiece at 5:58 PM on June 7, 2009


Also, see Jakob Nielsen's take on new windows (#9). Hint: title of linked document is Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design.
posted by timepiece at 6:21 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks guys. This has been super-helpful. And thanks especially to the people that looked at the site to put it in context. The library example was super-helpful, I hadn't even thought of people wanting to use the back button. I'm going to keep it the way it is, and not have links open in a new window.
posted by Stephen Elliott at 6:57 PM on June 7, 2009


Only an author who thinks this would use new windows without very good (other) reason: "my content is particularly special — so special that it should work differently than the vast majority of other pages the reader uses in order to defend against the possibility that the reader not see it again after reading something linked."
posted by BaxterG4 at 9:26 PM on June 7, 2009


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