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New ways of linking

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:39 UK time, Friday, 15 August 2008

We started a trial this week on the website of a different way of linking from within the body of news stories to related background material - our own and other people's.

There's an early example on this story:
Image of BBC news website

The trial will last for about four weeks, for technical reasons is confined for now to the UK edition of the site (which you can select from the left hand side navigation) and is designed to gather your feedback and help us work out the editorial and practical implications of linking in this way from stories.

Linking to relevant background obviously isn't anything new on the site - we've always done it, mostly from the right-hand side of story pages, where we put our own related links, external ones and often a "Newstracker" box listing other news sources. We also do it regularly from textboxes within the main story.

As a rule though we haven't embedded links throughout the text, except for example when listing web sources or in diary-type pages, and of course we do it in our blogs. One of the reasons is we don't want to interrupt a news story by sending the reader off the page in the middle of a sentence.

The idea of the system we are trying out now (called Apture) is that it shows the related content in a smaller window within the same page, whilst also being quick and simple for the journalists to add. So it's a way of testing whether we can make background content quicker and easier to add, find and access, without getting in the way of those readers who don't want to be distracted by it. And it's part of our ongoing work to improve people's experience on the site in general.

For the trial we're linking to our own content as well as relevant external sources, including Wikipedia articles, YouTube and Flickr content. We wanted to include these sources because they promote sharing of content, have a huge array of material of potential editorial relevance, are technically easy to work with and also we wanted to gauge your thoughts about us linking to these user generated sources.

We're not taking an exclusive approach to which sources we link to, the whole idea is to try out and develop a system that is flexible enough for pretty much anything. If you get time to have a look, let us know what you think - there's a feedback button on each link.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Extra sources are always good ...

    But ...

    I recall not so long ago, there were complaints about the addition of a link to the BNPs site on the sidebar of a story.

    It wasn't that there weren't any "balancing" links that seemed to raise people's ire, it was simply that the link was included to begin with.

    Now, I'm one who thinks such links, even to something like BNP, *should* be included if they're relevant to the story at hand. People should have the chance to get all the information they can, and make their own minds up.

    But that incident makes me wonder how much *external* censorship the inline-links are likely to face, i.e. people (not staffers) saying something relevant *shouldn't* be included, for whatever reason.

    As a separate note: If you're likely to include linking to Wikipedia articles, are you sure "The BBC is not responsible for external sites" is going to be enough?

    I mean, I know you can't put in "The BBC is not responsible for any of the purely subjective information provided on any of the links included here, especially the Wikipedia ones, and we advise readers to take anything they read on such sites with a grain of salt the size of Watford".

    But, you might want to expand the external links disclaimer just a little :)

  • Comment number 2.

    Steve:

    Good thing!

    When it will be made available to the International portion of BBC NEWS!

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't see any in-line links - oh, wait, I have to allow javascript on your site.

    I still don't see any in-line links - oh, wait, I now have to turn on in-line links.

    I still don't see any in-line links. Oh wait, I now have to allow javascript *for an external site*.

    I still don't see any in-line links. Oh wait, you styled them to look almost like background text (even more so, for users navigating with a keyboard).

    Please stop breaking the web, learn about WCAG accessibility guidelines, and stop treating external links as though they're some kind of radioactive material needing lead-lined boxes.

    Just use them like millions of other websites do, without making a song-and-dance about it. Your readers are quite able to use them without such mollycoddling; and without a proprietary interface adding extra hurdles (and without undefined icons with no text alternatives; which also screw up printed pages).

  • Comment number 4.

    When it comes to disclaimers I think this one from the new BBC Music beta pages is rather wonderful and should be adopted as standard!:

    "This entry is from Wikipedia, the user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. If you find the biography content factually incorrect, defamatory or highly offensive you can edit this article at Wikipedia."

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 5.

    I mean, I know you can't put in "The BBC is not responsible for any of the purely subjective information provided on any of the links included here, especially the Wikipedia ones, and we advise readers to take anything they read on such sites with a grain of salt the size of Watford".

    --------

    Yes let's ignore the 99.9% of accurate material on wikipedia and pretend it is full of lies again. Are you sure you dont work for the british press?

