Summary

The best practice for opening external links is to open them in the same window, allowing the visitor to make a choice whether or not they want the link to open in the same window, a new window, or even a new tab. Deciding on their behalf is considered rude, and has usability implications.

Author: Gez Lemon

Contents

Taking over my Browser

Visitors of your site expect to receive content. They don't expect you to change their home page, add sites to their favourites list, or open links in a new window, no matter how honourable your intentions. Am I being harsh, lumping opening new windows with changing the settings of their browser? I don't think so, but I'm prepared to admit I'm wrong about the expectations of links to open in a new window. So many sites open external links in a new window that some net savvy visitors will expect external links to open in a new window. That doesn't make it the correct behaviour.

In my opinion, opening links in a new window is akin to changing my browser settings, moving a window to a position I don't want, or resizing a window to a size I don't want. If I want to open a link in a new window, I will choose to do so. If I want to open a link in a new tab, I will choose to do so. How do you know which I prefer? You don't. The window is part of a program I run, and as a content developer, you have no right to alter the way I choose to run that program.

Breaking the Back Button

The accessibility stance on opening links in a new window is that it breaks the back button (as there is no previous content), and that it may disorientate your visitors if they weren't expecting the link to open in a new window. The usability stance on opening links in a new window is that visitors can choose to open a link in a new window, but no user agent I know of contains a setting that allows a link to be opened in the same window from a context menu. You can disable new windows in some user agents, but it's a general setting rather than a context setting. Without exception, developers who open external links in a new window do so in an effort to keep visitors on their site. If you're worried a visitor won't return, create more interesting content, or don't provide links to other sites.

Some developers open internal links in a new window, so as not to interrupt the visitor's current activity, such as filling out a form. As an example, if you decide to read the comment guidelines after you've entered data in the comment section of this post, there is a chance that your user agent won't retain the information you entered when you navigate back to this page. The obvious solution is to better structure your content so that visitors are fully aware of any rules, guidelines, or tips before they enter the data. In the worst-case scenario, visitors will miss it and need to fill out the form again. How many times do you think they'll do that before they discover how to use their particular user agent correctly?

Announce your Intentions

If you are absolutely determined to open links in a new window, the very least you could do is inform your visitors that the link will open in a new window. Some user agents allow visitors to view a document by links, so at the very least, you should announce within the link phrase that the link will open in a new window. If the link is around an image, then the image's alt attribute should contain a warning that the link will open in a new window. Some assistive devices can be configured to use whichever is the longest - the link phrase, or the title attribute. Therefore, it's good practice to not only announce that a link will open in a new window within the link phrase, but also in the title attribute, should you provide one.

Category: Usability.

Comments

  1. [new-window.php#comment1]

    I tend to agree except in the case of forms. The main reason is because Internet Explorer does really stupid things with the back button in multi-page forms (ie. disables it completely and forces a reload). You can't expect people to remember all the details about every field in a long form if they read it before going to form. Furthermore, putting it on the same page as the form forces tons of up and down scrolling. A second window that can be positioned and scrolled indepently from the form is the most logical way to handle this problem.

    Posted by Gabe on

  2. [new-window.php#comment2]

    there is an extension for firefox that allows you to open links in the same window from the right click menu

    although i agree with you that opening links in a new window is bad, personally if i want to open a link seperate from the page i am on i will open it in a new tab and its a pain when links open in a new window

    Posted by nutter9k on

  3. [new-window.php#comment3]

    I tend to agree except in the case of forms. The main reason is because Internet Explorer does really stupid things with the back button in multi-page forms (ie. disables it completely and forces a reload).

    I'm not really sure what you mean, Gabe. With multipart forms, you can provide plenty of information about the input required within the document, as it's not crammed full of form fields if it's broken up adequately. If the input required is so complex it requires a whole new document to explain it (which sounds like a major design flaw), the chances are no one will read it all anyway. I'm suggesting that developers allow visitors to decide where they want links to open. I appreciate that the developer's intentions are well meaning, but it's misplaced. Contrary to popular belief, most visitors do know how to use their browsers. Those that don't are the most likely to be confused by links opening in a new window, as it's only net savvy people that seem to expect that kind of behaviour. The only reason net savvy people expect it is because so many sites do it, and I really don't see the need.

    The worst-case scenario of following a link in the middle of a well-designed form is that when the visitor navigates back to the form, they will need to re-fill in a few fields of data. They'll soon learn, and either follow links before they've entered the data, or open a new window for themselves if they require. The benefit is they decide where the link will open. If developers feel they must take control, they could do so in a more constructive manner. Instead of a link, provide an alternative form submit that carries the data they've entered to the new page, so that when the visitor navigates back to the form, their input is retained (similar to the preview button on this page). The combination of well-structured and well-designed forms, along with techniques to maintain data entered, allows developers to construct forms in such a way that new windows are not required.

    there is an extension for firefox that allows you to open links in the same window from the right click menu

    That sounds cool. I've never understood why the context menu in Internet Explorer has an option to open a link, or open a link in a new window. The generic open a link option opens the link in the same way as just clicking on the link, so why repeat it in a context menu? A far better solution would have been to provide "open in current window", and "open in a new window" options.

    Posted by Gez on

  4. [new-window.php#comment4]

    I appreciate why Gez feels the way he does - I get annoyed when sites open new windows for no reason that I can see. And I agree with "If you're worried a visitor won't return, create more interesting content".

    But this discussion shows that "Without exception ... an effort to keep visitors on their site" is very questionable, and the debate has homed in on the major issue - forms.

    Gez & Gabe hit 2 big nails on the head:
    * Some user agents forget the data if you link "normally" to a help page.
    * Others do strange things if you flip between a form and a help page in the same window. IE's behaviour has some logic behind it, but it can certainly confuse users.

    Gez' comment "The obvious solution ... use their particular user agent correctly?" in my opinion amounts to:
    * Make them RTFM first.
    * If they didn't RTFM, that's their tough luck.
    * Users learn how to drive their user agents.

    The last is simply false - see for example Carol Snyder's "7 Tricks Users Don't Know" (http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/us-tricks/). Developers forget this too often. My wife's an experienced user (if I want a spreadsheet, I ask her) but I get impatient watching her drive a PC.

    The RTFM stuff is the exact opposite of usability. Nobody likes filling web page forms:
    * You don't know how the form is going to respond to input errors. Nobody wants to go back and start again.
    * Every form is different, so it never gets easier.
    * Square all that if the form is multi-page.
    For example, most unsuccessful e-commerce transactions are abandoned at the registration form. It would be even worse if users were asked to memorise the guidelines first.

    OK, a well-designed form dialogue populates the "errors found - please edit" form with the data the user entered. But:
    * Does the user know that in advance?
    * How much explanation can you fit in the "errors found - please edit" form? If you put a lot in, the form looks nothing like the original and the user has to learn to use a new form.

    So in practice I go with:
    * Use new windows only for Help and other items the visitor will want to use in parrallel with the original window. Certainly not to ensure the visitor stays on the site.
    * "Inform your visitors that the link will open in a new window", complete with image, TITLE and ALT.

    I don't know how much of an accessibility problem this creates. If it's significant, there's a conflict of interest between normal and disabled users. If there is, e-commerce sites will prioritise ease of use for normal users and that will determine what users' expectations are for forms on other sites.

    Posted by Philip Chalmers on

  5. [new-window.php#comment5]

    Gez' comment "The obvious solution ... use their particular user agent correctly?" in my opinion amounts to:
    * Make them rtfm first.
    * If they didn't rtfm, that's their tough luck.
    * Users learn how to drive their user agents.

    That's an interesting interpretation of what I actually said. My general attitude is not one of rtfm (or at least I wasn't aware it was *smile*). I believe in educating users, and refuse to believe that training Windows users how to open links in a new window is outside the ability of someone competent enough to get on the web in the first place.

