A Hyperlink Style Guide.. October 25, 2011 2:27 PM   Subscribe

How do you all decide which words to link when you make a post? I've noticed that everyone seems to have different styles (linking full sentences, or phrases, or individual words, site names, page titles, and so on). Has anyone put a great deal of thought into it or does everyone just kind of play it by ear?
posted by empath to MetaFilter-Related at 2:27 PM (57 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I tend to link individual words or phrases that correspond to either nouns or events.

If I have a specific link I want to share that needs context, I'll pull a particularly interesting quote, link to expository material (as I described above) and then link to the actual FPP material separately.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on October 25, 2011


Ear.

(This was one of my favorite MetaTalk threads.)
posted by Gator at 2:43 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I try to link the right ones. If the wrong ones get linked, I fix it.
posted by DU at 2:46 PM on October 25, 2011


I play it by ear, and I try to make the links have face validity. However, sometimes if I am linking to several things I will value separating the links over face validity, because I think that makes more sense than making sure the right noun is associated with the right link.
posted by OmieWise at 2:49 PM on October 25, 2011


So, let's say we're talking about monkeys. I could point you to this monkey, or maybe talk about a monkey like this. I could explain how a gibbon is not technically a monkey, but a lesser ape. I could talk about how sometimes monkeys do ridiculous things. Or I could just directly direct you to some monkeys. Everyone likes monkeys!
posted by phunniemee at 2:50 PM on October 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, and for the benefit of MetaFilter's landed gentry, I provide a Wikipedia link for any pop-culture reference post-Dark Side of the Moon.
posted by griphus at 2:52 PM on October 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sometimes I notice myself doing Wikipedia-style linking just because it's something I see a lot. I don't even contribute there; it's just, you know, you read articles that are set up that way and it starts feeling like The Right Way To Do It.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:52 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just link to appropriate words or phrases, without running too many of them together. Numbers in parentheses help if there are more than can be anchored to a piece of text.

The harder thing is figuring out what phrasing will allow for the right linkable words in a way that flows well and includes as much as possible without rambling on too much.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we need more of this.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:58 PM on October 25, 2011


I just make the single Youtube link the entire text of the post.
posted by box at 2:59 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of leaning more and more towards just using the link url/link text fields.
posted by Artw at 3:09 PM on October 25, 2011


If I can't find a single YouTube link, I go with the nearest op-ed, and leave the anchor tag unclosed.

Otherwise, here is the general process I try to follow:

1. I try to write no more than a line or two about the subject.

2. If the post must be long, more than 4-5 lines, I break it up into paragraphs. The second and subsequent paragraphs usually go into the "more inside" section.

3. I then link the main phrase or phrases of the opening paragraph that most closely associate with the link or links. In the "more inside" section, if there are more links that are associated with those paragraphs, I add them there.

4. If there are keywords left in the "more inside" section, then I link those up to Wikipedia, if I feel it helps people to add background material. This is optional, depending on how familiar I think the crowd is with the subject matter. I'd add WP links to a post about classical music, but probably not comics. That sort of thing.

5. If I found the main link on a website who is run by someone I respect and feel like deserves credit, I add a "[via]" link. But this part is optional, as well.

I find posts which tag each single letter of a word in a sentence with separate links to be unreadable. It's a cutesy trick, but something I don't see often done in the true spirit of sharing. There are exceptions to my "rules", which I will break as needed, of course, depending on what is being linked to.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:12 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember, that slightly weak link that's only vaguely on topic you include to add context will be the one commenters obsess over.
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is optional, depending on how familiar I think the crowd is with the subject matter. I'd add WP links to a post about classical music, but probably not comics

I have decided not to take umbrage at your casual assumption our collective tastes are too pedestrian for classical music references, because I'm cool like that.

I do like me some comics.
posted by misha at 3:18 PM on October 25, 2011


I don't know. I seem to be all over the place, so I guess I play it by ear. Some things seem to deserve a more formal title and pull quote, but others just seem to work better linking to relevant words.