  • Comment number 6.

    Great idea and look forward to seeing more inline links appearing.

  • Comment number 7.

    I like the inline linking. However, I always prefer the collection of related links at the end of an article as well. Rather like a book providing a Bibliography.

    One other thing... I have a relatively good eyesight, however I find it difficult distinguishing between the link colours and the normal text colour - more so with single word links I must admit.

    The same issue occurs with the choice of colour for links on the right hand side of the page also.

  • Comment number 8.

    Like the functionality, dont like the design, seems to remind me too much of the sites which has hundreds of adverts when you scroll over certain words.

    I know your's only pop up when clicked, but they do seem to 'cheapen' (is that a word?) the site in my eyes.

  • Comment number 9.

    Whilst it's maybe emotive to yell at you for 'breaking the web', I can't believe that some otherwise-smart people have spent time and money on this project.

    Hypertext is good. Linking to background reading is good. However, there was a simple and easy way of accomplishing this: hyperlinks in the page's content. Instead, you appear to have opted for the tried-and-tested 'wheel reinvention' approach to the project, and layered a complicated, flawed system over that simplest of web concepts, the hyperlink.

    First of all, the popups are completely un-weblike. Instead of linking to a resource, with a URL (which I can bookmark, or copy into an email to my mum), you're shoehorning me into a popup window. If I try use the web as it's meant to be used and follow links in that window, I get more popups. We've been reading web pages in browser windows for well over 10 years now, and it works great; usability studies have shown that popups are no fun; yet every year or so, someone somewhere comes up with the half-baked idea that their links will open in popups, and tries to push the idea. Enough I say!

    However, in spite of this wrongheadedness, I do see where you're coming from with the popups. A lot of people don't know what a tab is, and how they work (although you could argue there's nothing wrong with the back button), so these dirty popups get around the duty to educate users people their computers, which could well be insurmountable. In short, I dislike them, but I can forgive them.

    What's completely unforgivable is the implementation, which is entirely Javascript dependent. So, if I'm browsing with script turned off for security reasons, or using an alternative user agent (this could be some modern mobile phones, we're not just talking about screen readers here), I don't get the background reading. A fundamental feature of the web which has worked brilliantly since the Dawn of the Web has been turned off.

    Luckily, I use a normal desktop browser, and I have script turned on. The Javascript runs, and writes hyperlinks into the document, so I assume I can use them the way the web was meant to be used: by clicking them and using the background, or command-clicking them to open them in tabs... Except... This doesn't work. Clicking forces a pseudo-browser popup, which I can't turn off (except by turning off the link as a whole - which I don't want to do - I like the link); control-clicking does absolutely nothing.

    It's easy to criticise, it's harder to help people - so here's my two'pennorth:
    1) If you absolutely, completely, totally have to, keep the popups. There may be political pressures I'm unaware of, or some user research I haven't read which shows people are baffled by the 'back' button. I can accept this, so if you must, they can stay.
    2) Mark up the document WITH HYPERLINKS BAKED IN. This is the nub of it. I'm sure there are political pressures here as well, and I'm sure I don't understand them, but requiring Javascript to be working to enable hyperlinking stops here. Please. Pretty please.
    3) Make the javascript more intelligent. Click opens the popup (or doesn't... we can hope), but control-click allows power-users to use the web as God intended, and open the web page in a web browser.

    Oh - and the alignment of the new icons with respect to the surrounding text is out of whack (I think)... but that's easy fixed!

    Thanks, and apologies for verbosity,
    Chris.

  • Comment number 10.

    Interesting. I'm not convinced about the pop-up window though. I guess it's kinda useful for links where the linked item just gives you a quick overview, but for links that offer more information - such as a relevant company's website or blog - I'd rather have the link open in the normal way.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nice plug Nick! :)

    hackerjack:
    "Are you sure you dont work for the british press?"

    Now you're just being insulting :P

    Even if 99.9% of Wiki entries are "accurate", it doesn't guarantee them to be complete.

    That remaining understated .1% of entries being reminiscent of the accuracy of the HHGTTG might be cute, but people wandering in from the web can't tell the difference.

