User Experience and target=”_blank”

By Michael Fienen

Interesting post Michael and a stylish (but unnecessary, I think) solution. It seems like this issue is going to stick around forever but I disagree with a couple of your conclusions.

Rather than becoming less and less of an accepted practise, I’d say that the argument is now moving in the opposite direction again.

The case against opening in new windows was clear and accepted by all a couple of years ago but with the widespread use of multiple tabs in browser behaviour and stronger processing power I find myself once more questioning this golden rule. I’m still sticking with no new windows at the moment but I can see the possibility of this changing in the future.

While interesting, I really do think the Pittsburgh solution is redundant, if users can’t be bothered to edit the user controls available in Google (which the vast majority don’t), how useful is it really to have the choice of whether external links open in a new window on a single particular site?

Useful to a couple of users, but it would be more useful surely to reduce screen clutter by removing the site options link from all pages. (Pittsburgh looks like a great site btw, I’ve never seen it before but I’ll try and find the time to have a proper look round it).

I like your argument about different content creators on a site applying different methods. It’s a common problem but I’m not convinced that allowing a couple of users to decide for themselves is the solution.

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    Chris Falzone Says:

    Very Nice Article Michael. I’ll have to see about putting this into use for my uni’s redesign.

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    Shelby Thayer Says:

    Great post, Michael. I must say that sometimes I am still guilty of using _blank. I must change that!

    The options you present are nice. My only issue with them is that if the argument is that lay users don’t know to use the new tabs/windows shortcut, doesn’t the same logic apply to site options? Won’t those same lay users have no idea that those options are there (or even what they mean)? The more savvy users that know they are there are the same ones who already know the new tab/windows shortcut anyway?

    Although I do think the site options are a good enhancement, at least for now, I think they are an enhancement for savvy users.

    By the way, I *love* the option to flag offsite links with the icon.

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    Michael Fienen (author) Says:

    Billy: Your points are absolutely valid and in no particular way incorrect. The back and forth argument on this topic has been well-hashed elsewhere, generally without total resolution. The only thing I would stress is this:

    Be it a tab or a window, the base effect is the same, you’re sending people away from your site in an attempt to keep it open, without regard for the users’ wishes. I have yet to read convincing commentary that tabs make this okay. I believe that is the user’s choice to make unilaterally, and we should help them do it.

    And while such a solution as mine is somewhat redundant, it is designed with purpose, to allow the user options, where they didn’t previously exist. Blanket statements about user behavior rarely stick, and rather than try to assume I know how my users act in all cases, I find giving them the option is preferable to not.

    That’s just me though. I suspect this subject will continue to bounce back and forth over the coming years, undoubtedly. As a user, personally, I actually like it when I leave a site and it opens a new tab, heh.

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    Michael Fienen (author) Says:

    Shelby: You are 100% correct, and I probably should have clarified this more. What you are posing is a chicken and egg argument, what changes should we make first. I tend to do everything at once, then educate, educate, educate. Moreover, look at it this way:
    - Remove the target attribute, this is to simplify things for lay users.
    - Create options, which actually are for the more advanced users.

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    Heidi Cool Says:

    I think we’ll be arguing about this subject for several years to come. I’m in the “let the user decide” camp and don’t set links to open in new/windows or tabs. Back in October, I made a case for this in Should you or should you not have links open in a new window/tab? and was astounded by the number of people who wrote back in favor of links opening in new windows.

    Your idea poses an interesting option, in that it gives the user choice, but I think I would make the default be the same window (standard behavior) while letting them opt-in to the”new window/tab” option.

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    Chris Falzone Says:

    While I sit on the “no target as a standard” and let the user choose camps, my personal preference is to open external links in new windows OR mark them somehow so I know they are external so I can use a shortcut to open a new tab.

    Unfortunately my uni’s policy is that external links must open into new windows. And that’s a lot better than they used to do which was a pop-up explaining that you were leaving the website. I plan on bringing this up at my next meeting, but I have the suspicion that the _blank votes will win.

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    Kyle James Says:

    I’ve always been on the side of the open links off site in a new window, as anyone that has read any of my posts here will know. For me it comes down to the marketing and not wanting them to leave the site. I’m totally about the user experience and letting users choose, but I guess I still believe that people aren’t to the point where they don’t need hand holding yet. The audience of this blog probably doesn’t need hand holding, but then it comes back to the marketing reasons.

    Like everyone else here I think there really isn’t a perfect solution for this and we will be debating it for years to come.

    Fienen I do really like that instead of just readdressing the issue you present possible solutions and alternatives and there is definitely a lot of value in that. This is really interested maybe it’s something we would want to tinker with on this blog?

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    Frank Says:

    I’d have to say this is a pretty subjective issue. Although I’m on Kyle’s side of things, I like to keep my visitors on my site. So if that means externals create a new window then that’s what I need to do as of right now. Although I do like the idea of letting the user ultimately decide the future course of action for open links.

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    India Software Project Outsourcing Says:

    Hey I liked your article. Pretty interesting and helpful. After this I will be working in this way..

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    David Says:

    Personally I could go either way with links to web pages, but links to documents such as PDF, .doc, etc. is in my experience, necessary. I have many seen users with settings allowing docs to display in the browser, close their browser thinking they were closing acrobat or word. These users end up frustrated and confused, and are forced to start their browsing experience over.

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    Mark Says:

    Opening in a new site is essential. You could hardly build a successful site without it.

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    Julian Says:

    Opening a new windows is especially bad on the iPhone, since it doesn’t let you tap “back” then and you may have already the maximum number of sites open.

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    Michel Says:

    Clicking on the “site options” which I would never have thought of clicking if you had not told me to, I in FF 3.6 get

    Error: j(“#siteOptionsModal”).modal is not a function
    Source File: https://www.pittstate.edu/global/js/jqueryInc.js
    Line: 77

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    Michel Says:

    PS: great article. Made me think and decide to redesign one of my sites. About high time too

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