Pony Request: URL Coding for Telephone Numbers May 22, 2019 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Could MeFi please consider implementing the href=tel:XXX-XXX-XXXX function for links? (more inside)

Since the mobile web is a significant part of MeFi activity, I'd like to request the ability to add a URL with a telephone number so that MeFites can immediately dial up something mentioned in a post. While my own preference would be for contacting congress members in the USPolitics megathreads, I can see how it could be useful in other segments of the site, such as AskMe (contacting support lines in help threads), IRL (meetup locations), and Jobs (employers, employment resources). The ability to one-touch dial from a smartphone would be, to drop into marketing-speak for a moment, the kind of basic ease-of-use feature to improve engagement here.

Would other people find this feature helpful? Is it simple enough to incorporate into the site's software?
posted by Doktor Zed to Feature Requests at 8:06 AM (42 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

This doesn't work?
posted by odinsdream at 8:42 AM on May 22


odinsdream, it does works on iOS (tapping it asks me if I want to call that number).

Does anyone have experience with various browser plugins that do this, and can comment as to how reliable they are? (I recall a bunch of years ago I accidentally installed a Skype plugin that linkified phone numbers and some other numbers too, but it was long enough ago that I can't remember how irritating it was). It definitely does not seem trivial to come up with a regular expression (obviously that's how it would be implemented) that works reliably with international numbers.

You know, if we were going down this route, an easier and more useful starting point would be to automatically linkify URLs (let's say, just http and https ones). This seems more difficult and less useful (and maybe even counter-useful) than that.
posted by aubilenon at 8:51 AM on May 22


I don't see what the deal is. Honestly. Click the link button, and fill in the URL with tel:+1-800-555-1212 and it works as it's supposed to for any browser running on a system that understands what to do with a tel: link. No changes seem to be needed.
posted by odinsdream at 8:57 AM on May 22


This doesn't work?

Thanks, "a href="tel:+1-800-555-1212" does indeed work for me on Mac OS. When I'd tried the contact number for Steny Hoyer i.e. a href="tel:202-225-4131", however, the Metafilter server blocked posting because it detected an error. The missing "+1-" prefix on my end must be the bug, although not all guides suggest its necessary.

EDIT: Nope, that works fine now. I can't rule out the possibility that I'm losing my tiny mind.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:08 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Def use the country code so that it'll work for visitors in non-US countries.
posted by odinsdream at 9:10 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


UPDATE: Good news, I'm not completely out of my mind. a href="tel:+1-202-224-3121" and a href="tel://1-202-224-3121" are indeed rejected by the Metafilter server when posting on the Blue (they work fine here, however). I believe iOS Safari is smart enough to detect 202-224-3121 as a phone number, but I'm looking for a universal function.

Could frimble please test if the code works on AskMe, IRL, and Jobs at some point? Many thanks,
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:40 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Update to the above, FWIW iOS Safari for the iPhone/iPad can detect 555-555-5555 as a phone number. {edit: OK, it works on an actual iPad, but not on desktop emulation of the iPad. Ugh.} Hence my request for hard-coding telephone number support. Thanks again,
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:48 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Good news, I'm not completely out of my mind.

Now, let's not be hasty.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:48 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


Just to let you know, frimble will pop in here when they're around to address whatever technical stuff has come up, but that may not be until tomorrow.

If folks want to discuss whether they'd use this or find it a positive/negative/etc for the site, by all means do.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:14 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Thanks, LM and frimble! There's no rush, obviously. This isn't the first time I tried to include a tel URL on the Blue, but I wanted to open this MeTa to ask the community if it was a feature others would find useful. Cheers,
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:20 AM on May 22


I think this makes sense other than on the Blue. I don't read the Politics threads so maybe this ship has sailed, but is a MeFi thread really the right venue for actively encouraging and organizing people in call-in campaigns to specific politicians?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:03 AM on May 22


After a bit of digging: We do a certain amount of link validation on MetaFilter and Ask MetaFilter. Among other things, there are only a very small subset of protocols that are allowed/whitelisted, where tel: is not currently one of them.
posted by frimble (staff) at 11:49 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I would really like this to not be a feature. This is because I am prone to fat-fingering links on my phone which (like all phones) is garbage technology that will make a phone call without first asking for confirmation and so will result in me making still more accidental calls to people I have no interest in speaking too.
posted by suetanvil at 12:53 PM on May 22 [15 favorites]


The amount of times I've fat-thumbed a link while fast scrolling upwards or fatter-thumbed to zoom-in is very non-zero. I don't want to be initiating random international calls to e.g. the US via clumsy browsing. Don't know what my UI does by way of checking first and don't know what anyone else's does either. I do know that if I select and long-press any old series of numbers onscreen my phone offers me the choice of ringing it, is that not common or sufficient?