The only thing I try to avoid is making an entire paragraph a link. Not sure why, it just doesn't seem like what I would think of as 'my style'.
posted by quin at 3:19 PM on October 25, 2011


I keep a link to stupidsexyFlanders' post on The Harry and Bess Truman Ex-Presidential Road Trip in my profile as a reminder on how to cover an interesting topic in a clear way. Yet I keep making semi-organized linkdumps, because there is SO MUCH OUT THERE.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:20 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


eyeballkid: "I think we need more of this."

Don't listen to eyeballkid.
posted by octothorpe at 3:22 PM on October 25, 2011


I try to choose words at least suggestive of the content of the link. For example, in my still warm-from-the-oven post about the end of a particular nuclear bomb, I linked the "destroy everything near it" part of the quote to a map visualizing the destructive reach of a weapon of its size.

But if necessary, I'll just go with whatever word or phrase seems likely to grab one's attention.
posted by Trurl at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The link words are signs in the door. Monkey signs.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:44 PM on October 25, 2011


The only thought I ever put into making a link is to try to make the characters that comprise the link convey some information about the content on the other side of the link. If that's not possible, or not practical, then I use the title field to expand the context. Some things I specifically try not to do are mystery meat (the evil this link), single-letter links, and stringing together too many youtube links (since it reads wonky if you have the inline player enabled).
posted by carsonb at 3:46 PM on October 25, 2011


I don't have any hard-and-fast rules, but I'll generally try to have the link text be the part of the sentence that actually names or describes what I'm linking to if I think there's any ambiguity about the nature of the link. Sometimes that takes rewriting, and sometimes I'm lazy enough that I opt for a less elegant solution, but mostly I'll try and have the communicative intent of the link match up with what's emphasized in the link text, one way or the other.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:52 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to link only in punctuation, and sometimes not at all.
posted by cmoj at 4:11 PM on October 25, 2011


For the sake of those using various kinds of assistive technology, I try to make the linked words explain what you'll get when you click on the link. Or if that's impractical, I'll say something like "as explained in WCAG 2.0 general technique 53, 'identifying the purpose of a link using link text combined with the text of the enclosing sentence.'"

When, uh, I remember to do it, anyway.
posted by SMPA at 4:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Has anyone put a great deal of thought into it or does everyone just kind of play it by ear?

Depends on the post. This one, linked to single news article asking a single question, seemed appropriate for a single link. The topic was straight forward, the article interesting, so I saw no point in adding anything additional. Either that single question is going to interest you or it isn't.

This post, which was about a particular space flight, had a ton of links in fairly short post. Why? Because I found a lot of things interesting about that specific flight and manned spaceflight in general, so I wanted to put what I thought would be fascinating information within easy reach. Probably overdid it, as there's no good explanation of what Command Module or Lunar Module Pilot does. Especially the latter, the name is wildly misleading, that guy didn't pilot nothing, was more of an assistant to the Commander, but anyway.

For another post, I used an entire quote to describe what the single link would be about and intentially linked to single word near the end of the quote so that the reader would have time to understand what they would be linking to.

Some single links are just infectious in their attitude and it helps to let that shine.

So yeah, it really depends on the post, whether it's a single link vs a multiple link, the content (words vs pictures vs audio) vs tone of the content (cooking blog vs an NPR story about Native American children in South Dakota, USA being placed in foster homes at rate high about white children) vs what you, as the poster, want to do. I want to share stuff I find interesting or fascinating. Others want to inform you about a subject or showcase a subject or teach you something. All of that dictates what one links to.

What do you want to do, as a poster, empath?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:13 PM on October 25, 2011


I only put links on adverbs. It is my own personal protest against America's brutal holocaust on the noble adverb.