    Moving the focus of the discussion back to the "obvious solution", I believe the obvious solution is to design the form so that links for help files aren't required. Design constraints such as making visitors aware of the type of information you collect before they get to the form (different from making them memorise the form), splitting up long forms and adding explanations before each form element will eliminate the requirement of launching a link in a new window. The fieldset and legend elements help make forms more intuitive to use, and can also be used to make forms look less daunting. If none of this is possible for a particular problem, providing a help page that retains the information entered so far shouldn't be beyond the abilities of a web developer. To clarify, I don't mean move them to a new form - I mean use the form to take them to a help page, posting the values they've entered so far, and post them back again when they return.

    see for example Carol Snyder's "7 Tricks Users Don't Know" http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/us-tricks[/quote]The seventh point is quite interesting.

    * "Inform your visitors that the link will open in a new window", complete with image, TITLE and ALT.

    Good point about images. I like the image you use on your site, as it's intuitive and the alt text is included in the link phrase. It does require sighted users to be familiar with the icon. It would be nice for developers to have a selection of agreed icons to aid the readability of websites. Is there an agreed format of icons that mean different things on a page? For example, mail, new window, skip navigation, etc. If not, maybe someone should form a project whose remit is to provide standard icons for use in web development. [quote]e-commerce sites will prioritise ease of use for normal users and that will determine what users' expectations are for forms on other sites.

    Everyone's a normal user. If parts of a website cause some visitors difficulty, the problem's with the site, not the person visiting. E-commerce sites do tend to be particularly unusable. Usable e-commerce systems are difficult to find, but fortunately, there are some decent ones around: http://www.karova.com/General/corporate/default.htm

    Posted by Gez on

  6. [new-window.php#comment6]

    This came up over at Dotdragnet recently. My stance there is that I personally think that there are more than one set of considerations to take into account. Design that focuses purely on standards and accessibility is as flawed as deisgn that ignores it.

    There are good marketing reasons why external pages should open in new windows and like it or not, marketing is part of the web and web design- a large part. I also think the arguement that opening a window infringes on users rights is flawed. The accessibility arguement that the browser back button is not available is a bit lightweight- so what? So the user has to click on 'close' rather than 'back'. Hardly a massive issue is it? There are keyboard shortcuts for both. And disorientation is easily assuaged by stating in the title attribute of the link, or the link text itself, or in a relevant statement that external sites open in new windows.

    As for taking over browser settings, how exactly? Opening a new window doesn't alter any aspect of your software setup, it merely opens a new instance of what you already have open.

    I think its time we started getting realistic about this. There's been an increasing groundswell amongst designers to take up standards and be considerate of all users but we cannot ignore the business impact these decisions have. I adhere to XHTML Strict on both my personal and business websites which means I don't open new windows but I'd much rather do so and believe me I have to fight tooth and nail to justify why standards are important every so often amongst the marketing team I work with. The decision to remove target as an attribute from the Strict DTD was, IMO, lunacy. When it gains so little and alienates so many whats the point other than needless point scoring amongst W3C hardcore developers?

    Posted by Kev on

  7. [new-window.php#comment7]

    There are good marketing reasons why external pages should open in new windows and like it or not, marketing is part of the web and web design- a large part.

    I'd agreed that marketing is important, but I'm not aware of any marketing principles that state external pages should open in a new window. Whose marketing theory does this belong to, and what are the reasons? I'm struggling to think of what could possibly be the benefit for marketing, and the only thing I can come up with is keeping people on your site. If that's it, it seems a bit lightweight to me. If companies don't want people leaving their sites, don't provide links to external sites. If companies absolutely must link to other sites, but have concerns that people won't return, provide content that people actually want. That sounds like better marketing advice to me, but then I know very little about marketing. Maybe there's a far better marketing reason for opening new windows that I've completely overlooked. If there is, I'd definitely be interested in hearing it.

    The accessibility arguement that the browser back button is not available is a bit lightweight- so what? So the user has to click on 'close' rather than 'back'. Hardly a massive issue is it?

    Not a big issue at all, but neither is allowing the visitor to open a link in a new window, tab, or existing window. Unlike forcing new windows on people, there are benefits in allowing the visitor to choose. Firstly, they can continue to use the forward and backward link history if they choose. That feature may not seem like a big deal to you, but others like it; which I assume is why every graphical browser has added that functionality to their browser. Secondly, you're taking away the choice from the visitor. If you decide a link will open in a new window, and visitors decide to follow that link, there's nothing they can do about it. Yet another site has decided I need yet another window, and the history functions of my browser don't work. Allowing me to choose provides the most flexible option; that's got to be good from a usability point of view.

    And disorientation is easily assuaged by stating in the title attribute of the link, or the link text itself, or in a relevant statement that external sites open in new windows.

    I definitely don't agree with the "or" part of this statement. If someone is viewing the page in link reading mode, there's a good chance they could miss the fact that it will open in a new window. Some assistive devices don't read the title attribute. Those that do provide an option for the user to decide whether they want the title attribute read. Not many people choose this option, as it takes longer to read the page to them. So unless it's announced that the link will open in a new window within the link phrase and the title if one's provided, it could lead to disorientating some visitors.

    As for taking over browser settings, how exactly? Opening a new window doesn't alter any aspect of your software setup, it merely opens a new instance of what you already have open.

    I said akin to changing my browser settings, as it's doing something with my browser that I haven't opted to do. I want to be able to launch new windows if I choose, not when someone else knows better than me about what I want.

    There's been an increasing groundswell amongst designers to take up standards and be considerate of all users but we cannot ignore the business impact these decisions have.

    The business impact of standards compliant pages are quicker download times due to more compact markup, better search engine ranking as it's more machine readable, easier maintainability, and more consistent behaviour on modern browsers. What adverse impact is that having on business objectives? It's easy to see what impact not following standards while your competitors do would have on your business objectives. If it's merely that you want to use popup windows, so disagree with that particular aspect of the standards, then ignore that one aspect of the standards.

    The decision to remove target as an attribute from the Strict DTD was, imo, lunacy.

    Allowing them to be authored in the first place is lunacy in my opinion. The W3C removed the target attribute because the general consensus of industry experts and companies that make up the W3C was that developers had no right launching links in a new window; that option should be taken by the user. They were obviously not aware of this marketing principle that states that external links should be opened in a new window.

    Posted by Gez on

  8. [new-window.php#comment8]

    opening links in a new window is not a good thing.

    i make that statement not based on accessibility papers, standards, or marketing reasons, i know it is true because i have watched my mother use the internet, she and many other users like her barely know how to open a webpage, nevermind how to open more than one window, it confuses her and it confuses other people like her, and its definitely not a good thing to have a potential customer confused

    just my experience that is *smile*

    Posted by nutter9k on

  9. [new-window.php#comment9]

    i know it is true because i have watched my mother use the internet, she and many other users like her barely know how to open a webpage, nevermind how to open more than one window, it confuses her and it confuses other people like her, and its definitely not a good thing to have a potential customer confused

    Agreed. Accessibility is about making sure that a website is non-exclusive. If a particular technique excludes a group of people, then surely marketing principles dictate that practice should be avoided? Admittedly, what I know about marketing could be written on the back of a postage stamp using a 4-inch paintbrush, with translations into seven other languages. Common sense indicates that removing barriers could only be a good thing. Techniques that exclude visitors from your site provide an opportunity for your competitors to cash in. I really don't follow the marketing argument, as it sounds myopic, and not thought through thoroughly.

    Posted by Gez on

  10. [new-window.php#comment10]

    Cans open, worms everywhere *wink*

    Whose marketing theory does this belong to, and what are the reasons? I'm struggling to think of what could possibly be the benefit for marketing, and the only thing I can come up with is keeping people on your site. If that's it, it seems a bit lightweight to me

    The marketing theory is one thats dictated by the marketing department of the company one works for. I've worked as an agency designer and as a corporate designer and every single site I've designed its either been specified to me by a marketing dept or (if I've tried to get away with it) asked to be retro-fitted.

    The reasons are exactly as you state them- keeping people on your site and from a marketing perspective, it doesn't seem lightweight at all.

    because the general consensus of industry experts and companies that make up the W3C was that developers had no right launching links in a new window

    Of course, but thats a literal interpretation. Asking *why* this decision was taken is not just a matter of literality (is that even a word?).