I can definitely see the case for limited use of it, but phone links mid-thread or above-the-fold sound a bit like Punch Me In The Face Buttons to me.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 12:55 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


there are only a very small subset of protocols that are allowed/whitelisted, where tel: is not currently one of them.

Many thanks for looking into this. I suppose the question now is if people think it’s worth whitelisting tel: on the Blue and the Green. Do most smartphones have the capability to automatically resolve telephone numbers into dial able links anyway? Are we concerned about the potential for abuse (like obfuscated phone numbers)?

From my standpoint on design, I consider it worthwhile to minimize the amount of text/info on the screen. “Call your congresscritter now” beats “Call your congresscritter now at tel: 202-224-3121”.

is a MeFi thread really the right venue for actively encouraging and organizing people in call-in campaigns to specific politicians?

Desperate times (here in the US) call for desperate measures.
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:02 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


> Do most smartphones have the capability to automatically resolve telephone numbers into dial able links anyway?

Yes.

For that matter, Safari (on both iOS and Mac) will interpret pretty nearly any ten-digit numeric sequence (even with whitespace and punctuation, as long as there aren't linebreaks or alphas) as a phone number within the US. IIRC it will also attempt to interpret other numeric sequences as phone numbers if the first digits match an appropriate country exchange and the number of digits is appropriate for that country.

In order to dial a displayed phone number in Safari on Mac, select the digits, right-click, and when the cursor hovers over the selection a down-carat will appear to the right of the number sequence with an appropriate menu option. This only works if you have your computer and phone configured so that your computer can prompt your phone to make calls.
posted by ardgedee at 1:53 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


In order to dial a displayed phone number in Safari on Mac, select the digits, right-click, and when the cursor hovers over the selection a down-carat will appear to the right of the number sequence with an appropriate menu option.

Thanks for the tip, ardgedee. The implementation of this feature appears to be inconsistent, however. It works for me on this comment and this one, but not this one. (It's for this sort of reason that I opened a pony-request MeTa.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:06 PM on May 22


Personally I don't want my browser invoking anything other than webpages. It's bad enough clicking a link and finding it's to a PDF.
If anyone's interested, it does work in Android though.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:01 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Wouldn't someone already ready to call be prepared to copy and paste the number in their dialer app? I mean, you're not canvassing in a red state, there's no real need for a shortcut to take advantage of the theoretical scant few seconds you have someone's attention in that situation.
posted by Memo at 4:30 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Desperate times (here in the US) call for desperate measures.

Those of us not in the US would perhaps prefer not to accidentally make a long distance call whilst browsing Metafilter?
posted by tavegyl at 5:06 PM on May 22 [17 favorites]


It's basically a solution in search of a problem, and I know that that is how the internet was built, but I think we can all agree that the internet is rubbish.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:08 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Yes, if anything, I'd prefer that tel: links be *blocked* on mobile (or anywhere, tbh). I don't want to fat-finger a link that leads to a call, and I'm in the US. Copy/paste into the dialer works just fine in the case that you want to call a phone number.
posted by Aleyn at 5:28 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Personally I'd prefer if hyperlinks were hyperlinks. If I see a link with the text "Call your congresscritter now" I expect if I click it to be linked to a webpage with congressional contact info or some such. On PC I can mouseover to preview where a link will take me, but on mobile I would be brought directly to my dialer for the call. That's not good design, it's annoying. I don't have a particularly strong opinion on whether tel: links are enabled, but I don't like the specific usage suggested. Something like "Call your congressional representative now (202-224-3121)" would be fine by me, though perhaps defeats the point of the feature request. Postfixing with a telephone icon similar to what is done with YouTube links would also be okay, so that it's clearly communicated that the link is to dial a phone number and not a true hyperlink, but that would probably be more work for frimble.
posted by biogeo at 5:43 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


> Yes, if anything, I'd prefer that tel: links be *blocked* on mobile (or anywhere, tbh). I don't want to fat-finger a link that leads to a call...

There are multiple steps necessary to initiate a call through a hyperlink (whether it's an anchor tag or a numeric string the OS has parsed). At a minimum, the process is click, then confirm an alertbox, and then the phone app takes over the screen before the dialing itself begins.

