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Forcing links to open in new windows: an argument that should have ended (marco.org)
68 points by SmileyKeith on Jan 10, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

I completely disagree. In fact I find it worse when a link opens in the same tab and then I have to navigate back and find the place that I was at .vs. having to close a new tab I did not want.

"And I think over a decade of user confusion and frustration resulting from target="_blank" backs that up."

Do you have any links to to back this claim?

Sure do! This has been an issue in web design since 1999. Usability studies back this up.

Open New Windows for PDF and other Non-Web Documents (Jakob Nielsen, 2005) [0]

The Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 1999 (Jakob Nielsen, 1999) [1]

Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design (Jakob Neilsen, 2011) [2]

We gain nothing by "keeping the user on our site." The user doesn't care, to them it's all just content they want to look at. If they want to come back to our site they can use the back button, the most popular feature on a browser[3]. If we open new windows we are: littering the user's screen; breaking their chain of navigation; and if they're on a mobile device, consuming extra RAM and causing other windows to disappear prematurely.

[0] http://www.nngroup.com/articles/open-new-windows-for-pdfs/

[1] http://www.nngroup.com/articles/the-top-ten-web-design-mista...

[2] http://www.nngroup.com/articles/top-10-mistakes-web-design/

[3] http://www.useit.com/articles/browser-and-gui-chrome/

Are there any more recent studies with actual numbers and not just some vague talk about increased cognitive load (whatever this means)? Most I found seem to refer to the same 15 year old NN/g research report.

Since then a lot has changed, including the spread of multi-tabbed browsing (which one could imagine would have a huge impact on this issue) and drastic changes in the way web applications are designed. Is the "back" feature even still the most popular feature on a browser? While this claim would have been indisputable a few years ago, I seem to almost never use it these days unless I accidentally clicked on the wrong link. At least in my case, the evolutions I mentioned have changed the way I use my browser quite a lot. Less anecdotically, this does seem to be a more global trend since on Chrome for Android the back button has even been demoted to the "More" menu, while tab-switching has been given a more prominent spot (swipe from edge).

Not saying it has now become good to open links in new windows of course, but I'd be curious to see more recent research about the topic.

Not sure what the point would be… Besides the offender's unwarranted sense of entitlement (by keeping you around against your will), the main issue is that it breaks the back button. 15 years later, it's still an unwarranted sense of entitlement, and it's still breaking the back button. End of story, no?

If anything, we can an extra issue and suggest it's even worse nowadays. Per parent, it gobbles RAM on mobile devices, and this leads other tabs to close prematurely. It also turns older devices into helicopters when the fan kicks in.

But if you really need one, here's a study:

Date: just now. Author: yours truly. Methodology: browse random news websites every now and then on an old laptop and on an old mobile device. Sample: yours truly. Results: far too much cursing to publish as a HN comment, and frequent rage against the punk designers who ship huge JS payloads. Conclusion: it still sucks. :-)

> Not sure what the point would be…

"In God we trust, all others must bring data." Best practices should be grounded in data rather than opinions whenever possible, especially when they're based on claims about users' cognitive load like in the NN/g recommendations.

> Per parent, it gobbles RAM on mobile devices, and this leads other tabs to close prematurely. It also turns older devices into helicopters when the fan kicks in.

I don't find that to be true with mobile devices. I much prefer having my links on mobile opening in a new tab, because a) mobile internet connection can be unreliable (and often a much bigger problem than lack of RAM), so I may not still have reception when trying to reload the original page, b) slow page loads makes browsing not as enjoyable since transitions take time, so I'd rather have everything in separate tabs and c) being on the move means I often put my phone down to do something else, so I don't necessarily remember every tab's browsing history.

Besides, mobile browsers have gotten a lot better at managing RAM and most have been able to optimize background tabs for a long time, so I think the RAM issue is way overrated.

> Besides the offender's unwarranted sense of entitlement (by keeping you around against your will), the main issue is that it breaks the back button. 15 years later, it's still an unwarranted sense of entitlement, and it's still breaking the back button.