Actually, I'm lying. I'm lying real bad.
posted by Decani at 4:17 PM on October 25, 2011


Judging from the only post I've worked really hard on in the last year, I'm a noun kinda guy.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:28 PM on October 25, 2011


I consult with my worldwide network of Link Advisors. Men and women who've earned their stripes in the rough and tumble, fast-changing world of linkage.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:39 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


What do you want to do, as a poster, empath?

The main reason I asked is I was just thinking that the choice of what you link adds some additional content to the post besides the content of the link and the words of the sentence, and it occurred to me that I hadn't really put a very much thought into it before.

Like, for the traditional 'pull quote' FPP, with an entire paragraph of text from the linked article -- the choice of which sentence to link to in the article seems like it could impart different meanings to the post. I'm just curious if people ever think that deeply about it or if they just kind of pick a word or phrase at random and go.
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on October 25, 2011


Like, for the traditional 'pull quote' FPP, with an entire paragraph of text from the linked article -- the choice of which sentence to link to in the article seems like it could impart different meanings to the post.

A little of me goes a long way, so I try to minimize my presence in an FPP. Consequently, I always try to find a pull-quote. 9 times out of 10 my link will contain an attention-grabber or sales pitch as good as anything I could have come up with.

But I'm surprised to hear anyone describe it as "traditional". I haven't noticed many other people doing it. (Have I been working in an outmoded style?)

And yes, you have to choose carefully. People around here are tangent-prone enough as it is without offering them any encouragement.
posted by Trurl at 5:13 PM on October 25, 2011


I've been fascinated by this for some time. Hyperlinked text is a sort of meta-reference, where meaning is overlaid onto content and points back to the content itself in some way. I think of hyperlinks as tiny explosions of content. They make the text 3-dimensional. But more importantly, what is the scope of that referencing? Which parts of speech are more "explosive", i.e. which parts of speech make for better impact (more clicking) and coherence (people understanding where they're going)? Also, what types of content map onto what types of content carriers (words or phrases that are hyperlinked)? It's a whole new way of looking at collocations. I don't know of anybody whose done this type of corpus work, but oh boy would I love to read it.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:15 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's an interesting point, yeah. I wonder if I should try to generate a frequency table for mefi content restricted to those words that appear as link text in comments and posts, could be an interesting view of a subset of the language used here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:18 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've (over)thought this. Basically, I try to make the linked words describe as clearly as possible what and where clicking the link will bring the reader. I think of them as something akin to pull-quotes in a magazine.

To put that in context I think I should explain my step by step process (which I quite frequently deviate from) of how I make posts.

1. I figure out how many links are necessary for the post subject.
2. I map out in my head how long the paragraph needs to be to explain what the post is about and why the links are interesting.
3. I figure out how much text I need for each link so that it is reasonably clear where it will lead when clicked, which gives me a rough idea how much explanatory secondary text I have left over to work with.
4. I write out the post and then preview. If it's too long I start by cutting back secondary text. If it's still too long I cut out links.
5. Hit post.

Sometimes the following two steps are added on.

6. Realize that one of the links I cut out is kinda necessary or I cut the wrong one out by mistake.
7. Make comment including link.

Note: As a rule I don't use the [more inside] field. I figure it's a good limit to keep posts easily graspable for the reader.
posted by Kattullus at 5:19 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It depends on how many links a person has been able to dredge up, I reckon.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:19 PM on October 25, 2011


This has kind of been discussed before.
posted by litnerd at 5:19 PM on October 25, 2011


I use all the words.
posted by chunking express at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2011


iamkimiam: I've been fascinated by this for some time. Hyperlinked text is a sort of meta-reference, where meaning is overlaid onto content and points back to the content itself in some way. I think of hyperlinks as tiny explosions of content. They make the text 3-dimensional.