Which is not to say mis-dials won't happen, but the path to making one isn't one-and-done like accidentally clicking an http URL.

In any event, whether or not Metafilter whitelists phone number links, phone numbers have been clickable in your phone's browser for a few years already.
posted by ardgedee at 6:36 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Except for weird edge cases like Android.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:15 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: weird edge cases
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I don't have strong reasons, but if we are voting, I vote No. I get why some would want this, but to me, risk of having it, misdialed expensive LD calls, versus the risk of not having it, a few more seconds to dial a number you want to dial, makes this a not so great feature.
posted by AugustWest at 10:37 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


> Except for weird edge cases like Android.

Does Android automatically dial on tap without any dialogs? I have to confess it's been a while since I've had to test browser functionality on Android. If this is true, that's on Google to fix.
posted by ardgedee at 3:06 AM on May 23


If other Android users do find Tel numbers automatically initiating calls, a solution is to install an app like Skype as well, and then Android will always ask you which app you want to make the call with, instead of going straight into the phone.
posted by lollusc at 4:22 AM on May 23


Yeah, please please no, like other comments above I don’t want to worry about accidentally dialing international numbers (US numbers) and being hit with a bill for such.
posted by sacchan at 4:25 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


What would it do for computer browser users when there's a Call this and then they have to hover or cut and paste the link somewhere to actually see the number... It'd take discipline to remember to do Call +1-760-706-7425 and then it's just making things harder and more typing.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:14 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Just for the record, clicking on Tel links in Android just autofills it in my dialer - it definitely doesn't auto-dial the number. Stock dialer, on a Pixel XL.
posted by sagc at 7:45 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Personally I'd prefer if hyperlinks were hyperlinks.

The whole point of hyperlinks was that they weren't just links to pages, but all sorts of other data (FTP, Gopher, NNTP, etc.). It is literally the fundamental design of the web.

If they just link to HTTP(s) sites, then they are just links not hyperlinks.

FWIW, I am running stock Android, and a tel link opens the phone app with the number, but I still have to initiate the call.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:06 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I do not like this feature. It feels like it is designed to promote advocacy calls. I understand that in AskMe someone may want to put a number in for a hotline, etc, but it's a max of 11 digits, how hard is it to write it down?
posted by terrapin at 9:14 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I vote no. The megathread has already changed the site. Do we now need to cater to the US thread people everywhere? If it got instituted in Askme what stops someone from posting a question with a number targeting someone else?
posted by kanata at 11:03 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Agreed, but the tel: links aren't linking to data, they're initiating an action. Conceptually it's similar to mailto:, which I think was a mistake to conflate with hyperlinks. Obviously that ship has sailed a long time ago, and I'm not protesting all use of tel: or mailto:. Rather I just find it obnoxious to click a hyperlink expecting to be requesting data only to unexpectedly discover I have initiated some action I didn't necessarily intend. So if tel: is enabled, I hope people would be courteous and make it clear that it's not a hyperlink to data but instead an action.

What's the current policy on mailto: on the Blue?
posted by biogeo at 11:12 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Another mark for "no, please."

On my Android phone (original Google Pixel, using native Chrome browser), highlighting a phone number like string, like 800-555-1212, brings up options to Call, Copy, Share, Select All, Message, or Add Contact. It's not too much more work than clicking on a link, TBH, and avoids accidental clicks.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


No, thank you.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:14 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]

Yeah, please please no, like other comments above I don’t want to worry about accidentally dialing international numbers (US numbers) and being hit with a bill for such.
It's yet another case of assuming all members are US-based and involved in US national-level politics.

It also breaks very quickly when non-US numbers, many of which start with an initial 0, are brought into play. If I want to call London city hall from inside the UK, I can dial 020 7983 4100. If I am outside the UK, I have to drop the 0 and dial +44 20 7983 4100. Which of these do we link to?
posted by winterhill at 8:57 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


This is a solution in search of a problem.
posted by missmerrymack at 9:13 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


> ...what stops someone from posting a question with a number targeting someone else?

A post with a personal phone number will already get modded as soon as it's flagged. I don't think the use of HTML is going to change that.
posted by ardgedee at 2:07 PM on May 25


So, a technical solution to a non-problem that requires extra work both on the public facing and plumbing sides of the site and makes the site very slightly more unpleasant to use.
That is so very, very 2019 internet.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:19 PM on May 26


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