Net Twits

2004-10-12

Don’t Target Me!

I hate the target attribute! Sure, it has it’s place in HTML, but it has been abused by so many people, it is just annoying. There isn’t really any specific twit for this blog, it’s more of a general overview of the excessively annoying habbit that many authors have.

Why is it Bad?

It’s bad because it attempts to force the user to open a new window. It should be obvious to many people with the excitement over tabbed browsing that allows a user to manage all pages in a single window, that multiple windows are disliked.

Basically, the author of a website should not have any control over the users application, in any way whatsoever. It has been known for long time that opening new windows confuses users. Not only that, it affects users in the following ways:

  • A user has to close the window, or at least switch windows, to get back to where they were.
  • The back button does not work, including the back button some people, like myself, have on their mouse. That means instead of just holding my hand still and operating my back and forward buttons with my thumb, I have to move my hand to the close button (or use a keyboard shortcut) which takes time. For me, back and foward buttons on the mouse are as essential as the scroll wheel, so when website breaks them, I get annoyed.
  • It clutters the desktop and taskbar. I like to keep no more than 5 (or sometimes 6) windows open on my desktop at one time. This includes e-mail, calendar, browser, development environment (text editor, IDE, or whatever I'm using) and sometimes a Windows Explorer window for quick access to my files. If there are any more than that, the buttons on the task bar become too small, there’s too many windows on the desktop and therefore it takes longer to decide which which window I want and where it is located.

Despite these facts, why do people continue to use this user-hostile act? I don’t really understand it, but some think, as Nielsen mentions, that people will remain on their site longer. At least, that’s how my boss tried to explain why the target attribute, unfortunately, must be used for external links at work. Well, this is a myth, not only because (as Nielsen also mentions) the user cannot return in the normal way, but because they’re not looking at your site anyway. They have a new window in front of it, so any reason to open the new window is defeated since any extra time the browser window spends on your site, is spent elsewhere by the user.

Solution

Thankfully, there is a solution to this epidemic. There are extensions, such as the Single Window extension that traps links that would open a new window, but instead opens a new tab. However, I still don’t think that’s right either — I should be the one to decide when a new tab opens. There is also a preference in Mozilla called browser.block.target_new_window which causes any link with a target attribute that is not targetting an existing window or frame, to open in the same window/tab. It is also possible to use a user stylesheet to give some indication when an author is the using the target attibute. I find Chris Pederick’s userContent.css to be the most effective for this purpose. Even though I like to use the browser preference and the user stylesheet (I didn’t particularly like Single Window myself), it’s not a perfect solution and the idea that people think they have the right to control my user agent still bugs me.

There are still some links that always open a new window, unless I explicitly drag the link to the tab bar to open it in an existing or new tab, as desired. These kind of links annoyingly occur in Gmail. Any external link in an e-mail, and even some internal links to different sections of Gmail, try to unconditionally force a new window. These links use a combination of the target attribute and a JavaScript function in the onclick event handler. Disabling JavaScript is not an option in this situation because doing so completely destroys all other functionality in Gmail. I’ve known about this for a long time and have been plainning to give Gmail a Net Twit award. But there is just so much to write about and so little time, so this will have to come at some time in the future (Hopefully) if I ever get around to writing it.

So, in conclusion, It’s my window and I’ll open it if I want to! Please do not force a new window, and please encourage others to drop this bad habbit also.

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This WeBlog is a gallery of websites that basically, just get it wrong! The aim is to showcase the stupidity of some of the worst HTML-Terrorists. It's not just about the millions of average website builders who use image-text navigational links, tables for layout, or nothing but <font> tags. This blog aims to point out those who take that little extra step in making their site difficult to use, completely inaccessable, totally annoying or just hypocritical!

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