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22 September, 2004

Still opening windows

One item in my html repertoire is the target="_blank" attribute of the <a href> tag.  In short, it opens a clicked link in a new window (though in Firefox, the 'Single Window' extension opens it in a new tab - much better!), leaving the original website in the first window/tab.
This promotes access to content outside a website without encouraging visitors to totally leave the primary site.
I like it, as do my employers ;) and I use it a lot.  Quite a while ago, I republished instructions on how to make this the default link behaviour in Movable Type blog postings.

Some people get a little... excited about this.

You have no right to control a userís user agent in any way. This includes opening windows. If a user wants a new window/tab, then they will decide to open it, not you ó it MUST be their decision.
YOU DO NOT make any decision on behalf of the USER regarding the User Agentís interface or behaviour!

I do feel there are too many ideological issues tacked onto web design. As with any ideologies, I question them, and don't always agree. Personally, I don't regard web standards as morally 'good' and don't regard 'purity' as virtuous (as if I cared about virtue anyway).

To return to the point: I have major problems with the 'rule' that the user always has to have control. In some 'genres' of website, particularly in the commercial or public sectors, that's very true, but not all.
If I, an information provider, am offering material to a passive audience, without any interaction or 'audience participation' (heh), I get to decide how it's presented. There are entirely valid, practical reasons to permit a visitor to change the text size and colour, but beyond the requirements of accessibility legislation (which I meet, and on the whole exceed) I feel no moral obligation to surrender control of my website to the whims of visitors.

Jakob Nielsen called the technique 'hostile' (though he was writing before the widespread introduction of tabbed browsing, which almost eliminates the alleged disadvantage of the technique, so might offer a different comment on the user experience in newer technology). He's perfectly entitled to hold whatever view he chooses, but Nielsen isn't a web deity, and his pronouncements aren't to be slavishly adopted. On this point, I don't think his criticisms are even accurate. By all means read his advice, but question it. If you agree, great, but think for yourself, eh?

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