PDF and other icons on links? January 11, 2013 6:04 PM   Subscribe

So in this thread some where complaining about no PDF warning. How about using some CSS magic (a[type="pdf"]) to add icons to links?
posted by slater to Feature Requests at 6:04 PM (20 comments total)

Thanks for the suggestion, but this is a situation where we can add a PDF warning if the link is a problem for some reason. Or if people really need a warning they can install something locally to warn them about PDF links. There are probably a bunch of Greasemonkey scripts to do this.
posted by pb (staff) at 6:45 PM on January 11, 2013

Honest question: do there really still exist devices or browsers for which PDFs are a huge hassle? When I'm on my iPad or even my iPhone, PDFs still open easily unless they're a thousand pages or something, so I guess I'm just curious; it appears that there are a lot of people for whom PDFs are an inconvenience and I can't quite figure out why. Is it a PDF reader issue on laptops or netbooks, maybe?
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 AM on January 12, 2013

koeselitz, I think it is more an issue for people on restricted data plans.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:10 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well, probably not everyone has the luxury (or perhaps in the case of the small screen of the iPhone, the patience) to browse from an iOS device. Not to mention they're a huge pain to type a reply of any length on. (Speaking as someone who owns an iPhone 5 and just bought an iPad Mini.)

PDFs are much less of an issue since I started using Foxit Reader a year or two ago, but I'm sure there are people out there who don't know that there's any kind of alternative to Adobe Reader. Or if they are aware, they may not understand why they should change programs... they don't know that a different reader might be faster.

And there are days when my netbook, even at 1.65GHz and 4GB of RAM, with an AMD GPU, feels woefully underpowered. (Flash games, I'm looking at you.) Especially compared to my desktop.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:11 AM on January 12, 2013

it appears that there are a lot of people for whom PDFs are an inconvenience and I can't quite figure out why

PDFs are largely unsearchable, it's difficult to quote from them, and the file sizes can be quite large if they're not generated correctly.

I work for a company that relies heavily on the PDF for putting content on the web, and I loathe the format. It's a tempting shortcut to get massive quantities of documents out there, but the shortcomings I listed above, plus the general ass of Adobe Reader makes me think hard before clicking on a PDF link.
posted by rocketman at 6:26 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Blackberry phones, especially the older models, are notoriously figity when it comes to opening large pdfs. And low-end Android phones are too. I've linked to 200 page pdfs before in posts that would crash my old Samsung phone while opening. Also, as Rock Steady mentions, they can be bandwidth hogs.

IndigoRain, thanks for mentioning Foxit Reader. Hadn't heard of it. Will check it out.
posted by zarq at 7:02 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fundamentally, you need to understand what kind of link you are going to click - it's your own responsibility to make sure that you're not going to click on a PDF.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't really understand the need for a PDF warning myself.

My PDF experience is approximately 1.37 zillion times better since turning off the stupid PDF-in-browser plugin option, and using Adobe Reader X1, which starts instantly in my experience. I've tried Foxit, and while it does load much faster than previous versions of Acrobat Reader, I find the user interface clunky in various ways and it didn't always fully support advanced PDF features.

1 Adobe gets double stupid points for this doubly stupid name.
posted by grouse at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

It was my thread, and I would've put a PDF warning in if I had remembered to. I read a lot of journal articles which are always provided in PDF form, and I'd been reading a lot that day so I just sort of forgot that they can be a pain in the butt.

PDFs are a lot less crappy than they used to be, but if you're on a phone then they can be a hassle. They're also a hassle if you don't like reading PDFs in the browser window (as I don't -- I actually have my browser set to download PDFs so that I can open them in a standalone reader) because then you get a download dialogue and have to fire up a separate program, or else you have a PDF tab in your browser which never works quite the way that normal tabs do (come on Adobe, why can't you make my browser's keyboard shortcuts work? I hate ctrl-tabbing through my browser tabs and then having it hang when it gets to a tab with a PDF in it.)

So anyway as the poster of that link I think that PDF warnings are a good thing. I would also like to point out though that it took exactly two minutes for the mods to add the warning in after I contacted them, and I'm sure they would've added it in a lot earlier if the people in the thread who were complaining about the PDF had instead just contacted the mods and pointed out that a PDF warning might be in order.

And of course in the end the post was deleted for being a double, and the older post was a Scribd link which of course has its own problems but which is a little smoother on modern browsers. I would probably have put a warning in even if I'd used a Scribd link though, because Scribd uses fairly advanced browser magic and won't necessarily work perfectly for everyone.
posted by Scientist at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

That said, I personally wouldn't be in favor of having an automatic warning icon pop up or anything like that. I am generally in favor of keeping things simple, and there might then be a secondary problem of people expecting everything that was not a web page to have a PDF warning, when in fact people occasionally also link to things like MS Word documents or executable programs. There are any number of non-webpage things that could show up in a post aside from PDFs.

Also, you could have people making redundant warnings -- manually putting in a PDF warning and then having a second warning automatically inserted. \I personally consider this to be a problem which is minor enough, and for which a technological solution would likely be flawed enough, that it's better to just go with the imperfect status quo since it's simpler and people are more used to it.
posted by Scientist at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2013

Easier said than done on a lot of phones. Why not make things easier for people?

