It's not all links that sparkle!

I recently read the book “The swallows: What the internet is doing to our brains” by Nicholas Carr (link), and the author makes the interesting observation that our brains have trouble with hyperlinks. Okay, “trouble” is a bit harsh, but the thing is that every time we encounter a hyperlink in a text our brains need to evaluate whether we want to click that hyperlink. If you you give two groups of people two variants of the same text where one contains a lot of hyperlinks and the other only contains a few hyperlinks, the people who read the text with less hyperlinks will remember the contents of text better because their brains weren’t as distracted by the hyperlinks so much as the people that got the text with more hyperlinks.

To me this makes a lot of sense and I think this effect certainly applies to me. Have you ever given any thought to this, and if you have, does it affect the way you write web texts in that you try to avoid links if it’s not really needed?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Usually, some text summarizing what the link is usually accompanies the actual link in some way. To basic examples:

 This is a link for cookies:

 [This is a link for cookies](

That’s usually my first indicator whether or not I’d be interested in the link.

The second indicator is usually the link itself–does it stay on the same site, or is it an external link? Is it a SEO URL that has the article/post title in it, or is it just gibberish with unique IDs in it?

I cannot count past five anyway so it would make some sense that the short term memory cannot retain the full amount of data. However, you have to remember the link itself must have descriptive text in the first place and still be useful out of context.

For example as with post #1 it has one (LINK) however that text is pretty meaningless. It might as well say ‘click here’ in which case a single link has less value or actual use than a handful of descriptively named text links.

I don’t know if I have any trouble with links. I never noticed it, maybe now that you’ve drawn my attention to it… :smiley:

I do prefer the links as in ForceFlow’s second example. It’s definitely easier to read because it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the text. And it makes it immediately clear what the link is about (no need to “link” the link mentally to preceding or following explaining text).

Indeed I agree that links like that are quite easy to read and interpret. I think the author meant links more along the lines of how Wikipedia does it, e.g. SitePoint - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia where a lot of words that also have a wiki page are links to those wiki pages. If you follow one of those links and read the page, and then get back to the page you started at chances are you can’t remember exactly what you’ve read already so the rest of the page makes less sense too because the context has somewhat slipped from your mind.

I never paid attention to it but I guess there’s a posiblity that the author is right and why he calls it a problem.

I would say that if someone follows the web best practices and guidelines, such as providing a descriptive text for the link itself, it will help to avoid this problem. Yet, the thing is that you may be interested on a topic and while reading the article I may see a link that gives more detailed info.
I do have a tendency to follow those links because it is a complement of the paragraph I’m reading but, as Remon said, when you go back to the original page you may end up losing the concepts and goals of the original article because you’ve been wandering around.

Sometimes it may be a bit stressing because you took a bit of time reading all the information but it is not that organized since you jumped from one page to the next and then back. That makes it harder to grasp and to remember.

Yet, my bad habit get the best of me… and I still do it.

So yep, I see why it can be a problem :slight_smile:

I can’t say I have this problem. Usually I don’t jump around pages on every link I find. I read the whole article first, if I’m interested. I would follow the links only after I finish reading the original article. Unless those links provide more specific information on the topic I’m interested in than the original article.

Same here.

Specific to wikipedia, each page is more or less a summary of the topic, with links to sub-topics.

I like that approach, Saul. I think I’ll try it next time.
What I also sometimes do is click on a link with the scroll wheel so it opens in a new tab but not focused.
That also sorta works but the problem is that when I’ve read through one or two of them there are still so many tabs open I get overwhelmed and just close all of them and move on. Oh well :slight_smile: