Why do people sometimes link to the thread they are posting in? April 21, 2014 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I fairly often come across links in comments where people clearly intended to link to to a page elsewhere, but their link is to the very thread they are commenting on. For example chrchr clearly intended to link to the show The Americans at some other page, perhaps Wikipedia or IMDB. Are people confused how to create a link? Is there are bug changing some submitted links into the link to the thread after they submit their comment?
posted by ridogi to Bugs at 5:47 PM (68 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I think they just copy the URL from the wrong window or tab, really.

By the way, you missed a prime, not-really-that-funny-but-everyone's-gonna-do-it-anyway-just-watch joke opportunity right there, with that 'example' link.
posted by chococat at 5:58 PM on April 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


Mistake, rather than a meta reference. Chococat called it.
posted by arcticseal at 6:01 PM on April 21, 2014


Just human error. It happens.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2014


chrche posted an empty link. That's an anchor tag with no URL. When that happens the browser just takes you to the current page when you click it. So these folks aren't linking to the page they're on, they are forgetting a URL in their link code.

It's similar to a typo. People frequently omit or misspell words.
posted by pb (staff) at 6:11 PM on April 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


People: they suck! Ha! Ha!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


You could also just flag it as an HTML/display error
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:25 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Take comfort in my perfection.
posted by planetesimal at 6:32 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what pb said. It's also possible to post a non-empty link that nonetheless lacks a protocol header (typically "http://", before the e.g. www.example.com/~whatever/dingos.htm) and produce the same effect.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:46 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Often when this happens to me it's because I forgot to close the quotation marks, like so: <a href="whatever>.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, flag it as an HTML error. Maintain the Integrity of the Web!
posted by benito.strauss at 7:05 PM on April 21, 2014


For example chrchr clearly intended to link to the show The Americans at some other page, perhaps Wikipedia or IMDB.

All links to The Americans should go to ARPANET.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:15 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hi!

I was trying to post a link to the earlier comment about "The Americans". That was my super clever way of saying "nthing THE AMERICANS".

Super clever indeed.
posted by chrchr at 7:41 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've noticed the same thing - links that come back to the post - and been curious. So I can confirm that this post probably isn't an lol-peoplemakemistakes callout :)
posted by ftm at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]




Hmm, I know it's done it before. I'll have to experiment.
posted by zamboni at 8:14 PM on April 21, 2014


Maybe empty urls can be checked for at posting time and offer to bring the user back to the edit screen to fix it?
posted by ridogi at 8:17 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here we go. An href with no closing quote is sanitized to an empty link.

<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia>
posted by zamboni at 8:21 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe empty urls can be checked for at posting time and offer to bring the user back to the edit screen to fix it?

I've posted bad links before, mostly in FPPs, and usually due to curly quotes I think. I always double-check my links but they always resolve locally or I'd fix them. Mods, has something changed with this? I just copied over text from TextEdit (the usual suspect for my bad links) for a new FPP and all the hand-coded links I had were empty when I previewed the post. It was much more obvious which links were bad, and much easier to fix this time.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:41 PM on April 21, 2014


Yeah - we see these get flagged, and in some cases there's nothing we can do to fix it. If it's just a problem in the html, we can fix the html and the intended link will appear. But often, the link is just missing, and then we can't fix it because we don't know what the person intended.

So, little PSA: whenever you post a link, mouseover it once it's posted to be sure the link came through correctly. Then if you need to add the URL back in, you can do it during the edit window, or if you miss the window just send it to us via the contact form and we can add it in.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:49 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe empty urls can be checked for at posting time and offer to bring the user back to the edit screen to fix it?

Yeah, there should be an error message appearing for the user when this happens, before it appears as a comment that would then require someone to notice and flag for later mod action. "You appear to have posted an improperly formed/incorrect html link. Would you like to check/correct it?"

That's easy to do, right? Seems like pretty basic user-friendly design.
posted by mediareport at 8:52 PM on April 21, 2014


The highly anal former tech writer in me says the error message could possibly go something like this:

"You appear to have posted one or more incorrect or improperly formatted HTML links. Please check all of your links to make sure they go where you'd like them to go."
posted by mediareport at 9:01 PM on April 21, 2014


I've noticed the same thing - links that come back to the post - and been curious. So I can confirm that this post probably isn't an lol-peoplemakemistakes callout :)

Me also, but why would anyone even think that?

I always click on my links to make sure they’re correct. I have no faith in my ability to copy and paste something and not get distracted in the middle.
posted by bongo_x at 9:19 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


"You appear to have posted one or more incorrect or improperly formatted HTML links. The drones will arrive at your location in 48 seconds."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:22 PM on April 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


We can consider an error message. In the past we've always erred on the side of less friction when posting comments. We have Live Preview, Full HTML Preview, and Editing after a comment is posted. Usually these are enough to catch typos and bad links.