I've been thinking about this for a while (full disclosure: I'm slightly obsessed with the grammar of internet writing). How does a word change, in terms of linguistics, when it becomes a hyperlink. Clearly the sentences "I saw a movie the other day" and "I saw a movie the other day" have different meanings. One interesting way of thinking about is that in speech we can use words a lot more vaguely than in writing because we can indicate all manner of things with inflection. Hyperlinks allow similar kind of communication. It's a different way of adding information back into the alphabet. It's a fairly radical change.
posted by Kattullus at 5:28 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everybody should use search engine friendly permalinks.
posted by unliteral at 5:34 PM on October 25, 2011


Remember, that slightly weak link that's only vaguely on topic you include to add context will be the one commenters obsess over.

This is terribly true. I've omitted links that were otherwise okay becaus ethey had some tetchy thing that I knew people would talk about. I try to make it somewhatclear what my main link is and then add a bunch of other stuff that is sort of interesting in the "more inside" section. I try hard to only use a quote if it's interesting and I try to keep the whole thing really short. I think about assistive technology folks and so try not to link words like here or this link, so

Bad: You can read more about the astral bear here.
Better: You can read more about the astral bear here.
Best: Read more about the astral bear.

I try not to jam two links right next to each other because I figure people will miss them. I try to link to the full page of an article if that's an option but printable pages are not so great because sometimes you can't get back to the main article. I warn people if I'm linking to giant PDFs or NSFW stuff. I try to make the title catchy but not totally random. I still pretty much like all of my post-2002 MeFi posts.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:39 PM on October 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just as a sort of gut anecdotal thing, I'll say there are times when I'm reading something on the web and my immediate reaction to a link will be that it is useless or uninteresting based solely on what's linked—a single word or short phrase that doesn't seem to "fit" my expectations for what would be a well-chosen link description. If I'm reading a traditional news site, I'll expect it to be some cross-category link (like, yes, tell me more about this "music" stuff, NYT); if I'm reading a low-rent blog, I'll expect it to be some bullshit ads-attached-to-random-keywords-automatically clickbait.

And I'm sure some of this sense of avoidance is based on actual trial and error as I encountered these not-so-handy links in the wild, but I think I'm also just passively filtering the stuff based on my unstated assumptions about what a well-chosen, human-selected link target is. There's a sense of authenticity to how, you know, a normal human would choose to insert a hyperlink.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:49 PM on October 25, 2011


You know what screams bullshit link? Double underlining.
posted by Artw at 5:54 PM on October 25, 2011


As a rule I don't use the [more inside] field. I figure it's a good limit to keep posts easily graspable for the reader.

While I enjoy it when I can make a self-explanatory FPP out of just three words, the [more inside] field can be an expressive resource.

For instance, I think the many links below the fold of my UNIVAC post give more of the flavor I wanted by being there - after the one link up front has hopefully set up the "antique computer as cutting edge tech product" framing.

Or to use today's nuke post as an example again: By mentioning which of today's weapons have replaced the FPP subject as the primary instrument of US nuclear deterrence, I feel as if I've made the subject more immediate.

Knowing when such an addition belongs in a first comment rather than in [more inside] is a high art that no one should expect to master before making 100 posts.
posted by Trurl at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2011


I think if you make an assertion in your post, the words that make up the assertion should link to the evidence that confirms it. I ran into this confusion on a post within the past month, where someone said that something was the best something, and those words were a hyperlink, but the linked stuff didn't say that at all --- another link did. Talk about misdirection.

Why it happened is because the writer grabbed a quote from the first link, and then populated it, willynilly, with secondary supporting links. Perfectly understandable, but also perfectly perplexing.
posted by crunchland at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2011


iamkimiam: I've been fascinated by this for some time. Hyperlinked text is a sort of meta-reference, where meaning is overlaid onto content and points back to the content itself in some way. I think of hyperlinks as tiny explosions of content. They make the text 3-dimensional.

Kattulus: How does a word change, in terms of linguistics, when it becomes a hyperlink

If anyone is at all interested* in how hyperlinks work with regards to the law of defamation, at least in Canada, there was a supreme court decision on the matter just last week!