I can see several reasons except for "unwarranted sense of entitlement" for this practice. It's all about reasonable expectations on the users' end: if a user can reasonably expect the website will behave some way, then not doing it this way can be detrimental to him. For example, many people expect "help" links (like the one next to the HN comment box) to not make you leave the page and rely on the "back" function to restore your painfully typed comment once you realize it does. They may be wrong in expecting this, but this seems like a perfectly rational safeguard against accidental data loss, so going against this could very well "increase the user's cognitive load".

As for the breaking the back button, my previous point was that the back button is not as important anymore, in part because a) a lot of things break the back button because dynamic content has made it much easier to do so and b) multi-tabbed browsing is now widespread and users may not be as confused by the fact each window/tab has its own browsing history anymore.

There are plenty of contradicting effects (precisely the reason why you and I can legitimately feel different about this issue) and the point of doing an actual study is to be able to measure them so we can compare them and say which trade-offs are worth it and which aren't.

tl;dr: your snark is unwelcome

> "In God we trust, all others must bring data." Best practices should be grounded in data rather than opinions whenever possible, especially when they're based on claims about users' cognitive load like in the NN/g recommendations.

Indeed they should. Except that here, the case is bloody obvious. "Show me the data that says the grass is green!" "Show me that evolution exists!" The onus of finding the data is on whoever thinks the statements are unreasonable.

Look… Opening links in new tabs does break the back button; no extra evidence is needed here beyond stating the obvious. The hardware back button on Android phones do lead to unexpected behavior; no extra evidence needed either. Having a save button in a word processor is needlessly forcing 40-year old IO limits onto end-users; no extra evidence needed here either.

In each case, what you can argue with and request data for, is this: whether end-users successfully cope with it or not; not whether it's broken to begin with.

And sadly, we humans are wonderfully adaptable. Including to pathetically poor user interfaces decisions such as the need to click a Start button in order to shut down a Win95 computer.

> Besides, mobile browsers have gotten a lot better at managing RAM and most have been able to optimize background tabs for a long time, so I think the RAM issue is way overrated.

Not everyone has a modern device. A whole bunch of iOS 5.1 devices (3rd-gen iPhones, 1st-gen iPads) and old Android devices are still in the wild.

> For example, many people expect "help" links (like the one next to the HN comment box) to not make you leave the page and rely on the "back" function to restore your painfully typed comment once you realize it does.

And that would qualify as a session that shouldn't be interrupted — i.e. it's a perfectly valid use-case, including for the OP.

(I, for one, would nonetheless suggest that a floating div on the same screen might be superior in that case, because the current window/tab would not lose its focus — a hopefully obvious fact.)

> a lot of things break the back button because dynamic content has made it much easier to do so

Assuredly so. But two wrongs don't make a right, so posting that as a reason to break it further is dubious at best.

Speaking personally, I hate those sites because they break my back button. I actually use the damned thing a lot, come to think of it. Especially on my 1st-gen iPad, since RAM-starved device can't seem hold more than a tab or two in memory when browsing sites loaded with JS.

> the point of doing an actual study is to be able to measure them so we can compare them and say which trade-offs are worth it and which aren't

Indeed. But chances are you wouldn't actually be measuring these things due to the huge bias involved in the measurement itself.

By simply asking a user if he prefers A or B, even qualitatively, you may open up a whole new world that he was unaware of until you asked; if so, the odds are good that — of course! — he'll prefer it rather than his more familiar daily routine, since the latter is in shambles due to widespread bad practices.

But hold… Your profile states that you're a data scientist, and I see you attended IEP at that. So you necessarily know this, and the — obvious — fact that a great many studies out there are inconclusive due to dubious methodology.

You're missing my point though. My point was not that opening links in a new window is always a good thing, just that usability experts keep parading the same old studies and scientific-sounding claims about "cognitive load" (and it's not just about this link issue) and that I was curious about how they were backing up their claims. Regardless of what I think the best behavior should be, as someone who cares about quality data and methodology I simply wished UX could be a little bit more rigorous, which is why I've been playing devil's advocate. Note that my original comment did not state any preference towards one side or the other (my last sentence even explicitly said so), I was just commenting on how I was curious to find more compelling arguments. If they were to say "it is the preferred convention because it seems reasonable and is consistent with our recommendations", that would be another story. But passing personal preference for scientific truth, and then using this as a pretext to be self-righteous about it (like the author of the linked post) is not OK.