Behind the scenes we have a tool to help point out bad links. If we miss it with our admin tools, often someone flags it as HTML error which also helps us spot them. When it's a missing protocol error like cortex mentioned, it's easy for us to fix up. When it's a completely missing link, there isn't much we can do about it. We have no idea what URL they were going to use.

It might feel like this happens all the time. In the last 30 days we've had more than 13,000 comments posted that included links. Of those, one or two had a completely blank link. Maybe a dozen or so had some other problem. We were able to fix most of them.

It's really tempting to add layers to the comment process to get from 99% to 100%. But every layer we add increases the complexity of the system in some way. We like to keep things as simple as possible.
posted by pb (staff) at 11:18 PM on April 21, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's really tempting to add layers to the comment process to get from 99% to 100%. But every layer we add increases the complexity of the system in some way. We like to keep things as simple as possible.

Well said. I'm gonna quote that one in future, I reckon.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:32 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


> whenever you post a link, mouseover it once it's posted to be sure the link came through correctly.

Simple/quick sanity check: Metafilter uses different colors for links before and after you've visited them in your browser. If, when you're authoring a post or comment, one of the links in your preview box is an unvisited color, make sure the URL is correct. (Some sites use redirects on URLs that trip up the unvisited/visited link state).

This doesn't help with empty links, but those should be easier to spot anyway. Thiss makes it easier to tell that your link is <a href="http://www.example.com/lolbutt.html"> when you intended <a href="http://www.example.com/hicortex.html">
posted by ardgedee at 4:00 AM on April 22, 2014


In the last 30 days we've had more than 13,000 comments posted that included links. Of those, one or two had a completely blank link. Maybe a dozen or so had some other problem.

Well, that's pretty solid evidence there's not much of a problem. It's also pretty solid evidence that adding an error message for malformed or blank links wouldn't create any additional friction for the vast majority of folks posting comments.

But really, pb, the policy of just linking to the current thread when a comment link is malformed is itself an error message, no? The problem I see from a design perspective is that it's a *confusing* error message instead of a clear error message that actually describes the problem for the end user.
posted by mediareport at 4:58 AM on April 22, 2014


MetaFilter: sanitized to an empty link

MetaTalk: highly anal
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:25 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think there's something to be said for stopping at the "not much of a problem" part. What happens now I guess is browsers just parse <a href="">cronuts</a> as "a link to nowhere", i.e. click it and you travel to where you already are. That's not any sort of MeFi policy at all.

I don't know what horrors pb had in mind when he mentioned increasing complexity, but I would think about what happens if the message breaks for some reason (user scripts, browser extensions, rain of locusts), what if people grow to rely on it and the amount of (possible) link mishaps actually goes up, etc. That's totally just me speculating but I hope you catch my drift.

Lest you think I'm toeing some kind of line, I speak as someone who has been talked down from wide-eyed "OMG pb we should make a thing to fix this pb" suggestions by his ruthless command of practical implications numerous times.

I'm not saying that's you. I'm just saying it's not a crazy suggestion at all IMO and I'm with you on the spirit of it but I understand the pragmatic approach here.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:26 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


What happens now I guess is browsers just parse <a href="">cronuts</a> as "a link to nowhere", i.e. click it and you travel to where you already are.

Browsers interpret it as a relative path - a link to another file in the location we're already at.

Right now, you're probably looking at
http://metatalk.metafilter.com/23212/Why-do-people-sometimes-link-to-the-thread-they-are-posting-in

An absolute address is the whole URL, domain name and all. Think of it as dialing a phone number with all country and area codes - no matter where you are, you'll connect to the right thing.
A relative address behaves differently depending where you are. Think of it as dialing a local number without the area code - where you connect to depends on where you're dialing from.

If I link to http://metatalk.metafilter.com/23212/Why-do-people-sometimes-link-to-the-thread-they-are-posting-in#1143911
you'll always end up at comment #1143911, no matter where you're linking from.

If I link to just the anchor ID for gnfti's comment in this thread:
<A href="#1143911">
that will take you to the current directory, with the anchor ID stuck on the end:
http://metatalk.metafilter.com/23212/Why-do-people-sometimes-link-to-the-thread-they-are-posting-in#1143911
If I used the same relative address in a different thread, it wouldn't work, since gnfti's comment is only on this page.

If I link to an empty href:
<A href="">
it will to take you to the current directory, with nothing stuck on the end, which happens to be the URL for this thread.
posted by zamboni at 7:21 AM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Then where are %N coming from?
posted by tilde at 8:09 AM on April 22, 2014


Then where are %N coming from?