*I am aware that this is unlikely. But if you're moderately interested, a majority chose to define them as references akin to footnote-references, which therefore cannot be defamatory unless the words linking are defamatory. 2 judges said that the majority is generally correct, but there are situations where the hyperlinking could be defamatory (presumably such as This statement is completely true and everyone should read it!), and 1 judge said that they definitely can be defamatory but in the particular case they weren't.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


All good advice here, just don't be the person that puts a different link in every single letter of a word. This is a major pain to navigate as we may be reading on touch screen devices without our dial-a-wand.
posted by arcticseal at 6:22 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I feel like linking one descriptive word, but am concerned that people will want more context , sometimes I do this.

I don't think many people notice though.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:32 PM on October 25, 2011


I just follow the Metafilter Style Guide recommendations. You should have gotten one in the mail.
posted by odinsdream at 6:58 PM on October 25, 2011


As I've made more posts, I have learned that, as a general rule, mefites who comment don't read the links and certainly don't read the whole of anything. Most of the first comments, which set the tone for the thread, will be written based on snap impressions from the framing of the words in your post and will only relate to the links as much as your text does.

It sucks that we are so qualitatively terrible at this.* It ruins thread after thread and there is a lot of awesome stuff that I just don't have the heart to post because of it.

*There was a Meta thread a while ago, that I can't seem to find and would love for someone to remember it and point it out to me again, where someone with a popular blog post documented the amount of time that people from link aggregators spent reading his post before returning to their site and we scored among the worst.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:33 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I use a magic eightball.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:39 PM on October 25, 2011


Oh, and for the benefit of MetaFilter's landed gentry, I provide a Wikipedia link for any pop-culture reference post-Dark Side of the Moon.

Let them eat Cake!
posted by joe lisboa at 7:40 PM on October 25, 2011


Has anyone put a great deal of thought into it ....

There's a guy in the Linguistics department at MIT. He had a poster up at the MIT Open House earlier this year, and it was about just this — what text do people choose when making a link in their HTML.

I spoke to him a bit and noticed that the example he had on his poster had a certain blue background. Turns out his corpus is (some part of) Metafilter! The only thing I remember (I'm not a linguist) is that he ran all the text through an automated parser (I wonder what percent failed to parse?) and the text chosen for a link was almost always a connected sub-tree of the parse tree. I wanted to make a post on it ("Be careful! You're being parsed!") but I couldn't find anything he's put on-line.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:07 PM on October 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


> There was a Meta thread a while ago ... where someone with a popular blog post documented the amount of time that people from link aggregators spent reading his post ...

tl;dr
posted by nangar at 8:21 PM on October 25, 2011


^
This is it, Thank you!
posted by Blasdelb at 9:16 PM on October 25, 2011


Oh right, mitcho! I'd forgotten that he'd worked on this very thing! Thank you benito.strauss.

I am such an absent-minded doof sometimes.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:15 AM on October 26, 2011


I think I do it the other way round. Start with nouns or phrases for each link that's worth including. Then assemble those into a sentence or paragraph, with link words in between to make it grammatical.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:58 AM on October 26, 2011


I did not know about mitcho's research, very neat. Sent him some email, we can probably do him better than manual scraping for something like this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:09 AM on October 26, 2011


I put a lot of thought into it and try to make the link relevant to the word or phrase, but sometimes I have a really good link and no good words to match it with, and then I just throw it in anywhere, or list out "here here here" and link those, or something like that. But in general, I work pretty hard at constructing multilink posts.
posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2011


cortex, if mitcho gets back to you can you let us know if he's puts anything on-line? I'd love to see more details.

As for the original question, personally I'm in charge of finding science stuff on the Internet for my Mom, so I've developed a tendency to use the "CERN has just found such-and-such a thing, details here" style a lot to indicate a link. It's not as obnoxious as the late 90s style "Click here to see such-and-such", but it could be a whole lot smoother.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:53 PM on October 26, 2011


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