My original argument was simple:

1) opening links in new windows is said to be bad because a) it breaks the back button, and b) the back button is the most important one

2) the back button does not seem to be as important as it is now because of multi-tabbed browsing. Furthermore, since what matters is not not the back button itself, but how users expect the back button to perform, the fact this functionality has become unreliable could change the user's expectations (it changed mine)

3) therefore, the original argument may not be relevant anymore

> Indeed. But chances are you wouldn't actually be measuring these things due to the huge bias involved in the measurement itself.

The burden of proof should be proportional to the size of the claims you make. You can only be as confident as your data: if you believe there are biases in the measurement, then you should stay measured, too.

By the way, you say:

> And that would qualify as a session that shouldn't be interrupted — i.e. it's a perfectly valid use-case, including for the OP.

Who defines what should and shouldn't be interrupted? In the case of an article, I could argue that when I click a link in the middle of an article (like in The Verge's case), it's generally just because I'm curious about the link, kind of like I would read a footnote in a book, but ultimately I don't want to lose my pace and that would interrupt my reading "session". It is definitely not an indisputable claim, but it sure is a justifiable one (unlike, say, auto-loading audio advertisements) so The Verge isn't evil for doing so. If they had an A/B test and it showed it increased retention and that this is worth irritating some users, that's their decision to make.

Anyway, I feel this discussion has grown way out of proportion to the original claim and that we're just arguing for the sake of being right at that point. I'll willingly concede that you're right to say that as of now, forcing new tabs may place an unnecessary burden on users using older hardware.

Anecdotal evidence to combat anecdotal evidence, but where do we stop and let the user make some damn decisions? Are users really too stupid to know ctrl+click, middle click, or right click->open in new tab?

Personally I side with the author, as I open just about everything with middle click, but I also have a lot of dumb users that rely on target _blank like it's the only thing preventing them from spiraling into a psychosis filled chasm of self doubt. The sheer number of people who have marveled at the idea of opening a page in a new tab when shown kind of makes me uncomfortable.

I really want to fix this, and have users understand their browser more than "it makes the googles".

> Are users really too stupid to know ctrl+click, middle click, or right click->open in new tab?

There are people that use their computer day-in and day-out that don't know about alt-tab to switch between windows... The computer doesn't come with a manual, and no one ever showed them. Not everyone that gets plopped in front of a computer explores their new environment once they have a workflow down.

Those same people may not understand how tabs work, either. They might not realize where their previous browsing session went, or how to get back (since the back button no longer functions as expected in the new tab).

I'm not throwing in on either side of the target="_blank" debate. I'm just saying that making assumptions that surely all/most uses know how to X, usually end in disaster.

If you commonly refer to your users/visitors as "dumb" then your problem isn't with links.

Alas, it's worth considering personal bias. Simply because you understand the fundamentals of the web and how to use modern technology doesn't mean it's the norm or standard (yet). Because someone doesn't know how to "middle click" does not make them stupid.

My qualms are with the lack of motivation to learn. I get the daily urge to look up some shortcut or random tidbit of information I didn't know about any subject, so I get rather upset when coworkers continue on their day doing the bare minimum.

It takes a total of maybe 15 seconds to learn how to open a link in a tab. If that's too much effort for someone, then I seriously question what other small things that person has decided to just not learn throughout their life.

edit: I should note that by "users" I mean fully grown adults working with a web browser every day as their job, not Grandma.

It takes a total of maybe 15 seconds to learn how to open a link in a tab. If that's too much effort for someone, then I seriously question what other small things that person has decided to just not learn throughout their life.

For most of them it's not a matter of them not wanting to learn or being too lazy to learn. It's that they don't know that there is something they need to learn.

They don't know that it's an option. They don't know that it's possible. They don't even know that it is something they should consider.

It's simple to everyone on HN, but even simple things are not obvious to everyone that uses a computer or mobile device. One of our users just a few weeks ago did not know how to copy and paste text. Not didn't know the keyboard shortcuts…Did not know how to do it at all!