MeFi Navigator script probably, it's not something we do and not something I see.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:09 AM on April 22, 2014


I think Plutor's MeFiQuote script doesn't play well with MeFF.
posted by zamboni at 8:12 AM on April 22, 2014


Yeah, presumably there's some difference in byline format under the hood that's been throwing it for a loop. I think someone's given him a heads up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:14 AM on April 22, 2014


I don't know what horrors pb had in mind

As long as he doesn't fail a SAN check, we should be OK.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:15 AM on April 22, 2014


I can always tell the broken links because they show in visited color.
posted by smackfu at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2014


I can always tell the broken links because they show in visited color.

once you've seen most of the internet that no longer works.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:22 AM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Browsers interpret it as a relative path

Ah, yeah I was wondering what was the actual nuts-and-bolts mechanism there. That makes more sense, thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 9:37 AM on April 22, 2014


I can always tell the broken links because they show in visited color.

Linking to things you haven't visited strikes me as a recipe for an eventual nasty suprise.
posted by zamboni at 9:39 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're going to start tracking the number of completely blank links in comments. We weren't doing that before. I was getting notices about them so I have a sense of how many, but we now have a tool tracking the exact number on the admin side—just like we do for malformed links.

I agree that the way browsers handle malformed links is confusing. That's something we might be able to override with JavaScript. We don't typically like to override browser defaults, but I think you could make a case that it would be more helpful than harmful here.

In isolation this issue is definitely worth addressing. The current situation is confusing and a problem. We have to weigh whether or not this particular irritation is worth the time and effort involved to address. We have one developer and lots of irritations. In a perfect world with unlimited resources I do think it could be worth designing a new method for reporting potential comment errors during the commenting process. We don't currently have one. We ask people to preview and review after posting instead. I don't think this particular problem pushes a review of the commenting system to the front burner.

We'll get some more data on this for a while and see if that changes things.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meta.
posted by Kabanos at 10:31 AM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


On a tangentially related note, I really really appreciate how quickly Metafilter loads because it doesn't have so much of the cruft that other sites have.

Just a few minutes ago, I was trying to look up some important information using my phone, and the site that had it was loading so slowly. I tabbed over to MeFi, and here, even a resource intensive page like Recent Activity loaded lickety-split.

Thanks for keeping things lean; it helps keep them useful.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Metafilter linking is foolproof, for reasonable values of fool.
posted by tommasz at 1:06 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Pfft.
posted by kmz at 1:27 PM on April 22, 2014


Nifty computer stuff is sort of predestined to be slopped about with. I mean, five years ago, I was still impressed by myself about being able to do "links" at all, but we can't keep being impressed. I mean, we all get it, don't we: one could have included that link, so why actually bother?

It's like email attachments. In 1999, academics would take you aside on campus no matter the drizzle and tell you in a hushed voice about how someone actually mailed an entire dissertation across the ocean, and it came into their inbox unscathed, and they could open it in Word and actually read it.

Nowadays about 80% of my students don't even attach their documents any more. Instead of that one, all-embracing email, you end up with the following exchange:
- Hi supervisor Namlit here's a whole bunch of stuff I'd like you to look at, will you be able to read it yesterday and comment on it in detail last week?
- Hey, thanks, but did you perhaps forget the attachment?
- What do you mean?
- You didn't sent the attachment.
- Oops here's the attachment.
- Still none there.
- Oops forgot it again.
- Oops here it is.
- Thanks for the attachment.
- No worries.
- Righy-ho.
posted by Namlit at 2:29 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


In 1999, academics would take you aside on campus no matter the drizzle and tell you in a hushed voice about how someone actually mailed an entire dissertation across the ocean, and it came into their inbox unscathed, and they could open it in Word and actually read it.

In 1992, when we had our first dial-up connection at work, we commented on what a waste it was. My computer was in Boston, as was my co-worker's computer 10 feet away. And yet the ISP was in Brookline, so we would have to dial a Brookline number, and the data from the modem would be sent to Brookline--a whole city away--and have to come back all the way to my co-worker's computer. How inefficient.

And we LIKED it! (Yes, we did actually.)
posted by Melismata at 2:50 PM on April 22, 2014


Of late I've actually started using the link button down there below the textarea field. It's really a lot simpler than hand-typing the HTML and it properly does nothing if you don't supply a URL.

I've scanned this thread to see if anyone's mentioned it, and if they have I missed it. So hey gang, button.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:53 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


While we're chatting about bad links, I wish we could do something about link rot. Nothing bugs me more than to be reading an old post and thread only to find half the juicy links are dead or broken. I really wish users could fix links sometimes. Not necessarily other's links, but their own. Becoming stewards of their own links, should they so desire. Yeah, there'd be risk for abuse, but probably less than we fear. At least I like to think that about this particular community.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:05 PM on April 22, 2014


I don't think this particular problem pushes a review of the commenting system to the front burner.

