Fix it Wrong: the Hyperlink Shortcomings

Catching up with my reading, and trying to free my browser of all those tabs open, I came across an article that covers an interesting problem, and offers a weird solution. This article introduces Sparkicons.

Sparkicons are a proposed solution to a real problem. How many times have you clicked something just to be disappointed with where the link takes you? I have been a victim of this a few times. Some time ago, I was using my tablet, and clicked on the download button of the Aviator Browser home page. I am so used to download buttons taking me to a page where the actual download button exists. For example, the wordpress.org site has a download button that when you click it, it takes you to another page where there is another download button. I don’t download many things from the web, and maybe that is why I have a this wrong idea in my head. But the sites where I download things from make use of this bad pattern that I now think any download button in a homepage is just a link to the download page where the actual download button is.

On Bad Patterns, and Worst Practices

This problem that I have highlights the effects of using bad patterns in Interaction Design. If the people deciding what happens when I click something decided to layout the correct behavior this problem would not exist, and I chose to believe I’m not the only one who has it. This problem extends far beyond download buttons. There is, for example, the issue where many popular download sites have too many download buttons that you don’t know which one is the real one, and which one will just download some virus or scam. This is bad interaction, and UX design, but there are also bad practices that are used in the name of SEO.

In my opinion SEO is one of the worst things that has happened to the web. Sites should be indexed by their importance, not by their clever usage of technology and language. However, sites like google encourage abusive practices. One time I sent a criticism to a popular site regarding their poor chose of wording when creating hyperlinks, even when better words where in the text. For example, they would have something like this:

This article presents the advantages of using modern tools.

and they would put the link on “This article”, and not on “the advantages of using modern tools”. The second set of words is obviously a better choice, but when I pointed this out, I got a response saying that they know that, but they used the first set of words because of SEO. I lost a lot of respect for the site, the editors, and anybody involved in that decision. I decided that if they cared more about SEO than about being explicit to their readers, and using best practices in favor of their readers, I did not want anything to do with them.

Taking Responsibility

Anybody who creates content needs to be responsible for that content. Creating high-quality content should be our ultimate goal. I don’t see any need to do anything more than what wikipedia, and the BBC are doing (reffer to the article about sparkicons linked at the beginning). There is no need to add anything else because the text of the link should be always explicit. I cannot imagine a situation where being explicit is not possible. It is the content creator’s responsibility to make sure that the created content is clear, explicit, and easy to understand. This is what wikipedia, and the BBC are doing. There is no need for any sparkicon, which by the way is just the same idea, but on steroids.

I Think you Need a Button

Another big problem is that we want links to do too much. We use links to link documents together, to download things, to put things in full screen, to create new content, to delete content, to show and hide content, and maybe others that I’m forgetting right now. Links have one job: to link documents. If you need to do something different, then you need something different. For example, to go fullscreen, and to download content, you should be using buttons. We use tools wrong, and then complain that they don’t work well.

The Browser Fault

One thing I don’t understand is why in the world mobile browsers just donwload things. I like desktop browsers, because when you click a download button, they ask you if you want to download the thing, and where you want to put it. This is great. Sometimes you clicked by accident, or the link was miss-leading, or your cat stepped on the click button, or something else happened, but you did not intend to click on that button. That is why browsers should not assume you want to click on it, and download something. This is even more true with mobile devices where you have to touch the screen, and there are many reason why you could touch it without it meaning you want to click on the button to start a download. Browsers are breaking an established flow, and creating one that does not offer any added benefits. I don’t understand this logic.

Finally, while I appreciate the effort that was put into thinking about sparkicons, I don’t think they offer any real benefit over what some websites are already doing. I honestly believe that it all comes down to the same thing I’ve been saying for a long time now, the web technologies are unfixable. We need to start anew considering the current state of things and where technology is going. It is not a matter of adding more sugar on top of a broken model, but rather about letting go of the old , broken model, and create one that suits the current state of technology and that is more future friendly.