Instead, the user printed out the text I had requested him to copy/paste, scanned it in, and attached the image to a reply email.

You do what you know how to do.

Maybe the next thing you should take an interest in learning about is how normal non-tech folk use computers.

> Are users really too stupid[...]


I have more important things to do than to attempt to put together statistical proof of this to empiricism-fetishists, but I can see in 15 years of web development that I've seen this (including in a proper usability lab with one way glass and eye-tracking, bla bla bla) create serious confusion with users vainly attempting to click back and not understanding why it doesn't work. That is for the average non-tech user. For sophisticated users (which is probably approaching a majority of the American population under 40 these days) it just makes them angry when the behavior of regular pages is hijacked to be non-standard and disrupts their chosen workflow.

Are you seriously arguing that in your opinion every single link should open a new tab automatically?

I very much doubt that the majority of the American population under 40 are "sophisticated users". And no, browsing Facebook and twitter every day does not count. Especially this day and age full of tablets, smartphones and specific apps, people are unlearning how actual Web browsing works.

This said, personally I consider clicking on a link to an external resource/website to have a default behaviour of opening in a new tab. Failure of doing so counts as a usability bug to me. For same-site links then I agree, opening a new tab doesn't make sense.

There's nothing more frustrating than browsing with mouse only and being forced to go back and open a link with ctrl+click or middle click(also my mouse3 button is broken, but that's my problem)

Can't agree more, especially when external sites history jack and require digging in history because the back button hold you on their domain. I understand that the whole thing is really a matter ofpreference and will never have a correct answer, but for me, this is the right answer.

The main point, as far as I'm concerned, is that if a site has standard links and I want to open a page in a new tab, I can do that. But if a site opens pages in a new tab, I cannot suppress that. (Yeah, there's probably an extension for that, but that's not the point.) You are taking away choice.

It would be nice if browsers would indicate whether a link opened a new tab or not. That would also make me less hesitant to open a link to a help or documentation page while I'm in the middle of a transaction, as TFA mentions.

Beyond extensions, Firefox has a setting that can force links to always open in the same tab:


I read an academic paper a while back where the authors claimed that Chinese search engines use target="blank" so all search result links open in new windows, and that's the normal state of affairs. Does anyone know if that's true?

Update: found the paper - http://jeffhuang.com/Final_Branching_WSDM12.pdf

Here's the quote:

Users in the Chinese market nearly always branch [what the authors call opening links in new windows], a behavior forced by their search engines' default settings. Some people speculate [footnote for http://www.quora.com/China/Why-do-most-hyperlinks- on-Chinese-websites-open-a-new-window-tab] that this default started because Internet access is slower in China and so branching enables Web pages to load in the background. Others believe default branching is economically motivated as it allows a search engine to keep users on its site longer. However, a qualitative study of how Chinese users perceive branching versus backtracking would be interesting since their default action is opposite of that for the American and European users, who have been previously studied.

Who needs links when common sense suffices. On 99% of websites links do X, on the Verge and some others they do Y.

It may be the case that a world where 99% of websites doing Y is slightly better than the one where 99% of websites do X. However, both of those worlds are preferable to the world where 50% of the websites do X and 50% do Y. If you live in browser doesn't handle links the way you prefer there's a way to change that for yourself.

At Theneeds [1] we decided to open links to news in new tabs/windows (using target="_blank").

This is mainly for 2 reasons.

First, we expect our users to not necessarily be techy (in contrast to what Marco says "Most people know how to open your article’s outbound links in new tabs or windows, especially readers of a tech site").

Second, we want a consistent experience across all websites we open, and some of them forced us to open in new tabs. We usually embed news into an iframe, with a Theneeds' top bar for actions including vote, share and go back to the content stream. Unfortunately many news sites are currently preventing embedding (e.g., via the HTTP header X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN). We decided to open at least them (then, as I said, all) as users were frustrated by loosing access to the content stream.

[1] http://www.theneeds.com

In my experience it's actually the opposite of what you state.