That's fair, and your overall take makes a lot of sense. Thanks, pb.
posted by mediareport at 3:47 PM on April 22, 2014


I really wish users could fix links sometimes.

Wasn't this talked about once? Or was that a mass tagging project?
posted by Room 641-A at 4:01 PM on April 22, 2014


The idea of a crowdsourced linkrot sweep in the spirit of the (by then accomplished) backtagging thing was discussed, yeah. It's a bigger, harder, more quixotic project and we didn't feel like it was likely to work out well or be nearly as manageable so we didn't pursue it, as solid as the intent may be.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:18 PM on April 22, 2014


This has been a minor problem on MetaFilter since time immemorial. It's actually gotten a bit better I think since the edit window was instituted, because folks have that second chance to make sure their comments are working the way they want them to. It also helps that the link button in the comment box starts off with an "http://" in it.

It's long been an occasional issue but for me anyway it's never been a big deal; 90% of the time the problem is just that the commenter accidentally made a relative link, and it's easy to just manually tack on the "http://" up in the address bar if I care enough to be bothered. Occasionally you see an error that can't be so easily resolved, but that's pretty rare and it's hardly the end of the world if every once in a great while I encounter a link in a comment that doesn't work.

I wouldn't object to some kind of link-checker warning box doodad though, if it were deemed worth implementing. Having a box pop up that says "Hey dude, it looks like your link is probably borked. Did you really mean to do that or did you want to go back and fix it?" would be handy, and it wouldn't get in the way much as long as it were set to only appear for obviously-broken links. I wouldn't like it if it flagged relative links, as often one wants to do those on purpose (linking to a previous comment when quoting someone, referencing a previous thread, etc.) but I'd be cool with it flagging nonsense links and making the commenter confirm that they were doing it on purpose.
posted by Scientist at 4:44 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks, cortex. Fixing links isn't a pony in my stable but at least my memory is still semi-reliable.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:53 PM on April 22, 2014


The fiftieth time I "accidentally" made my links to goatse.cx I had to get a new sockpuppet.
posted by GuyZero at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2014


Of late I've actually started using the link button down there below the textarea field. It's really a lot simpler than hand-typing the HTML and it properly does nothing if you don't supply a URL.

If you like link button, you may also like Ctrl+U.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:40 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Error: Your link is improperly coded, please check it, and try previewing again.

Nice!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:52 PM on April 22, 2014


The idea of a crowdsourced linkrot sweep in the spirit of the (by then accomplished) backtagging thing was discussed, yeah. It's a bigger, harder, more quixotic project and we didn't feel like it was likely to work out well or be nearly as manageable so we didn't pursue it, as solid as the intent may be.

Yeah, my first question would be "what would you actually do to a broken link?" Pointing it to the new location of the content only works if it still exists somewhere, unchanged so that in-thread references to the content aren't all WTF. Change it to point to the Internet Archive mirror if such exists? Just delete the link? Mark it as "(Note: dead link)"? In most cases it seems like there'd be no very good option, really.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:06 PM on April 22, 2014


<a herf="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia">
herf derf html fail
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:56 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


<a href=""> <div> <button> <i></i><tr>
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:37 AM on April 23, 2014


I think this link should clarify things.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2014


With mild abuse of the editing function it's possible for a comment to link to itself, like this. Caution: side effects may include moderator disapproval and getting the Inception soundtrack stuck in your head.

BRAUM.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


ಠ_ಠ
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


(╯°□°)╯︵ (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:17 PM on April 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


jessamyn: "ಠ_ಠ"

Squinty eyes! :D
posted by zarq at 3:29 PM on April 23, 2014


٩(͡๏̯͡๏)۶

I just wanted to hop on THE FUN TRAIN
posted by taz (staff) at 1:08 AM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really thought broken links in comments were rare enough that I was honestly surprised when I first saw this MeTa but I've just flagged my second broken link in 24 hours, and that's only because someone a comment or two later made note of the broken link. I'll definitely be checking my own links more closely.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:03 AM on April 24, 2014


To me this smells like something that should be highlighted somehow in the live preview, or just below it by the "needs a hug" option - something that just fills in a div with "hey, you have a link to nowhere" or "you never closed that italics tag" sort of thing. Doesn't have to add any posting friction but it could just catch people's eyes before they press "post comment" by being different somehow.
posted by phearlez at 10:01 AM on April 24, 2014


Actually even if the "Preview" button could throw a warning, like "Malformed HTML corrected; please double-check your post" that would be super tight. Not sure how much of a headache that'd be.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2014


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