It took literally less than a second on my iPhone to pull up the PDF. It took about the same time (from what I can tell) to get my android device to pull it up.

Getting some automated solution for this isn't enough juice for the squeeze. People who need the juice might just have to admit that there is a technological gap that the poster, or MeFi in general, isn't responsible for policing.
posted by timfinnie at 6:53 PM on January 12, 2013

timfinnie: “Getting some automated solution for this isn't enough juice for the squeeze. People who need the juice might just have to admit that there is a technological gap that the poster, or MeFi in general, isn't responsible for policing.”

Well, I don't think any 'policing' is necessary at all. There's a PDF in a post, somebody who notices drops a line to a mod, the mod adds a [PDF] warning to the post – super simple, and takes less than five minutes I imagine.

I mean, I agree that maybe we shouldn't do anything too insane, I guess, but what we have now seems to work well. I asked above about why PDFs needed warnings, but I was really just curious. I guess some people have data plans that add up or older blackberries or something, but for whatever reason, PDF warnings make sense. Given how easy and low-impact the solution is, it seems like there's no harm in warning people if only for their convenience.

But, yeah, I agree that an automatic solution would be too much trouble. If this happened a few hundred times a day, maybe it would start to tax the mods, but I get the feeling it takes them no more than a few seconds to add a PDF warning to a post.

Honestly, at this point probably the best efficiency-booster we can put to good use in this case would be to start just using the contact form to request a PDF warning. (And frankly in your post I asked the question I asked above; it was deleted, rightly, since it was totally off-topic, so that's a lesson I could use myself.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2013

I would like to reiterate that it took restless_nomad literally two minutes to add the warning after I contacted the mods.
posted by Scientist at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2013

(Yeah, sorry if I wasn't clear, Scientist – I should have used the contact form myself, is what I mean. Otherwise, everything worked perfectly here.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:40 PM on January 12, 2013

Trigger warning: PDF.
posted by Nomyte at 11:45 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honest question: do there really still exist devices or browsers for which PDFs are a huge hassle?

Funnily enough, Firefox is screwed up on my computer and can't handle PDFs (click on a PDF link and you get an error, not a download). I think I know what happened. I installed Acrobat X to fill in a passport form (thanks Britain for making your fillable passport form not work in anything else), which installed a browser plugin without asking. Then TextMate was trying to use this stupid Adobe plugin, but it didn't work, so I got rid of Acrobat entirely. However, this seems to have screwed up Firefox's PDF handling because it's still looking for the Adobe plugin. I've been using Chrome most of the time, so I only noticed this the other night when Metafilter and Chrome weren't playing nicely.

Anyway, PDF support on Firefox on the Mac is still not perfect. If my mother used Firefox, she'd be complaining to me about how it always downloaded PDFs and only afterwards would it occur to her to Google, which is probably something lots of people's mothers wouldn't do.
posted by hoyland at 1:06 PM on January 13, 2013

In my experience, sometimes Firefox seems to want to stick with Adobe's plugin as the way to view PDFs even in the face of my attempts to change it. Sometimes manually changing it to always save can break it out of this cycle.

Tools > Options
Content type: Adobe Acrobat Document
Action: Save file

If this works you can probably change back to the viewer of your choice afterwards.
posted by grouse at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2013

Yes, there are lots of people - on ipods, on phones, or just on a slow computer - for whom a PDF is an annoying file to open, and we would like a warning so that we can chose whether to open it or not.

As for providing information online via PDF: if you are posting reports or publications, that's great. But for just simple website content, html continues to be the simplest and best format.
posted by jb at 7:30 AM on January 14, 2013

Is there any reason why putting a little automatic icon on PDFs wouldn't be a good idea? It seems really straightforward to accomplish (a minor addition* to the site's CSS) and it would solve something that's an apparent irritation for a significant number of users. It seems as though there wouldn't be any side-effects.

It seems like a bit of a Postel's Law situation. Yes, you can push it off onto users to warn about PDFs, or handle everything on a case-by-case basis manually. But if with a minor CSS change you could handle it systematically, and just eliminate the whole case, why not do it? That seems more robust.

* Though rather than the snippet suggested by the OP, I'd recommend the slightly less elegant alternative:

a[href$=".pdf"] {
background-image: url(/images/pdf.gif);
padding-left: 20px;

This will work on IE6 (I think) and more importantly doesn't require a type attribute on links.

posted by Kadin2048 at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2013

Is there any reason why putting a little automatic icon on PDFs wouldn't be a good idea?

Because we try to keep things simple if we can. It's tempting to try to find technical solutions for every minor annoyance, but each little addition adds up. It's more to maintain, more to test across dozens of browsers, more to deal with if it doesn't work in some particular instance. It adds another visual icon to a page that is mostly text—so it ends up drawing more attention to PDF links than standard links. It could add an incentive to link to PDFs in that way. It would definitely make posts with PDFs stand out a bit.

These trade-offs can be worth it in some cases. Sometimes it's worth taking on the extra maintenance and potential problems. In this case, PDFs haven't met that threshold yet. We're always thinking about these things, and if PDFs continue to be a big annoyance for people while they're browsing MetaFilter we'll discuss it again at some point.
posted by pb (staff) at 12:57 PM on January 16, 2013

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