    Here's my broader point: The sort of people who influence the decision making process at W3C are neither representative of web designers/developers at large nor the average marketing dept. Thats not their fault, W3C is an opt in process and thee people have elected not to opt in therefore they don't get a say. However, I do believe that W3C are not good at encouraging people to have their say and the refusal to have any sort of flexibility is bizarre to say the least.

    I read through the XHTML 1 Strict DTD and I can understand and have no issues (from a marketing/business perspective) with any of it apart from the lack of _target. We've agreed that from an accessibility perspective that evidence is, at best, ambiguous about how unuseable this bevhaviour is so, by a simple balance of judgements we have a scale where the potential benefits of getting more people on the side of standards and allowing designers such as myself to use a Strict DTD with all the benefits to my code this brings surely greatly outweighs any benefit that omitting _target has.

    I want to use a Strict DTD- like you Gez, I struggle to see the point of a transitional DTD except where a designer/developer is learning a new language, it really annoys me that something this petty with (as far as I can see) little to no real benefit to any user and certainly no detrement to their browsing experience gets through.

    Posted by Kev on

  11. [new-window.php#comment11]

    The number of websites that have stopped opening links in a new window is noticeable. The message must be getting through - content is king.

    Posted by mick on

  12. [new-window.php#comment12]

    i know it is true because i have watched my mother use the internet

    Excuse my levity but thats not exactly the most rigorous testing group *wink*

    I have also watched my Dad using the Internet and heard him curse in irritation as an external page loaded in the same window as the page he was browsing- is this any less 'true' than your example?

    Posted by Kev on

  13. [new-window.php#comment13]

    Some people want and expect links to open in a new window. There needs are just as important. I find it hard to believe that a new window will distract a user. Anyone who has used the internet encounters new windows and I have never heard anyone complain about them. This whole subject is madness.

    Posted by ihc on

  14. [new-window.php#comment14]

    I have also watched my Dad using the Internet and heard him curse in irritation as an external page loaded in the same window as the page he was browsing- is this any less 'true' than your example?

    A strange response considering that is the expected behavior. If it caused your Dad frustration, then the issue is equally important. The difference is your Dad could do something about it, whereas nutter9k's mother had no choice.

    I don't have strong views on new windows, and use them if the person paying my salary tells me to. I've never heard anyone complain about a link opening in the same window, yet it's common to hear about people complaining about them opening in a new window. Based on that, I use the same window unless I'm told not to.

    Posted by James on

  15. [new-window.php#comment15]

    A strange response considering that is the expected behavior

    Thats my point, its *not* the expected behaviour of the *user* its the expected behaviour of the *browser*. I think its very very dangerous to prophesise and eulogise 'expected behaviours' when in reality there should be none.

    At the end of the day, the usability argument is ambiguous, the accessibility arguement is both ambiguous and rather patronising (disabled visitors get 'confused' by new windows??) so this really comes down to user preference. Some people care, some don't.

    Posted by Kev on

  16. [new-window.php#comment16]

    I think its very very dangerous to prophesise and eulogise 'expected behaviours' when in reality there should be none.

    Utter nonsense. The whole field of usability is based around expectations.

    disabled visitors get 'confused' by new windows??

    Some people do get confused by new windows. From what I've read, no one has mentioned "disabled visitors" - that's your interpretation.

    Some people care, some don't.

    Evidently.

    Posted by Max on

  17. [new-window.php#comment17]

    "Utter nonsense. The whole field of usability"

    Or, to re-arrange your sentence: The whole field of usability. Utter nonsense. Please read the thread before commenting- web design is not just about usability or accessibility.

    From what I've read, no one has mentioned "disabled visitors" - that's your interpretation.

    So would you mind explaining to me exactly what user group the field of web accessibility was primarily created for?

    Evidently.

    Well, yes, thats why I said it.

    Posted by Kev on

  18. [new-window.php#comment18]

    You've gone from making a relatively sensible, albeit uninformed argument about opening links in a new window to dismissing usability. As you like rearranging words, try these: straws clutching at.

    Posted by Max on

  19. [new-window.php#comment19]

    I'm merely responding in the manner I was responded to. When you have a point thats nothing to do with sneering or when you can actually answer any of the points made in this thread then feel free to, until then I'll keep mirroring your style.

    Posted by Kev on

  20. [new-window.php#comment20]

    Comment (7):

    The W3C removed the target attribute because the general consensus of industry experts and companies that make up the W3C was that developers had no right launching links in a new window; that option should be taken by the user.

    Comment (10):

    I do believe that W3C are not good at encouraging people to have their say and the refusal to have any sort of flexibility is bizarre to say the least.

    Looks like there's scope for a whole new discussion about W3C's performance and approach. Are you up for it, Gez?

    Posted by Philip Chalmers on

  21. [new-window.php#comment21]

    There have been some good points made by people on both sides of the fence, but if we could just be a little more understanding of other people's opinions and remain courteous please. Whilst a response of "utter nonsense" gets across the point you disagree, it does so in a dismissive way and completely detracts from any point you're trying to make. Consequently, what was a good debate degenerates into point scoring, which is no good for anyone.

    Getting back to the issue, it seems the marketing angle has a conflict of interests. Marketing must take into consideration the user experience, and usability surveys suggest that new windows can cause a bad experience for certain groups of people. Jakob Nielsen's been trying to make this point for years: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530.html I don't think it's patronising, and it's not aimed at any particular group. New windows confuse people new to the web, and they can also cause problems with assistive devices: http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_newbrowserwindows.hcsp

    If opening links in a new window affects certain groups, regardless of how small the group is, surely it's worth taking into consideration? If a visitor wants to open a link in a new window, they can. If the developer decides it will open in a new window, they have no choice.

    Posted by Gez on

  22. [new-window.php#comment22]

    Looks like there's scope for a whole new discussion about W3C's performance and approach. Are you up for it, Gez?

    Yeah, sounds good. I'll put something together for it later this evening.

    Posted by Gez on

  23. [new-window.php#comment23]

    The WCAG guildelines, whilst primarily aimed at making content accessible to users with disabilities, were in fact created to make content accessible to all users - disabled or not.

    The way I see it, at the end of the day its about options. Implementing the WCAG guidelines provides more options to all users.

    To focus more on the useability side of the topic (forgive me for sounding like a broken record), if you provide a link without using the target attribute, users have 2 options: (a) open the link in the same window, and (b) open the link in a new window/tab. If you were to provide a link with the target attribute - users now have 1 option.

    As designers, we must give web users some credit, and design pages under the assumption that users do know the basics of operating their browser, including how to open links in new windows - should they wish.


    Posted by Si on

  24. [new-window.php#comment24]

    I think I've said all I can about the marketing angle. I do appreciate its not a perspective that everyone feels is important but I'm speaking as someone who makes their living designing websites that (most of the time, not all) serve a commercial purpose. Marketing is a consideration that designers *must* take into account and the people who decide marketing strategies are not just designers, they take decisions based on sales figures and markets.

    I genuinely can't see the accessibility or usability arguements- to me it makes no difference using a mouse action or keyboard action to use a back button or close a window.

    This:

    As designers, we must give web users some credit, and design pages under the assumption that users do know the basics of operating their browser, including how to open links in new windows - should they wish.

    is right at the crux of the matter IMO. I respect that opinion but turn it on its head and I see:

    "As designers, we must give web users some credit, and design pages under the assumption that users do know the basics of operating their browser, including how to close new windows - should they wish."

    Its hardly a new concept to computing- the worlds most popular Word processing package has opened new instances of itself since OfficeXP. If we're giving users credit then lets not take initiative from them whilst we do it.

    Posted by Kev on

  25. [new-window.php#comment25]

    I think I've said all I can about the marketing angle. I do appreciate its not a perspective that everyone feels is important but I'm speaking as someone who makes their living designing websites that (most of the time, not all) serve a commercial purpose.

