16 October 2009

Newspaper articles on the web

Some big newspapers are still not very good doing this whole "web site" thing. As someone who reads more blogs than newspapers, I am particularly jarred sometimes by their misuse of hyperlinks. Two examples:

The Wall Street Journal's Technology section featured an article about a Twitter campaign that brought attention to a gag order against the The Guardian (14 Oct 2009). The subject matter of this article is primarily online, and the article even references some specific resources on the web:

"Thanks to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours! Great victory for free speech," Mr. Rusbridger wrote on his Twitter feed. Words tied to the case were among the most mentioned on Twitter Tuesday.

Even so, this article does not contain a single hyperlink.

The New York Times's "Bits" blog errs on the other side, having too many hyperlinks. They recently ran an article about the launch of Google Wave (29 Sep 2009). Unlike in the WSJ, there are useful hyperlinks to primary sources, such as blog posts. But the text is peppered with additional useless hyperlinks, like "Google" and "Microsoft" being linked to curated "More information about this company..." pages (example).

I find this practice borderline sleazy, and only a little bit better than those advertisements that show up in bubbles when you mouseover highlighted words on certain websites. Why? Because it violates the usual conventions between writer and reader. If words in a block of prose are hyperlinked, the target of the link is assumed to be relevant to the matter under discussion. (Paul Grice called this the Maxim of Relation.) A company history hardly contributes anything to my immediate understanding of the article's subject. When conventions like these are broken it makes it more difficult to identify, and extract information from, the real substantive links.

The solution? Put the links in a sidebar. Bullets under a heading such as "Companies mentioned in this article" would make the context and intent crystal clear.

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