Thoughts on Hyperlinks & Reading Rhythm

I was running the loop in the Parque Kabah, here in Cancun, this morning and I came around a corner and suddenly the entire path in front of me was underwater. The recent heavy rains we’ve had here have left their mark, and that mark is lots of mosquito-larvae-infested pools of standing mucky brown water in my park (that and all those potholes I keep raving about).

My first reaction was to get upset because running is all about rhythm. And this water in my way was breaking my rhythm. Suddenly I had to pick my way slowly around the edge of this huge pool. That meant a significant off-trail trek involving balancing on tippy rocks, jumping farther than I can and trying my best not to use any of the nearby Che Chen trees to help me balance (Che Chens cause an awful skin irritation when you touch them). Needless to say all this fussing about destroyed my “running mode” which was no fun.

As I began running again I started thinking about work, normal for the girl who dreams in standards-compliant xhtml with some CSS on the side and a little Javascript to spice things up. And I finally figured out why I hate it when web designers and bloggers put hyperlinks in the middle of paragraph text!

The reason is because hyperlinks in the middle of a paragraph break the rhythm of the reader. They are like that stupid huge puddle in the middle of my path when I’m running. They are a diversion from what you were already doing. And they are an invitation to get side-tracked.

When I see a hyperlink in something I’m reading I have to decide whether to stop reading mid-paragraph and go see what this link is about, or to keep reading and visit it later (knowing I may well forget to). If I stop reading and visit the link then there’s a good chance I won’t finish reading the original paragraph (like most people, I’m easily distracted). If I decide to wait to visit that hyperlink until later then I always find myself wondering if I missed something that would add to the value of what I’m reading.

As a general rule it’s a bad idea for a web designer to give users anything to wonder about. Users shouldn’t have to think or wonder about how to get what they need, or get what the author intended, from a web page. It should be obvious. And so from now on my new method will be to put hyperlinks that are relevant to my pages together in a list, so the user can decide to visit them independently of deciding whether to read the content on that page.

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