The recurring discussion as of late is about hyperlinks opening in new windows (seriously, we actually sit around arguing about this stuff. NERDS!). Some people like that behavior, some people don’t. And some of us believe that it is less about our preference, but what is best for all users of a website.
The obvious argument is that the target attribute doesn’t exist in either the HTML 4.0 spec or the XHTML 1.0 Strict spec. Of course, there are plenty of issues with both of those (the debates about them, and the next versions, never cease), so a stronger reasoning is required. One major downside to opening links in a new window is that it breaks the Back button.
See, opening links in new windows is not accessible, breaks screen readers, and makes the internet hard to follow for everyone
Searching around the web, the constant counter-argument is that opening links in the same window takes the user away from your site. By opening links in a new window, users will stay on your site longer, which may lead to higher sales conversions. My issue with this is two-fold: firstly, I cannot seem to find any actual data supporting this argument, and secondly, why would I want the bad data about the length of a visit created by someone leaving the browser window open in the background?
From Google Analytics Help:
Time on Site is one way of measuring visit quality. If visitors spend a long time visiting your site, they may be interacting extensively with it. However, Time on Site can be misleading because visitors often leave browser windows open when they are not actually viewing or using your site
But in the end, the fundamental issue goes beyond just accessibility arguments. It comes back to the idea that technology to supposed to enable the user to do things, not dictate how the user acts. A car doesn’t decide where you are going. A GPS might provide assistance in directing you, but the choice remains yours. Similarly, links should inform the user of their relationship to the website, but not decide what the relation means for behavior.
Now, I actually prefer to open a lot of links in new windows/tabs. It is generally how I choose to surf. However, I know that I can Command-Click, or Control-Click and make that decision myself. If the link is marked as rel=”external”, I can have a user script installed in my browser that automatically opens it in a new tab. But, in the end, I make the decision about how the browser is going to act.
I know this argument will never be decided. Despite all of my explanations and complex presentations (there were charts involved), many people in this studio still use it. One doesn’t even have to look too far on this blog to find examples. But I’ll slowly turn them. Or just go back and edit all of their posts.