Non-'techy' users understand the back button and they are completely flummoxed when a target=_blank link breaks this behaviour for them. They often don't notice the tab bar and don't realise that something unusual has happened that requires something other than their learned use of 'back'.

You have to understand that you're going against the norm. If 80% of links were target=_blank then your argument would make sense but they are not so I struggle to understand your justification.

Thanks for the feedback.

This is actually the result of long thoughts and discussions, and I totally was (and, in general, am) against target=_blank. So I'm just reporting things as they are and as we decided in the team, I don't want to create a religion war :)

Anyway, what made me change opinion is actually my behavior here on hn. I usually go through all the stream, select the news that I want to read and open them in new tabs. Then I start, tab by tab, to consume them. So, based on my experience, I wouldn't find too disturbing an open in new tab.

That's exactly what I do too but I try not to design UX for myself. :-)

In my mind I've mapped clicking my mousewheel with "opening links", which in Windows opens in a new tab. I do this at least 75% of the time when I click a link. But I also like having the option to just normal left mouse click and open in the same tab as sometimes that's the best thing to do.

I hate it when either of these are overridden.

I also generally dislike opening links in the same window. I prefer a new tab, navigate around from there, click back if necessary. When I can't go back anymore, my session is over for that line of thought and I close the tab.

target="_blank" is a matter of convenience for me and I respect sites that use it - especially if the link is outbound.

Then I would expect that you of all people would want to make the change at the browser level, not on a site-by-site basis.

But you can always choose to open the link in a new window, quite trivially. Let the user decide.

Yeah, I love target="_blank" and use it often.

Tapping and holding for 2 seconds and then choosing "Open in a new tab" every time you want to open a link in a new tab in iOS gets tiring fast.

I wish Apple would introduce a better UI for this.

Yeah I wish there was a better way too. I have like 50 pages accidentally added to my reading list because "Add to reading list" is right next to "open in new tab" in that menu.

Fighting a silly virtual keyboard on a phone gets really old fast too (physical keyboards are vastly better). IMO phones and tablets have a long ways to go in the usability department, hold for new window just being one of their many problems.

I had no idea that Blackberries ship with a dedicated "open link in new tab" physical button.

It's quite perfect in opera mobile classic. Hold for about a second, maybe less, then the context menu appears where new tab is a millimeter to the top.

Cool idea!

What would be the input paradigm? Two finger tap?


iOS not OS X.

I'm glad he clarified that. For non tech-savvy users who are using an application, I think `target="_blank"` is a really helpful way to avoid "I've lost my work!" support emails. Auto-saving their work is helpful too.

I've stood over my mother's shoulder too many times when she closes a tab and says "where did that last window go?" to agree with the blanket statement of "target blank is Bad".

But he didn't make a blanket statement of "target _blank is bad". He agrees with you.

> I believe the former is justifiable, the latter isn’t

As he said in the article, it's justifiable if the user is in the middle of an important session that they probably don't want to navigate away from. For most people, reading a news article doesn't constitute that.

I wish HN used target="_blank" for story links. I'm often reloading the HN front page, wasting everyone's network resources because I forgot to go back and closed the tab instead. Opening offsite links in a new tab should be the norm for most sites, with few exceptions. Bloggers probably shouldn't open links in new tabs, because I'm rarely following multiple links from a single blog, but directories and news listing sites absolutely should. In addition to sites where following an offsite link might interrupt my session in an annoying manner (his first case), if there's a high likelihood I'll want to navigate to multiple links from a single page, then they should open in a new tab.

Temporary digressions like contextual help text should probably get loaded into a hidden div and use JS to display/hide rather than open in a new tab.

IMHO, there should always have existed only one single type of link: a link.

The user should be able to choose to open it in this window, a new tab, or a new window.

Browser allow you to open a normal link in new tab or new window, but unfortunately I don't know any web browser that allows the user to force opening a link in the current tab :(

run a rewrite proxy (e.g. Glimmerblocker on MacOS or on your network) and you can get rid of crud like this, those annoying floating bars etc etc.

It seems a million bad web "designers" don't realize that the page is for the reader's benefit (else they'll stop coming).