    Given most people are too lazy to actually do any research beyond what they find on Wiki, and sod's law dictating that this hypothetical .1% will make up 99.9% of the content people actually *read*, disclaimers are handy :P

    I have to admit though, I don't like the new toy now I've played with it. I get the feeling someone has "Ohh, shiny shiny" syndrome.

  • Comment number 12.

    Steve: This seems a very complicated way of doing what the BBC Trust told you to.

    What on earth is the matter with a simple, normal, in-line hypertext link. They have been their in the HTML specification since 1991. I think after a decade and a half we probably have the hang of them.

    The way you have done them is just a little bit rubbish and like those awful in-page advertising sites that we all know and hate.

    Just do them NORMALLY please. If people don't see them, then they won't click on them. There's no need for Javascript to be used.

    If you do them normally, then they will work on every OS, every browser etc.

    The way they are at the moment, I can't right click and do "open in new tab" which is my preferred way of reading background material.

    But other people have their own way.

    Anyway, I'm going to email Jakob Nielsen because I'm sure he'd love to have a laugh at your silly popups.

  • Comment number 13.

    It's good that the BBC has finally begun to link from articles, but it has made a bit of a hash of it.

    I've covered this in more detail on the E-consultancy blog, but basically, half the links just open popups rather than leading to the site, while the range of sources linked to could be broader than it currently is.

  • Comment number 14.

    "For the trial we're linking to our own content as well as relevant
    external sources, including Wikipedia articles, YouTube and Flickr
    content. We wanted to include these sources because they promote
    sharing of content"

    What else could the BBC do to promote sharing of content? License some
    of the work for which it is the sole copyright holder as... sharable?
    Per chance?

  • Comment number 15.

    "One of the reasons is we don't want to interrupt a news story by sending the reader off the page in the middle of a sentence. "

    Um... I don't wish to be rude, but I'm an adult, and I'm quite capable of deciding whether I want to continue reading the article or jump off to a new page (possibly opening it in a new window or tab).

    The lack of relevant inline links has long been a weakness on the BBC's site and my old mate Andy (as I presume that's him) says:

    "Please stop breaking the web, learn about WCAG accessibility guidelines, and stop treating external links as though they're some kind of radioactive material needing lead-lined boxes."

    If you're going to use inline links - and you should - then for goodness sake do them properly. The rest of the web worked out how to use them in about 1995. Other sites use them, they don't frighten visitors, and your arms-length treatment of them is a disservice to the BBC which is generally pretty up-to-date.

    As Briantist says, do the BBC not know, or not care about basic usability? Come on lads, let's have standard in-line links, eh?

  • Comment number 16.

    Embedded links are useful and your choice of material is good. I'm not sure that it's necessary to introduce pop-up windows though.

    The introduction of Apture may be an over-engineered solution to a simple problem. Adding tech to solve a problem is only useful if the problem exists otherwise it's just a resource-eating, user-frustrating bell or whistle (which this feels like).

    Just embed the links and let users choose whether to open them in a new tab or a new window. I manage my off-site browsing by opening new tabs. The addition of an integrated pop-up just frustrates me and it brings you closer to the style over content approach. 2.0 is the nuts but let's only use it when it's needed otherwise we devalue it by frustrating users!

  • Comment number 17.

    I hate it.

    Can't we Google our own queries if we have them?

  • Comment number 18.

    Well done BBC for over-complicating what is one of the most basic features of the web.
    When I click on a link I want it to open my way and not have to be dictated to by the Beeb. This is browser hijacking and personally I find it idiotic, irritating and patronising.
    Inline links are nothing new as are web standards. Please read the WCAG, understand it's ethos and follow best practice by dropping this silly implementation.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think the related links is a good idea but important to try and ensure a balance...
    Todays story about
    Edinburgh development curb urged
    has related internet links to Unesco, the local council and the website which was commissioned by the developer to advertise their project (Caltongate)
    Could you perhaps include the website to the excellent Canongate Community Forum who are trying to seek a more sustainable future for the area known as Canongate (Caltongate does not exist as a place). The Save Our Old Towncampaign which was established by this local group has recieved widespread support from individuals and organisations both locally and across the globe.
    Check the site http://www.eh8.org.uk/
    where all the information and links to all the organisations involved in this debate can be found

  • Comment number 20.

