BBC News linking policy
How often do you click on the external links we add to stories on the BBC News site?
How useful are they, and how could they be better?
We are looking at the way we do links to other sites, and I'm interested to know what you think.
Linking has always been an important part of what the BBC News website does. We've included links on the right-hand side of stories since the site's earliest days.
Much has changed since then, and the value and importance of links has grown with the diversity and richness of the web.
The BBC Strategy Review [1.40MB PDF] recently unveiled by director general Mark Thompson set as one of its goals a major increase in outbound links from the BBC website - a doubling of the number of "click-throughs" to external sites from 10 million to 20 million a month by 2013.
Elsewhere, there has been a detailed debate, specifically about how we link to articles in scientific journals. If you want to catch up with that, it's been taking place at Ben Goldacre's tumblelog and in Paul Bradshaw's post at the Online Journalism Blog.
So for various reasons it feels like high time to take stock.
This is a summary of the current guidance (some of it a reminder of existing best practice), which I sent round to BBC News website journalists a few months ago:
• Related links matter: They are part of the value you add to your story - take them seriously and do them well; always provide the link to the source of your story when you can; if you mention or quote other publications, newspapers, websites - link to them; you can, where appropriate, deep-link; that is, link to the specific, relevant page of a website.
• Remember to add the automated "Newstracker" (the "From Other News Sites" box which appears on the story right-hand side) to stories unless editorially inappropriate or if there simply are no relevant links.
• Add relevant links into the text of background and analysis articles, such as this collection of backgrounders on coping with financial difficulties.
• Where we have previously copied PDFs (for full versions of official reports and documents, for example) and put them on our own servers, we should now consider in each case whether to simply link to PDFs in their native location - with the proviso that if it's likely to be a popular story, we may need to let the site know of possible increased demand.
• Make use of the new "See Also" blog which has been providing a daily run-down of debate in the newspapers and elsewhere about the topical issue of the day, and which we use to enhance our own stories with links to off-site comment and analysis.
On linking to science papers in particular, we don't currently have a specific policy, but the simplest principle would seem to be that we should find and provide the most relevant and useful links at time of writing, wherever they are - whether it's an abstract of a scientific paper, the paper itself, or a journal.
There is some devil in the detail as far as this goes, though. First and foremost, we're often reporting a story before the full paper has been published, so there may not yet be a full document to link to; some journals are subscription-only; some have web addresses which might expire.
For these reasons, we have so far generally opted to link to the front page of the journal, assuming this is going to be the most reliable and useful jumping-off point for readers.
But overall, whether it's linking to science papers, or linking in general, we want to find the best approach. So here are a few questions we'd love to know the answers to:
• Which external (that is, non-BBC) links do you value most on our stories? (For example, links to the source material for government reports and science papers; links to other related news coverage; related commentary and analysis.)
• Where do you think the links should live? Separated slightly from the story text (for example, in a box alongside the text) or embedded within the text itself? Would it bother you if we put links - whether to our own content or articles elsewhere - into the body text of all our stories, or do you wish we'd done that ages ago?
• For scientific papers, should we link to a journal's front page, or the scientific paper itself, or both? If the full paper isn't available, should we link to the abstract in cases where it's available?
• Would you mind if what we link to requires registration to access it? Or if it's behind a paywall, and requires subscription or payment? And would you expect us to tell you that before you got there?
It would be great to hear your views on any or all of these points.
One thing seems clear already - summed up by Henry, a contributor to one of the discussions I mentioned earlier: Our role as an archive and resource is becoming as important to many of you as the more traditional role of reporting the latest news headlines. You can help us work out what that means for our day-to-day work as journalists.
Update 1 April: I have written a follow-up post here.
Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.