I'm confused. He says:

Forcing links to open in new windows has two main purposes:

1) To avoid disturbing an important session in progress for a temporary digression, such as FAQ/documentation links in the sidebar when you’re doing online banking.

And then:

I believe the former is justifiable

He gives a good reason for using target="_blank", and then...okay, what? Sounds like a good reason.

Even then, his second reason to not use target=_blank clearly sounds like a normative difference than a technical difference. He doesn't "like" the idea of keeping people on your site...so what? Don't use it, then. But you've clearly identified a positive ROI technique for keeping people on your site.

This post really confuses me.

> and then...okay, what? Sounds like a good reason.

But one that doesn't (in his opinion, explicitly stated shortly after -- and also, for what it's worth, in mine) apply to the particular behaviour he was criticizing.

> But you've clearly identified a positive ROI technique for keeping people on your site.

But also one that (in his opinion, and for what it's worth also mine) is likely to annoy and/or confuse users, which means two things.

1. If you happen to care about users' welfare as well as about your "positive ROI" -- in other words, if you see them as people rather than as tools to be manipulated in a way that brings you the most benefit -- then their annoyance and/or confusion is a reason not to use the technique. (It might be outweighed by that "positive ROI", but it's a reason.)

2. Even if you do see your users only as tools for increasing your profits or mindshare or whatever, annoying and/or confusing them may have bad long-term consequences. They may stay on your site longer right now, as you intend -- but they may also be that bit more likely to abandon you for some other site that doesn't annoy or confuse them so much. So by using this technique you might be taking short-term gains at long-term cost.

(It seems to me that while #2 is a bit subtle and might well be too weak an effect to matter much, #1 is really obvious. I am confused at your professed confusion.)

He gives two reasons, one good, one bad. He has no problems with sites that use target="_blank" for the first reason. But he wrote the article because he thinks way too many sites are using it for the second reason, which he thinks is terrible UI and should never be used, because it confuses users, which is a dark pattern, even if it would increase your ROI, which is questionable.

He is saying that using a disruptive technique is good for users if it helps them avoid an incomplete online banking transaction. However using the same disruptive technique only because you desperately want the user to come back and finish reading your blog post is not such a good idea.

At this point, I middle-click pretty much all links, and then decide to close the window or not depending on whether I want to continue the session or not.

Since I use tree-style tabs, nesting is effectively my navigation stack - except that it's a navigation tree, which also avoids the problem whereby you lose your "forward" stack if you go back and choose a different path.

And for tabs that I want to return to after closing, I use undo tab close - with TabMixPlus, I have the last 10 closed tabs available for reopening.

The combination of TabMixPlus and (especially) TreeStyleTabs are the reason I've never been able to take Chrome seriously.

And those websites that don't honour middle-click or cmd-click to open in new tabs should die in hell.

Looking at you, LinkedIn.

> Most people know how to open your article’s outbound links in new tabs or windows, especially readers of a tech site.

Readers of a technical site? Maybe.

Average people? Not a chance.

One of the reasons I've always felt that the ubiquitous "tech guy" undercharges for what he does is that he doesn't see what he does as being that difficult and feels that he isn't justified in getting well paid for something so simple.

This of course is an entirely separate topic than the point you are making (which I agree with) but it's a similar issue with not being able to understand "average" or "typical" or what we sometimes call "normals" (or is often called "people in fly over country").

I was on my Mom's mac and a window popped up for her to do the a software update. I said "oh you have to do that" (had security updates) and she said "I don't need any new software" she had no clue.

Far worse, in my opinion, are sites that disable command/control-click (open link in new tab), either on purpose or b/c of lousy javascript.

I probably command-click 99% of links. How often do I, as a user, want to leave the current page and enter an entirely new context, within the same browser tab? Almost never.

I agree -- why would someone disable this? Luckily so few people do this that I simply don't visit those sites (looking at you, fandango!)

I used to agree with the author, but these days I find myself actually preferring having a link opening in a new tab, so I'm not actually that irritated when a page uses target="_blank" if it's somewhat justified (ie. if there's a reasonable expectation that I'll click the link as a temporary digression, before going back to the original page).