    Linking with new material and fresh stuff, mostly search engines likes it.

  • Comment number 21.

    @PicksyJ: Yup, it's me, Andy Mabbett. http://pigsonthewing.org.uk

  • Comment number 22.

    Please don't do this! It is like reading a newspaper and having a hand pop out from the middle of the paper, brandishing a flyer.

    Also, pop-up windows are annoying, low-rent and indelibly associated with hawking Viagra of dubious provenance. Why do you think they invented pop-up blockers?

    Some will argue 'they can be turned off', but people will forget to do it, or have to do it repeatedly when using different machines. It offers little of value to enhance the content (the one I clicked on brought me to the Kent Council website - an experience that did not enrich my life).

    No!

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks to all who have commented so far on the linking trial. We've also got quite a bit of feedback via the test pages, as we'd hoped, so thanks to those who responded there too. Most of it so far has been very positive. However, Pigsonthewings, Skipchris, Briantist, PicksyJ, Think4Yourself and Dazza71, you have summed up one of the main reservations people are voicing which is why make the links anything other than standard hyperlinks (ie have we, as you say, opted for the "wheel reinvention" approach?). The other issue that's come up fairly often is should we be linking to Wikipedia. The trial has still got a week or so to run and then we’ll go through all the feedback in more detail and decide what to do next. NB. Edinberger, your link suggestion has been noted. Here are some more examples of what we are talking about: Probe gets up close to Enceladus, Head of Roman empress unearthed, Driving primates to the edge, Noise complaint rights "face axe", No 10's Clarkson video a "joke", Lord Bruce-Lockhart dies aged 66.

  • Comment number 24.

    You paraphrase my and others' comments in a way which under-plays their significance.

    I don't care if you "reinvent the wheel" (well, I do, as I'm paying for it, but that's a relatively minor point), I'm annoyed by the fact that you've invented a wheel which is square, and not available to everyone.

  • Comment number 25.

    Umm, not quite Steve - summing up one of the main reservations is why make the links something that isn't guaranteed to be accessible, adds to page loading times, and potentially requires people to relax their browser security settings.

    It's not reinventing the wheel - more a case of replacing it with a ground-effects vehicle that's missing half a dozen fans, the skirt doesn't go all the way around, the power plant is too puny to actually lift the damned thing, and the manual is really the english translation of the original japanese version of the outer mongolian scribbles for something completely different.

    Saying the majority of feedback is about "reinventing the wheel" is ignoring the large reasons. reinvention may sum it all up, but that's not the reasons themselves.

    (delayed response, was at powwow having fun)

  • Comment number 26.

    I was reading the article on tourisim and the people in your country that should be promoting it. I lived in Scotland for a year before coming back to the states. I have NEVER, in all the states I've lived in, seen one TV ad promoting Scotland as a destination. Ireland promotes constantly with beautiful TV ads that capture the imagination. Truth be told, I found places in Scotland that were so beautiful, that I actually burst into tears. Why not promote that? On the down side, I thought Glasgow (compared to cities like Chicago) is a dirty, dingy, place. I hear it's much better than it was years ago, but I was there 5 years ago, and didn't like it. Still, living in a country is different that visiting one, so I still give Scotland high marks for beauty. So much could be done to get that message across, especially to Americans many of which have Scottish ancestors.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    Steve,

    you seem to be the man when it comes to technical aspects of the BBC website.

    Just thought i would tell you that I seem to be unable to comment on certain blogs. It seems that on some blogs my comments are not even registered, let alone moderated, even when i have already commented in the past on that blog. I get frozen out just as it all gets interesting. Other blogs will take them without a problem.

    I am hoping this is all a technical error.

    Hank

  • Comment number 29.

    Steve:
    Update, to my original remarks...now it is on the international platform of the BBC website...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 30.

    "The idea of the system we are trying out now (called Apture) is that it shows the related content in a smaller window within the same page, whilst also being quick and simple for the journalists to add"

    IMO, usually extra windows on the same page are just annoying. It seems to work well here tho as I havent been annoyed by anything :)

    Igor Wruppi

 

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