    I'm really struggling with the value of opening external links in a new window from a marketing angle. I'm probably overlooking the obvious, but I just don't get it. I'm sorry to keep coming back to this point, but it's more for my own sake to try and follow the argument. I'm definitely not being facetious, and it's only the fact I value your opinion as a designer/develop that I want to follow this up.

    The crux of it seems to be: You want them to remain on your site, so launch the link they want in a new window.

    At that point, they're not really on your site as such. You've merely added a hiccup in the process of them navigating from one document to another, breaking the history in the meantime. The usability repercussions of that alone are important to me, but putting them aside, what have you gained? That's the bit I'm struggling with. Suppose they carry on browsing with that window, and when it comes to shutting the machine down and they're closing all the open applications and come across your browser window that's been sitting in the background. Is that the bit that's good for marketing? It must be the same principle as pop-behind windows, but I never really grasped the marketing concept behind that either. If they close the new window down immediately, they're only going to continue navigating your site if you have content they're interested in. Closing down the new window would be the same as hitting the back button, in which case they would again only stay on your site if you had content they were interested in. So following the logic through, the best-case scenario I can think of is the first option - they leave your site, forget it, and when they close everything down, discover it again.

    If that's not it, could you state for non-marketing type people like me exactly what the benefit is.

    Marketing is a consideration that designers *must* take into account and the people who decide marketing strategies are not just designers, they take decisions based on sales figures and markets.

    Even better - could you explain how opening links in a new window increases sales figures?

    I genuinely can't see the accessibility or usability arguements- to me it makes no difference using a mouse action or keyboard action to use a back button or close a window.

    The issue is not one of a mouse or keyboard action. The two major points are breaking the browser's back button, and disorientating some visitors. No matter how weak you find those arguments, they're tangible reasons. The marketing one seems myopic, lacking any tangible benefits. I'm prepared to accept it's probably me missing the point, but if so, it would be nice for someone to explain it to me.

    Posted by Gez on

  26. [new-window.php#comment26]

    The marketing angle as I understand it, genuinely is as simple as you suggest- remaining on the site, or having an instance of the site still open.

    A lot of marketing is not *just* about sales/figures etc, there's the data collection angle also- as you know a lot of information about visitors can be gained from visitor data, paths through the site, how long a page is stayed on by a visitor, etc etc. But what it comes down to is the belief (and I'm making no claims as to the validity of this- merely that its something I *have* to take account of) that the longer a site is open, the more exposure it gets and the greater the chance of sales are.

    I posed a variant of this debate on a SEO forum where the incidence of peoplpe with marketing as a primary concern is greater than standards (a deliberate direct opposite of here in other words) and the response seemed fairly mixed with some people agreeing that opening new windows via _target is annoying but a like number stating that it was important for their marketing campaigns (or, at least they believed it was important) to open new windows to external sites. One respondent described how he has two links for every external link- one that opens in the same window and one that opens up a new window via JS which struck me as an excellent idea and a good compromise.

    At least one person said that the lack of _target had prevented them from using a Strict DTD.

    Its all food for thought imo and a reminder that there are real world concerns to a lot of people beyond that of standards. I did get the feeling that a lot of the people there would like to use standards but didn't feel they could sacrifice something they saw as core functionality of their site. Personally, I'd love to see people such as SEO specialists etc get more involved with W3C but I'm afraid that the perception is that they'll get patronised and ignored if they did.

    Posted by Kev on

  27. [new-window.php#comment27]

    I've just entered this discussion and have some comments on a few of the issues touched on here:

    1. On our portal website, where all but a few of the links are external, we open links in a new window. I always assumed the main reason for doing so was to distance ourselves from the content on the external website for which we have no responsibility.

    3. As far as inexperienced users getting confused go: from my experience, their inexperience causes them to get confused about pretty much everything!

    If external links open in a new window, they still may not understand why the whole look of the site has suddenly changed. They may or may not know how to use the back button, or they may be so confused about the changed look of the site that they close the window alltogether. After which they'd have to start all over again.

    If a page opens in a new window, they may or may not know how to close the window, they may or may not know how to click on the task bar tab, they may still be confused about the absence of the familiar home page logo, etc...

    I think the easiest way to keep these users on track, is to open external links in a new window with a top frame explaining what happened and how they can get back to where they came from. Of course frames are a total accessibility no-no.

    If anyone can point me to some focus group testing results relating to this target group of particularly confused users, I'd be very grateful!

    Posted by Lin on

  28. [new-window.php#comment28]

    3. As far as inexperienced users getting confused go: from my experience, their inexperience causes them to get confused about pretty much everything!

    If your experience shows that inexperience causes confusion about pretty much anything, than maybe you should be re-evaluating your practices? The only point I agree with is point 2.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  29. [new-window.php#comment29]

    "If your experience shows that inexperience causes confusion about pretty much anything, than maybe you should be re-evaluating your practices?"

    I'd be very interested to see the results of the study that showed inexperience wasn't an issue when learning something for the first time. Maybe you know of an uberuser group that rest of us have never been privvy to?

    Posted by Kev on

  30. [new-window.php#comment30]

    If anyone can point me to some focus group testing results relating to this target group of particularly confused users, I'd be very grateful!

    If anyone knows of links to online usability studies regarding launching new windows, I would be very grateful too. I think Jakob Nielsen's findings are the results of usability studies, but it would be good if someone knows of any online resources.

    Posted by Gez on

  31. [new-window.php#comment31]

    Not studies but nice to see a company taking a realistic view- that informed opening of new windows shouldn't be a problem: http://www.uiaccess.com/spawned.html

    Particularly interesting is the quote from the Priority 2 list:

    "Until user agents allow users to turn off spawned windows, do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user. [Priority 2]"

    Which also supports the more middle-of-the-road view. It seems to me more and more concrete that the opening of the new window isn't the issue, its the lack of announcement of your intention to open a new window thats the real problem.

    Compare the above site with Nielsons ridiculously OTT tone and language:

    "Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer's carpet. Don't pollute my screen with any more windows, thanks (particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management). If I want a new window, I will open it myself!"

    Notice how its all about him? '...if *I* want a new window...', '..*I* will open it..' I thought this guy did loads of independant user testing? If so, where's the actual data? I don't want one persons opinion, especially not someone who charges tens of thousands of pounds and can't be bothered to practice what he preaches on his own site, I want the empirical data he's apprently collated to form this opinion. He always seems reticent to discuss this aspect of his work.

    Posted by Kev on

  32. [new-window.php#comment32]

    Kev says:

    Not studies but nice to see a company taking a realistic view- that informed opening of new windows shouldn't be a problem:

    UI Access says:

    Usability studies show that novice users (including those without disabilities) often do not understand the concept of stacked windows and think only one window is open at a time. They can be confused with multiple windows. Another potential problem is that opening new windows "breaks" the browser's Back button, or previous page functionality.

    I see two potential problems in their realistic view, and you see none. It could be that you're fighting so hard over this issue, that no one could convince you otherwise no matter what evidence was produced.

    I'd be very interested to see the results of the study that showed inexperience wasn't an issue when learning something for the first time. Maybe you know of an uberuser group that rest of us have never been privvy to?

    I don't know of any groups - I made it all up. Inexperienced people are rubbish. They can't get anything right, and most of them don't even know their own name.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  33. [new-window.php#comment33]

    "I see two potential problems in their realistic view, and you see none. It could be that you're fighting so hard over this issue, that no one could convince you otherwise no matter what evidence was produced."

    I'm not fighting hard at all Dave- so far it seems to me that I'm the one in line with WCAG specs- easy. And I haven't seen *any* evidence produced. If you have, feel free to share it with us all.

    "I don't know of any groups - I made it all up. Inexperienced people are rubbish. They can't get anything right, and most of them don't even know their own name."

    My my, extreme sarcasm as a debating tool...I guess in the absence of a point it maybe serves a purpose.

    Posted by Kev on

  34. [new-window.php#comment34]

    This discussion is generating more heat than light. I'll try to summarise the facts without imposing my own opinions (if I can!!).