The problem is that sadly, closing a tab is often easier in practice than using the "back" functionality:

- many websites are poorly coded and break the "back" functionality, making it (sadly) unreliable. On pages that load content dynamically, results are not always predictable either

- my left hand is already positioned in such a way that hitting cmd/ctrl + w is trivial, whereas going back requires reaching all the way to the backspace button/the mouse/doing a multi-finger gesture on the trackpad

- if you had to submit content to get to the current page, usually going back will trigger a "confirm form resubmission" warning

- on mobile devices, the "back" functionality is not very prominently displayed. On Chrome, you have to click the "more" icon to access it

In addition, manually opening in a new tab (which requires right-clicking, middle-clicking, or ctrl/cmd + click) is not always as trivial as people imply:

- people who are using a trackpad do not have a middle button

- right-clicking is has not been part of Apple's design for a long time. You can perform them using cmd + click or using two fingers on the trackpad (I believe it is disabled by default), but it's not as convenient

- On a MacBook, the modifier keys (fn/control/option/command) are all placed next to each other and it's not always obvious which one does what. It's easy to get confused or to accidentally hit the wrong one. I've personally done option + click by mistake countless times, which opens a prompt to save the link, and it's always pretty frustrating

- the right-click equivalent on touch screens (long press) is a bit clunky

And this is coming from a tech-savvy user who actually knows about these options -- you'd be surprised at how many people don't. Of course, having the ability to make the decision is important for power users, but I can't help but wonder if for less sophisticated users the practice is not so bad after all. The usability studies I could find are pretty dated and I would not be surprised that usage patterns have changed.

Right clicking is a native part of MacOS now and has been for quite a while. Apple's own mice ship with right click enabled out of the box as do the trackpads (I believe you are incorrect that it is disabled by default. Even the demo machines at the Apple store have two fingers to right click enabled.).

I agree with the post author. Please let me decide when to open a new window. This is further complicated that links can be configured to do just about anything with JS. Nothing more frustrating than not knowing what a seemingly inconsequential "help" link in a checkout process will do. Usually it pops open a new window or reveals a hidden div, but sometimes it navigates away and blows away the entire form you've filled out. Honestly the hyperlink as it stands now is a very poor UI construct due to rampant abuse.

Thank you for the precision about Apple products. I may be wrong about the two finger gesture being disabled by default (edited my post to reflect that) -- it was my impression that it wasn't, but regardless I think we can agree it is not the most salient feature to new users. Using two fingers on the trackpad also means I cannot just reach out with my thumb to click but actually need to move my hand to perform the gesture.

My comment may have given the wrong impression -- I am not arguing that forcing links in new windows is a good thing, simply that it is not the anti-pattern people make it to be. In some cases like an app where accidentally leaving the page may lead to data loss or to a form resubmission, I actually think it's an acceptable trade-off and not an awful choice at all. I do agree with the author that in The Verge's case it isn't.

My comment was just based on the (totally subjective, of course) observation that to me that I tend to use a "open/close tabs" flow these days much more than "forward/backward in history", and that the "back" functionality seems less important than it used to be a few years ago because of changes in the way websites are designed.

Issues of choice aside (which seem to be your main grief; I have nothing to argue against it), the usability studies that condemn the practice tend use the fact that it disrupts the "back" functionality as one of their main arguments. My point being: if this functionality is not as important (as is the case for me), maybe this practice isn't so bad after all?

> I believe you are incorrect that it is disabled by default

No, it is disabled by default, I go through a few Macs and turning on right click (and inverting that 'natural scroll') is the first thing I do.

This reminds me of an Etsy engineering talk about A/B testing:


Etsy employees were so sure that customers would love having blank/multi-windows, because if you shop on Etsy a lot, how else would you keep track of interesting things while moving down the list?

According to slide 20, 70 percent more people in the testing group gave up and left the site after getting a new tab.

Marco is right that the argument should have ended long ago. But he's 180 degress wrong about how it should have ended, at least based on the usability testing I have done or overseen.

A link in the middle of a sentence interrupts any mental session in progress. The 7th word in his post is a link...does he really think that anyone intends to click that click and never return to his site? To at least finish the sentence?

