Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

The Link is Punctuation

I’d like to see fewer “click here” links on the web. Even more, I’d like to see links within a context and see more occasions where the link is the reference to the user goal. Abe Burmeister over at abstract dynamics seems to agree. After he googled the word “here” he found the word tended to point to instances of people linking to something that you need to download like a browser or a plug-in. I’ve always thought that using the phrase “click here” was a way of pointing your finger at your finger pointing. Another way to put it is that the phrase “click here” was indicative of a misunderstanding of what a link was. The logic of using that phrase to indicate a link breaks down in the phrase “Click here to click here” Looking at it that way it becomes obvious that the author isn’t using the link as punctuation but considering the link itself as the object of the sentence. There in lies the difficulty.

Links are thought of as objects in the sentence. I guess that’s due to their unusual grammatical uniqueness in that they are intereactive. But really, the link (indicated by an underline on the majority of sites) is not an object of the sentence — it’s puctuation. For that reason, the puctuation should be applied to the object of the sentence and not treated as an object itself. I can probably better explain by example. (The folowing links won’t work, BTW)

You can download the plug-in here.

This sentence really indicates the location of the plug-in without giving any additional information about where “here” is. Generally, when linking, it’s bad form (bad UI design) to not give some indication of what clicking on the link will result in for the user. So, a better way to write that sentence without untying the link information from the user goal is this:

You can download the plug-in from the Adobe site.

The link is going to get you to the plug-in. That seems better. There’s also just more information available for the user.

I haven’t completely thought this out — just afternoon rambling for the moment — but there is definitely some relationship between the link as a user goal and the direct objects of sentences. Right off the bat I can think of one regular example that defies this: “Read more about this article.” That also doesn’t seem to be as explicative as a sentence like that could potentially be. It’s also an imperative, which, generally speaking, is rude. So maybe there are instances when linking a verb is better than linking a direct object. I feel intuitively sure that’s not the case.

One thing is for sure. The web has not developed (evolved?) a good set of grammar rules for the link just yet. The first step is realizing that it’s puctuation. What’s next I’m not sure. Given that the web becomes better as a whole when its semantic nature can be analyzed, developing a good grammar for link usage is a good idea.

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