    Strict HTML and XHTML DTDsdo not include a TARGET attribute for links.

    WCAG WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 10.1: " Until user agents allow users to turn off spawned windows, do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user. [Priority 2]". Does this condemn new windows opened when the user clicks a link?

    At least one usability company thinks new browser windows can be good for e.g. Help pages, provided the links are flagged "opens new window" [http://www.uiaccess.com/spawned.html]

    Most non-browser Windows apps open new windows for Help and Options, and most email clients open a new window for each message.

    Some browsers are better than others at handling new windows opened by clicking a link. The most commonly-used, Internet Explorer, is one of the worst because it does not change focus if a second window is updated, e.g. if the user asks for help on a new topic.

    Forms on Web pages are the source of a lot of difficulties. The user cannot be sure if data already entered but not submitted will be retained if he / she opens a Help page in the same window and then returns to the form.

    There are different levels of experience / inexperience which are relevant:
    * new user of any kind of windowed app.
    * has used a few windowed apps but only casually.
    * fairly proficient user of at least 1 windowed app (excluding browsers).
    * fairly proficient user of at least 1 browser.

    Are there any other relevant FACTS?


    Posted by Philip Chalmers on

  35. [new-window.php#comment35]

    You have accidentally missed every single point put forward for not opening links in a new window in your unbiased summary. On top of your observations ...

    1. New windows break the back button
    2. New windows disorientate users
    3. New windows take away the choice from the user

    To not register these points at all indicates you're only going to listen to what you want to hear.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  36. [new-window.php#comment36]

    "1. New windows break the back button"

    No they don't. The previous window is still open. If a user wishes to go back from the point the new window was spawned then they can.

    "2. New windows disorientate users"

    Subjective. Show me proof- cold, hard, statistical proof from an independant body.

    "3. New windows take away the choice from the user"

    No they don't. If a user feel that strongly about it, they can simply close the new window.

    Honestly, I'm against serious infringes on users rights and security issues as much as the next person but these arguements abouit choice are a bit daft. Do you really feel so very very strongly about the opening of new windows for external sites that arguements about infringing on choice are invoked? Its the opening of a new browser window not a military coup.

    Posted by Kev on

  37. [new-window.php#comment37]

    these arguements abouit choice are a bit daft

    No, this is daft.

    "1. New windows break the back button"

    No they don't. The previous window is still open. If a user wishes to go back from the point the new window was spawned then they can.

    The back button on the new window will not take them back to the page they have just left.

    "2. New windows disorientate users"

    Subjective. Show me proof- cold, hard, statistical proof from an independant body.

    Countless experts state it's a fact. I'm prepared to accept their word over yours.

    "3. New windows take away the choice from the user"

    No they don't. If a user feel that strongly about it, they can simply close the new window.

    Close it? Did they have a choice before they realised it would open in a new window? Assuming you warn them that the link will open in a new window, their choice is to open the link in a new window or not open the link at all. Not much of a choice and not a good "marketing" strategy.

    You're being deliberately obtuse.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  38. [new-window.php#comment38]

    "You're being deliberately obtuse."

    No, I'm really not. I'm simply not agreeing with you and your interpretation. As I see it, there's a whole buch of people being very precioous over one very simple and non-crucial browser behaviour. I've yet to see any evidence on either accessibility or usability grounds that opening external sites in new windows is a bad thing and the only answer given so far is personal insult and 'countless experts say so'. Well, bully for them. Show me the cold, hard statisrical proof from an independant study. Until then your arguement is merely speculation based on your own prejudices.

    "The back button on the new window will not take them back to the page they have just left."

    Yes? And? Whats your point? I though we were talking about how opening new windows broke the back button. Opening a new window does *not* break any back button at all.

    "Countless experts state it's a fact. I'm prepared to accept their word over yours."

    Then why does this debate concern you? Your mind is closed.

    "Close it? Did they have a choice before they realised it would open in a new window?"

    Or, more pertintely- do they give a monkeys? I'm willing to bet that at least 50% of the time the answer is 'no'.

    "Assuming you warn them that the link will open in a new window, their choice is to open the link in a new window or not open the link at all. Not much of a choice and not a good "marketing" strategy."

    Good marketing strategy is formulated on a company by company basis. Some companies might not care, some might. Its up to them- they pay for it at the end of the day. As for choice, again- most people in my experience don't give a stuff about web standards. As long as they can get to where they need to go, they don't care- especially over something so utterly trivial as this.

    Posted by Kev on

  39. [new-window.php#comment39]

    "Countless experts state it's a fact. I'm prepared to accept their word over yours."

    Then why does this debate concern you? Your mind is closed.

    You seem to have made an assumption that because I don't value your opinion, I won't value anyone else's. I made an informed decision based on your arguments (or more precisely, lack of arguments) about links opening in a new window not effecting anyone, when others (including resources you've highlighted) state that they are of concern. If someone has a point, I will listen. If you eventually make a point, I shall give it my fullest consideration.

    When responding to Philip's summary, I did point out that my points were to be considered in conjunction with the points he had raised: http://juicystudio.com/new-windows/#comment35

    If I may be so bold - it is you with the closed mind, Sir.

    "Close it? Did they have a choice before they realised it would open in a new window?"

    Or, more pertintely- do they give a monkeys? I'm willing to bet that at least 50% of the time the answer is 'no'.

    Let's say the number is as high as 99% who don't give a monkeys - that's still 1% that do give a monkeys. If you believe the web should be inclusive, that 1% is worth considering.

    most people in my experience don't give a stuff about web standards. As long as they can get to where they need to go, they don't care- especially over something so utterly trivial as this.

    If you're talking about end users, they shouldn't have to give a stuff about web standards. If you're talking about designers and developers - they should care. Please don't say you don't care, it will destroy me. Become a believer and repent. There will always be a place in web standards heaven for you *smile*

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  40. [new-window.php#comment40]

    "If you eventually make a point, I shall give it my fullest consideration."

    Yeah- sounds great, but really its just a bit silly. If I'm not making any points then just what is it you're constantly responding to? Or do you just like the sound of your own voice a bit too much? I'll explain it once more though, just so you get it nice and clear-

    There's no empirical proof originating from independant sources supporting the usability or lack thereof of openeing external links in new windows. There's no empirical proof originating from independant sources supporting the acccessibility or lack thereof of opening external links in new windows. If I'm incorrect in these two statements please (as I've repeatedly asked throughout this thread) post this empirical independant proof for everyone to see and judge for themselves.

    Circumstantial evidence would indicate that people new to computing quickly learn that one software package could have multiple instances of itself. The worlds most popular and familiar software package Microsoft Word uses this methodology. To date I can't recall a vast body of disgruntled users boycotting Word because of this behaviour. I used to teach basic IT skills at a local college and know fom experience that people adjusted to that concept in a reasonable amount of time. Certainly not instantly as there's this thing called a 'learning curve', maybe you've heard of it? The concept of a 'learning curve' is that it takes a certain amount of time to adjust to a particular method or way of working but people do adjust.

    The WCAG also have no problems with the opening of new windows. The only caution they present is to inform the user.

    So what are we left with? We're left with a bunch of people whos best arguements are that opening a new browser window:

    a) Breaks the 'back' button.

    Well, no, it doesn't. It breaks the chain of links available to the current instance of the browser but thats all. The user is perfectly able to navigate back to wherever they've been. Opening a new browser window doesn't close the old one. The argument that some people may get 'confused' is both patronising and simplistic. I'm sure that any totally new user wouldn't be able to find it but equally, anyone far enough down the 'learning curve' (remember that concept?) would handle it just fine.

    b) New windows take away 'choice'.

    "Let's say the number is as high as 99% who don't give a monkeys - that's still 1% that do give a monkeys. If you believe the web should be inclusive, that 1% is worth considering."

    High stakes you've arbitrarily forced me to play for there- if I believe the web should be inclusive. Well I do and I'll gladly accept your 99/1 ratio. I'll accept it as its clear to me that the only people in this 1% are web developers who feel that their civil liberties have been grossly abused. Fine by me.