I guarantee that if he sat and watched 100 of his readers click that link, all 100 would use a contextual menu (e.g. right click) or chord (Ctrl-click) to open that link in a new window.

I could understand the argument against target=_blank back in the good ol' days of IE6 on XP, when browsers were not tabbed and OS's were not good at managing tons of windows. Back then creating new windows all over the place was annoying.

Those days are gone. With tabs and window management UI (like Expose), it is now no trouble at all for anyone to manage dozens of open web sessions at once. Adding one more is far more lightweight than whisking your readers away suddenly in the middle of a sentence.

I Ctrl/Cmd + Click most HN posts so I can start reading the comments while the link is loading.

TIL, thanks. I usually just middle click but this earlier.

TIL middle-click. :)

I use the rule "If it links OUTSIDE of my site (I.e. different domain), I use target blank". If it's some kind of activity and navigating away would interrupt it, I'd rather use a modal..

Another poor example that comes to mind is the search results on Quora, which open with target=_blank even though they link to the same site

The problem is that due to javascript, bizarre behavior from browsers, and now the new HTML5 back functionality, a lot of us have been trained to avoid the back button for fear of what might happen; I religiously open in a new tab anyway unless I'm quite sure I'm completely done with a page, so the default of "open in a new tab" is totally fine with me.

For folks on the web every day this makes sense.

I'm not sure my Mom, when browsing, knows how to decide when opening in a new window is important, much less how to do it.

It's also kinda nice when you're using an iframe, and you don't want the link to be followed inside a small subsection of the viewport.

I totally agree that it gets abused, but it does (at least seem to) have some valid uses.

I used to work on a site that served the medical profession (read large set of returning users with varied technical skill, but all fairly intelligent) and we had an icon next to non-html resources and links that were external. External links used target='_blank' which the site visitors surely learned quickly without having to Google it. I found this to be a fair compromise to keep users engaged on the site and be polite with your intentions. Most links were provided in the context and in support of the original page so keeping it open did not seem rude to me, but the proper UI.

NOTE: This was a not-for-profit, so ROI was not a factor in the decision, only usability with possibly a little liability protection thrown in as an added bonus.

No it makes a lot of sense in a number of situations today especially with ajax and dynamically updating web pages. I have a web application where users navigate to, lets say, invoices through a tree structure of Accounts -> Packages -> Invoices. Clicking on edit of the Invoice opens a new webpage. If they click the back button, users see the list of accounts all collapsed and will have to perform search, and navigate down again to the account. In this instance users have specifically asked me to open the edits in a new window.

In a few cases, I have edits open in the same tab as a popup, but in a number of instances that is not possible for pages with a lot of functionality/fields.

I think like assuming people know how to open links in new tabs on their own (i.e. right click, "Open in New Tab") is completely misguided.

This functionality needs to be preserved so certain applications can follow efficient workflows.

An example of this can be found in a django admin site where a new modal is launched to enter a foreign key relationship, this would be unwieldy & distracting if it were to open in a new tab, taking the user away from information that may help them in making a choice and disrupting their flow.

But I really really like that when I'm in a single-page web app like Gmail, all links are target=_blank.

Disagree, with an if/else: When the site is a set of links aggregated (Twitter, FB, Hacker News) I would prefer that the link open a new tab.

When it's a blog or a news site or anything else, the link should just be a link.

I agree that the Web is regressing on this as certain players have consolidated players and decided they can get away with it... I think all the Gawker blogs de-evolved some time ago.

Here's the more direct link: http://www.marco.org/2014/01/10/target-blank

I think this is more opinion than web standard.

Yeah it definitely is. Thankfully there's no way to legislate "make it impossible for links to open in new windows/tabs because this one site does it and I think it's a bad idea in some cases." Because otherwise a thousand rabid Marco fans would start a new PAC to do just that, breaking it's usefulness in the many cases where you need to do the right thing and not destroy a session.

There's an easy UI fix for this. Clicking back should close the tab.

Anyone want to build this Chrome add-on for me?

I didn't read the article. I am getting tired of Marco.

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