Meta: Outlink Design

I had completely forgotten my idea of posting a meta every now and then. For those unfamiliar with this idea: Simply put, metas are posts about this blog. (For a more elaborate description of the ‘meta’ concept, read this book.)

I was browsing through the WordPress settings, when I came across a feature called Proofreading. Basically, it scans your posts as you type them, and detects unusual sentence construction, repetition/clichés and highlights them. But another feature, which I am more interested about, supplies “Additional Post Content”: It identifies keywords or phrases in the post, hunts the internet for related links, and gives the writer the option of inserting any or all of them as links into the post.

Quite a few popular blogs that I have seen, are infested with these kind of links.. to the point of irritation at times, I think. I remember a time when I had fallen into the habit of randomly selecting and deselecting text with the mouse while reading anything, and I would invariably click on some or the other hyperlink in the process.

But let us analyze the function of these ‘outlinks’ from a Design perspective. For that, we need to first create a fictitious personality for the average reader, or what my last IDC course called a Persona. Now, this may not be the most accurate statement, but it is fair to say that the typical person who tends to read blogs (and several of them, probably), is fundamentally a reader. Further, people often do chain reading.. one article or post leading to another and so on. Also, the readers that land up on a particular post, via such chaining, may have very diverse origins and interests; so it becomes a must for any technical terms or names in the post to be properly defined or documented, in a way.

Looking from that Persona’s perspective, outlinks become very essential: A blog post that points to other sources of reading, is like a chain propagator, and is surely more welcome than one which acts like a chain terminator. And pointing to the definition/documentation for non-standard terms and names is a neat trick.

All this, in support of adding links. Any striking disadvantage of the same? Not that I know of, except that the visual flow and readability of the content is marginally reduced.

In short, you’ll find more outlinks in my recent posts, now that I have activated the Proofreading feature.

(PS: This is the first post that goes into all the categories. Time to add a new category next time…)

4 responses to “Meta: Outlink Design

  1. Against it, I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes, I find myself uncomfortable with the idea that there is deeper information that I don’t know, and that makes me uncomfortable reading the post. For instance, you hyperlinked Proofreading above. Now, while reading the rest of the post, I was wondering if proofreading holds more meaning than I already know of. And whether I should look at that first, or finish reading this first.

    • Yes, there is an inherent order-of-reading issue. But I realized that this is more like the trade-off between Depth-First and Breadth-First approaches.. you can’t keep both happy!

      • Seasoned readers somehow maintain a good balance between this breadth-first and depth-first approach.
        And not just about reading on the internet. Even books these days have a lot of side text. The Selfish Gene is full of it. It spoils the fun and breaks the flow.
        But again, it’s I need who needs to learn. The outlinks will always be there.

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