    "they should care. Please don't say you don't care, it will destroy me. Become a believer and repent."

    It may shock you to your very core Dave but all the sites I design and 100% XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS2 and at least AA compliant- hell, on the non commercial sites like the one my name links to I don't even open new windows for external sites.

    Want to know why?

    Because I can see that different situations call for different sets of standards. A non-commercial site such as DDN or JuicyStudio or Acccessify can afford to be 100% standarsd compliant and not have to care about commercial considerations. The sites that I design for a commercial purpose however need to be designed from a commercial and marketing viewpoint.

    I've tried throughout this thread to illustrate that omitting the target attribute from the DTD achieves zero from a usability or accessibility perspective and seen nothing in the way of empirical proof to make me change my mind. However, it does have implications from a marketing perspective, enough for me and a lot of other designers to have to either hack our markup, constantly fight to justify our DTD choices or simply not bother. Therefore, I'm left with the rather sad conclusion that the only people glad about the ommission of target as an attribute are W3C and its more pedantic fanboys.

    Posted by Kev on

  41. [new-window.php#comment41]

    If I'm not making any points then just what is it you're constantly responding to?

    I enjoy chatting with you - it helps make me feel good about myself. Had you hoped if you spouted nonsense long enough, everyone would say, "That Kev's got a good point, let's launch a new window tonight?" I want to keep you talking, as I'm convinced if pushed enough, we'll get to the bottom of why you've dismissed the issue out of hand. If I'm wrong, well - at least it's been a good laugh.

    If you truly believe there's anything worth debating in your incoherent prattle, show me empirical proof that opening links in a new window doesn't cause problems. Straw man argument.

    It may shock you to your very core Dave but all the sites I design and 100% XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS2 and at least AA compliant- hell,

    I didn't get past the disbelieving stage to reach the shocked stage. Are you serving the correct MIME type, or is that part of the standards nonsense too?

    on the non commercial sites like the one my name links to I don't even open new windows for external sites.

    That's an advertisement of your work? I don't know exactly what you've misunderstood about the term, "open new windows for external sites", but launching external sites in a new window is "open new windows for external sites". As it's your site, I take it you've seen the forum?

    However, it does have implications from a marketing perspective, enough for me and a lot of other designers to have to either hack our markup, constantly fight to justify our DTD choices or simply not bother.

    And these marketing implications are? They look as though they're on your site longer, even though they weren't? I have a degree in Marketing, but can't follow the logic in that. Must have been a crap University, eh?

    Any sarcasm or insults present in this post were aimed at you, but at no time was any malice intended. I always thought it was the lowest form of wit too, but you've demonstrated new levels of ignorance. There is a point to this post, but you may need to get someone to explain it to you.

    Peace, man *smile*

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  42. [new-window.php#comment42]

    "I enjoy chatting with you - it helps make me feel good about myself. Had you hoped if you spouted nonsense long enough, everyone would say, "That Kev's got a good point, let's launch a new window tonight?" I want to keep you talking, as I'm convinced if pushed enough, we'll get to the bottom of why you've dismissed the issue out of hand. If I'm wrong, well - at least it's been a good laugh."

    I don't believe I have dismissed the issue out of hand. You've still yet to provide, despite repeated requests, any proof that opening external links in new windows is a bad thing for anyone. I'm quite ready to change my opinion if someone can actually offer that proof but so far nobody has.

    "If you truly believe there's anything worth debating in your incoherent prattle, show me empirical proof that opening links in a new window doesn't cause problems. Straw man argument."

    Rubbish. I'm asking you to back up your beliefs that are a part of an accepted standard. My beliefs are not part of an accepted standard- thats what this whole thread has been about so far. As for debating, well we're not really are we? I keep asking for you to back up your position which you clearly can't do. No real debate there as such, merely two people butting heads. It would be nice if you could take the time out from personal insults to actually address some of the points I've made- that way we could at least pretend that you have anything worthwhile to say and debate them. We could take them one at a time if that would be easier for you?

    "Are you serving the correct MIME type, or is that part of the standards nonsense too?"

    Stay on topic Dave. If you want to try bashing me about something unrelated to the thread you might do Gez the courtesy of asking to start a new thread.

    "As it's your site, I take it you've seen the forum?"

    Ah, I was waiting for that one- I'm only surprised it took you so long to get to. The Invision forum is nearly 3 years old and was instigated when I didn't care about standards at all. As it is there's currently a project underway at DDN, instigated by me, to create an accessible skin for the forum. You're welcome to participate if you so desire.

    "And these marketing implications are? They look as though they're on your site longer, even though they weren't? I have a degree in Marketing, but can't follow the logic in that. Must have been a crap University, eh?"

    As I said earlier in the thread (you really should try reading the thread before posting Dave, its kind of embarrassing to have to keep pulling you up on stuff because you couldn't be bothered to read first) I'm not an marketing expert but I am guided by those I work for- including marketing departments. Those marketing departments thus far include Disney, Channel 4, American Standard, Nat West amongst others. Maybe you know more about marketing then Disney? I'm sure they'd love to hear from you and your interesting ideas.

    "Any sarcasm or insults present in this post were aimed at you, but at no time was any malice intended. I always thought it was the lowest form of wit too, but you've demonstrated new levels of ignorance. There is a point to this post, but you may need to get someone to explain it to you."

    Yeah, more constructive and well thought out debate. I look forward to you actually answering some of the point made in this thread. Actually, answering *any* of the points made would be a start. There is a point to this post but I sincerely believe that you could get 20 people to explain it to you and you still wouldn't get it.

    Posted by Kev on

  43. [new-window.php#comment43]

    Brief addition on the subject of DDN. DDN is not 'mine'. Its a collaborative project part owned/adminned by 6 people who are part of teh UK design/development community. The current design of the front end and forums is my responsibility.

    Posted by Kev on

  44. [new-window.php#comment44]

    My company carried out a crude usability test on pensioners that included opening links in a new window, high and low contrast text, and placing the navigation at different positions. There were three groups of 5 and each performed a set of tasks. Links opening in a new window did confuse some pensioners, but not all. Those that were confused never completed the test. It turned out to be more of a problem than contrast or placing the navigation at unexpected positions.

    Posted by Gavin on

  45. [new-window.php#comment45]

    Interesting Gavin. Did your company make a note of whether these pensioners were new to browsers or whether they were experienced users or intermediate?

    Thanks for contributing something constructive though.

    Posted by Kev on

  46. [new-window.php#comment46]

    Launching a new window also causes the browser to crash if there aren't enough resources. I use a crappy laptop to access the net from home and the browser keeps crashing from new windows. I'm gratful to sites that inform you that a link will open in a new window but it means I can't open the link.

    Posted by Steph on

  47. [new-window.php#comment47]

    Hello Kev *smile*

    I don't believe I have dismissed the issue out of hand. You've still yet to provide, despite repeated requests, any proof that opening external links in new windows is a bad thing for anyone. I'm quite ready to change my opinion if someone can actually offer that proof but so far nobody has.

    Face up to it, you have a closed mind on this issue and nothing will change your point of view. I'm surprised you haven't done more to discredit Gavin's "crude usability test". He's provided no proof. We just have his word that pensioners found links opening in a new window confusing. He hasn't provided a link to his findings, and hasn't responded to your request to provide more specific details so you can pick the bones out of it. As for Kim's windows crashing, what proof do we have that his/her browser crashes? Do you believe him/her, or do you want documented evidence? These are all straw-man arguments. You ignore the essence of the issues put forward, and substitute them with an inferior misrepresentation.

    It would be nice if you could take the time out from personal insults to actually address some of the points I've made

    I've attempted to address the points you've made, but the comprehension part is down to you.

    that way we could at least pretend that you have anything worthwhile to say and debate them.

    Cutting *wink* Duplicity springs to mind *smile*

    "Are you serving the correct MIME type, or is that part of the standards nonsense too?"

