I noticed this recently when I was reading a New York Times article online about Google’s new “Street View” map service. The article features at least three types of hyperlinks, and the way in which they are used confuses more than it helps.
Here’s the article: Google Photos Stirs a Debate Over Privacy. It’s helpful to have the article open while I’m walking through this, but I’m taking some screen shots to illustrate the points.
The first link, shown in the second paragraph of the story, is on the name of Google. Reading this as a person who is familiar with how hyperlinking works on the Web, one would assume this link would take you to Google’s homepage, or a link from Google’s “about” page. But then, you’d be wrong. This is a link to an internal New York Times page that contains information about Google.
The next section of the story contains references to two different weblogs: Boing Boing – a pop-culture blog; and Wired magazine’s blog. Notice that there are no links to these other sources within the story itself.
What makes this curious is that later in the story, the New York Times writer does provide a link to another Web site – LoudonTech.com.
Then, if you look in the left side of the story, you’ll see a box labeled “Related” which contains links to Google’s Street View, BoingBoing and the Wired weblog.
Now, I’m glad the Times decided to include those links in the side box, but the question is: why didn’t they include the links in the body of the story, especially since they seem content to link to some other web sites in the body of the story, and also link to “internal” information about Google?
(To be fair to the Times, the Washington Post does this, as well, and I’ve noticed where sometimes they’ll have a link in a story that isn’t even related to the topic at hand – I suspect this is some sort of automated link-inserting program. And I won’t even start with the use of IntelliText advertisements that masquerade as links, as used at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and MSNBC.com – ed.)Â
The lesson for college media online journalists is this: be consistent. If you’re going to provide “in-text” links, then provide them in a consistent manner – don’t link to internal documents and then to an external site and then neglect text links to other sites. If you’re going to provide links at the bottom of a story or in a sidebar, then provide them and don’t use in-text links. Or do both. But do so consistently. Another caveat – if you’ve been covering a story for a while, include links to previous coverage in any new story, and also go back to your older stories and add links to updated information. It might beÂ a bit of a pain, but the web is all about non-linear forms of navigation – jumping from here to there and back again. Adding links to previous coverage adds context. That’s valuable to readers.