    Stay on topic Dave. If you want to try bashing me about something unrelated to the thread you might do Gez the courtesy of asking to start a new thread.

    Hypocrisy is still hanging heavily in the air. Not only did you go on and on about DDN, you also made a completely separate comment about it - what exactly does that have to do with opening links in a new window? I know, you were responding to a point I made in this thread, and I was merely responding to a point you made. I suppose the demand to stay on topic is your way of saying you don't use the correct MIME type.

    The Invision forum is nearly 3 years old and was instigated when I didn't care about standards at all.

    And you care now? Or the bits you're capable of?

    As I said earlier in the thread (you really should try reading the thread before posting Dave, its kind of embarrassing to have to keep pulling you up on stuff because you couldn't be bothered to read first) I'm not an marketing expert but I am guided by those I work for- including marketing departments

    I had gathered you knew nothing about marketing. I was merely trying to get you to explain your position about the marketing angle, as it doesn't make sense. It seems strange to me you're hanging on to a point you don't understand in favour of reasonable reasons not to open a link in a new window. As for embarrassment, you should feel more embarrassed that someone who isn't a web developer knows more about it than you. Where is your professional pride? I forgot to mention, I feel affronted that you're embarrassed talking to me *smile*

    If you have reasons for opening links in a new window that you do understand, share them.

    Those marketing departments thus far include Disney, Channel 4, American Standard, Nat West amongst others. Maybe you know more about marketing then Disney? I'm sure they'd love to hear from you and your interesting ideas.

    Credit by association? Doing work for large organisations doesn't automatically give you credit. I take it your 2-dimensional views aren't a result of working for Disney.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  48. [new-window.php#comment48]

    I've had enough of this. This stupid point scoring isn't getting anywhere. I don't want to close the comments to this post, but if this continues I'll have no choice.

    Please restrict your comments to the subject of opening links in a new window.

    Posted by Gez on

  49. [new-window.php#comment49]

    "I've had enough of this".

    Ditto. I guess standards are standards and can't be debated on a meaningful level because they're standards. Circular, limiting and unimaginative- thats the debate so far I'm referring to of course, not Dave. One final word on the subject then I leave it to those who would rather not debate but insult:

    I *am* quite happy and willing to change my mind should concrete proof come to light regarding the usability of opening new windows. There are numerous ways people can contact me to show me this proof- post on DDN, send me email (kevATdotdragnetDOTcom). Be prepared that I may challenge you though- not because I look a good ruck, but because I either don't understand them straight away or don't agree with them or whatever.

    The fact of the matter is that there a lot of marketing departments out there, whether you like it or not, that see opening external links in new windows as a valid marketing technique. Its a designers job- especially in a commercial environment- to reflect *all* aspects of a companys policy. Its also a designers job to explain about standards and acessibility and why they're important but at the end of the day, 'the customer is alwys right' is as much true as it ever was and you either do as your told or shake hands and walk away. As I have a family to support, I do the former. If you do the latter then good for you, hope your ethics feed and clothe your kids well.

    I'm certainly not trying to gain credit be association with anyone, I'm merely saying that there are large companies with large, fairly credible marketing departments that have had a large impact in terms of their marketing- if I'd used companies that no-one had heard of you'd rightly by telling me how because you'd never heard of them their marketing must be crap.

    I also find it bizare how asking someone to provide proof of their assertions is 'straw man' logic. I can't believe anyone would take any important decision in any aspect of their lives without weighing the evidence first. I'm not asking you to alter any aspect of your behaviour or even justify it, I'm saying that web standards serve no purpose if what their preventing has no real impact and actually impacts negatively in an unconnected area such as marketing. I was *hoping* we could debate the issues I raised about the breaking of the back button or user experience. Apparently though, that isn't to be and personal point scoring about who's better at stndards is the order of the day. Well, here you go Dave- you're better than me- there you go, enjoy your victory. Would it be possible for some actual debate at some point though?

    As far as the accessibility arguements go- that one seems pretty cut and dried to me; the WCAG seem pretty clear on the issue so thats a non-point.

    All the points made about the impact on hardware/software I find pretty bizarre. Surely most types of software crash at some point. Do we stop using them because of that? And so what if opening links in new windows is not 'standard browser bahviour'? Neither's downloading a file- do W3C have plans to do something about that?

    The most telling point Dave made was by implication rather than direct- he's not a developer/designer. At least, not in a commercial environment. This speaks volumes to me. Maybe if he was, and all of you reading this who aren't this applies to you too, there would be a greater understanding of the way the real, non-W3C orientated world impacts on design. Standards are great and important but this neither means that I'm any kind of expert on them- thats why I visit sites like JuicyStudio- or that their implementation should never be debated. I find it both amusing and telling that the amount of vitriol expended that was necesary to try and get this thread closed could instead have been spent explaining to me exactly how I was wrong- but that didn't happen did it? I wonder why.

    Posted by Kev on

  50. [new-window.php#comment50]

    I've had enough of this.

    Following your email, I take it this comment is aimed at me more than it is Kev. I find Kev's dismissive tone offensive, but accept it's your website and you're free to favour whom you please.

    I *am* quite happy and willing to change my mind should concrete proof come to light regarding the usability of opening new windows.

    Merely stating that you're prepared to accept an issue is not the same as being prepared to accept it. The whole issue of people going out of their way to prove a point to you only goes to highlight your arrogance. If you want results from usability companies, contact a usability company and pay the money for these reports like everyone else does. If you don't want proof, stop asking for something for nothing.

    Be prepared that I may challenge you though- not because I look a good ruck, but because I either don't understand them straight away or don't agree with them or whatever.

    There's a massive difference between challenging something, and just dismissing it.

    The fact of the matter is that there a lot of marketing departments out there, whether you like it or not, that see opening external links in new windows as a valid marketing technique.

    I don't like it, and I don't accept it. I've met people that have assumed it's normal to keep people on their sites by opening external links in a new window, but they're quick to change their mind when the usability issues are explained to them. Marketing types want people to remember their products and services favourably, and go to great lengths to ensure user satisfaction. Sure - they've been let down by poor web development techniques in the past, but they're becoming increasingly switched on to usability issues. As you refuse to believe there are usability issues in opening links in a new window, there's no point in you trying to convince anyone to the contrary.

    Its a designers job- especially in a commercial environment- to reflect *all* aspects of a companys policy.

    Personally (no insult intended), I think you're letting your customers down on this issue. It's a designer's job to design, not advise on best practice when it comes to usability. The chances are, as demonstrated perfectly in this thread, some designers just won't get it. If you have no marketing expertise in your company, and expect designers to speak to clients directly, then yes - I would accept your words have some wisdom.

    Its also a designers job to explain about standards and acessibility and why they're important

    Again, I would suggest this was an area for a web marketing consultant (or equivalent), and let the designers get on with what they do understand - design.

    but at the end of the day, 'the customer is alwys right'

    Of course. And the one thing your clients will want more than anything else, is every possible client they can get - and quite rightly too. Including the ones who are phased by new windows, or don't have the resources on their machine to open a new window without the browser crashing. I'm sure if you explained that to any one of your clients, particularly if it put them ahead of their competitors, they would take that point on board. Opening an external link in the same window can't possibly do any damage. If there's a remote chance that opening a link in an external window could cause users some difficulty, then surely it's better to err on the side of caution?

    If you do the latter then good for you, hope your ethics feed and clothe your kids well.

    I feed and clothe my family well, and so do my clients. Do you assume that everyone who does their job properly is unable to support themselves? It may appear as though all the fly-by-nights and conmen get all the money, but people with integrity are also able to make a good living in this industry.

    I'm saying that web standards serve no purpose if what their preventing has no real impact and actually impacts negatively in an unconnected area such as marketing.

    I work in marketing, and web standards have no negative impact whatsoever - quite the opposite.

    I was *hoping* we could debate the issues I raised about the breaking of the back button or user experience.

    You dismissed the issues out of hand. Refusing to believe them doesn't leave anything to debate. If you truly wanted a debate, you should try improving your debating skills. Dismissing people's opinions will not encourage people to come forward with "evidence". The best you can expect is someone like me that enjoys talking to people like you. Your point about "breaking the back button" was to get pedantic and state that the back button isn't broken. Users who are fazed by the back button no longer working consider the back button to be broken, and that's where the phrase originates. Of course, everyone in the industry knows that the back button isn't really broken, and full points to you for also realising that the back button isn't really broken.

    Would it be possible for some actual debate at some point though?

    When you're ready, join in. If by debate you merely intend to dismiss the issues put forward as a "non-point", be prepared to be treated with the same contempt.

    As far as the accessibility arguements go- that one seems pretty cut and dried to me; the WCAG seem pretty clear on the issue so thats a non-point.

    Dismissive. Contrary to your understanding, WCAG does recognise spawning new windows as an issue. http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-TECHS/#tech-avoid-pop-ups They quite clearly ask content developers to avoid them. They suggest informing your visitors if you insist on changing the current window, but the base message from WCAG is to avoid spawned windows. Maybe you've interpreted this particular guideline as being aimed at popup adverts? It means spawned window (a window that the user didn't opt to open, whether that's following a link or some other event that causes a new window to open) full stop. This guideline comes under interim solutions, as they envisaged that user agents would quickly address the issues in this category. Internet Explorer 6, still the most widely used browser, does not allow users to turn off spawned windows. Therefore, this checkpoint is still a very valid checkpoint to address.

    All the points made about the impact on hardware/software I find pretty bizarre.

    Again, dismissive. Steph has already mentioned that new windows can crash her browser. I'm sure the point isn't bizarre to her.

    Surely most types of software crash at some point.

    A responsible developer would avoid things that are known to cause systems to crash. If this was a software issue that could be updated free of charge, I could see some logic in your statement. Hardware is expensive, and no responsible developer would expect their visitors to buy new hardware just to have a pleasant experience on their site.

    Do we stop using them because of that?

    If you're responsible, yes. Let's suppose that you and I both sell the same product or service. Your site crashes with new windows, and mine doesn't. I stand a better chance of getting Steph's business than you without having any true competitive advantage. If you just don't care about Steph, then I deserve the business as I do care. But if you do care, you're losing out on a potential client. Basic marketing - make sure *all* your clients have full and equivalent access to your website, including links off the site. If external links prove too much of a problem, don't provide them.

    And so what if opening links in new windows is not 'standard browser bahviour'? Neither's downloading a file- do W3C have plans to do something about that?

    Every recognised object on a server is associated with a MIME type. If the user agent doesn't understand the MIME type, or no MIME type is associated with the object, the W3C recommend that user agents prompt the user to find out what they want to do with the object. That *is* the standard behaviour.

    The most telling point Dave made was by implication rather than direct- he's not a developer/designer. At least, not in a commercial environment.

    It's slightly unfortunate that you misread "the most telling point". I'm not a developer/designer (on a professional or amateur level), but I do work in a professional capacity in the industry. As I'm sure you're aware, not everyone involved in this industry is a web developer.

    This speaks volumes to me.

    Your interpretation confirms volumes to me.

    I find it both amusing and telling that the amount of vitriol expended that was necesary to try and get this thread closed could instead have been spent explaining to me exactly how I was wrong- but that didn't happen did it? I wonder why.

    Your dismissive nature and closed mind probably goes some way to explaining why people can't be bothered to "debate" these points with you. If you truly want to debate this issue sensibly, I'll debate it with you.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  51. [new-window.php#comment51]

    No point Dave. You don't want a debate and your mind is as closed as you believe mine is on the issue. I'm coming at this from the point of view of someone who is still learning about the isues at hand and who has to take on board both the opinions of knowledgeable people such as Gez or the folks at accessify.com and balance them in the real commercial world with the opinions of, amongst other things, marketing departments. I have no idea where you're coming from other than a need to belittle. This thread was never about my 'nature' or 'closed mind' or 'ignorance' or anything else you tried so hard to make it about- it was about debate.

    This sums you perfectly. I stongly suggest you stop and think about why that might be before snapping off another load of pointless insults:

    "The whole issue of people going out of their way to prove a point to you only goes to highlight your arrogance. If you want results from usability companies, contact a usability company and pay the money for these reports like everyone else does. If you don't want proof, stop asking for something for nothing."

    Here's a clue: This is a public debating board, but you killed the debate. Well done you.

    Posted by Kev on

  52. [new-window.php#comment52]

    Following your email, I take it this comment is aimed at me more than it is Kev. I find Kev's dismissive tone offensive, but accept it's your website and you're free to favour whom you please.

    Quite frankly Dave, I'm appalled at some of your responses to Kev. You openly revelled in insulting him rather than responding to the issue of opening links in a new window, which is what this post is supposed to be about. If you'd have left out the insults, you may have had some credibility in your points. As it is, I suspect others with valid points are scared of coming forwards for fear of being beaten down with insults. All I ask is that people are courteous of other people's views.

    If you want results from usability companies, contact a usability company and pay the money for these reports like everyone else does.

    Is this the only way to gain access to these reports? I've been trying to find results from actual studies, but have been unsuccessful. I can find loads of references to "results of usability studies", but not an actual report.

    Posted by Gez on

  53. [new-window.php#comment53]

    You openly revelled in insulting him rather than responding to the issue of opening links in a new window, which is what this post is supposed to be about.

    Fair enough - I guess I did get a little carried away. My last response contained no insults, and was surprisingly dismissed.

    If you want results from usability companies, contact a usability company and pay the money for these reports like everyone else does.

    Is this the only way to gain access to these reports? I've been trying to find results from actual studies, but have been unsuccessful. I can find loads of references to "results of usability studies", but not an actual report.

    If you want an in-depth usability report, that's generally the way you go about obtaining one.

    The 4th comment in this thread points to a quote from Carolyn Snyder of Snyder Consultants for IBM. She clearly states that new windows cause problems for some visitors, backed up with proof from Usability studies Snyder Consultants have carried out.

    Carolyn Snyder said:

    In one study, a site provided links to related books on Amazon.com, which opened in a second browser window. Using Amazon wasn't relevant to our test, so as soon as the page came up the users tried to back out. One pair of users, upon discovering the grayed-out "Back" button, looked at each other with something akin to horror. They were quite honestly stumped and had no idea how to proceed. After a couple minutes of discussion, they finally closed the second window. In another recent study, six out of 17 users had difficulty with multiple windows, and three of them required assistance to get back to the first window and continue the task.

    Gavin mentioned that he had carried out a crude usability test on pensioners and that new windows were a cause of concern. Steph mentioned that new windows can cause her browser to crash. WCAG (along with countless usability and accessibility experts including Carolyn Snyder, Jakob Nielsen, and yourself) request content developers avoid using new windows. Each and every case has been dismissed as a non-point.

    The argument put forward for opening links in a new window - It's a good marketing strategy.

    I work in marketing, and this is a new one on me. When pushed, the originator of this comment stated he didn't understand anything about marketing. Yet he's prepared to accept this as a valid reason for opening external links in a new window, regardless of any counter arguments.

    Posted by Dave Ryan on

  54. [new-window.php#comment54]

    Wow! What a long thread.

    I'm personally of the opinion that users should have the choice. I know that Kev wants "proof", but the nearest I can find is
    http://diveintoaccessibility.org/day_16_not_opening_new_windows.html -
    which is, again case studies, rather than many users, and those that don't mind them, as well as those that do.

    HOwever, Kev is, as far as I can see in the position that many find themselves - he has to do a job. If the powers that be believe that opening new windows is important for marketing (I hope that they have the evidence to prove it), then it is a difficult position to be in.

    I have a feeling that it wouldn't be possible to have hard core evidence that sales are either postively or negatively impacted overall by having new Windows opening, however, I suspect that a core number of users will find navigating the site difficult. My gut feeling is that as they are likely to be novice users, then they are less likely to buy anyway, so therefore I feel that their experience should be as good as possible - to encourage them to visit again.

    Posted by Emma on

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