target = _blank = annoying (Part II)

I got a lot of good comments on yesterday’s post. So many, in fact, I feel compelled to post a follow-up.

First of all, I should make it clear that I don’t view anyone’s opinions as “wrong.” It’s just a healthy debate which I believe ultimately comes down to preference. Anyway, enough disclaimer. Here it goes:


A few people commented that most users don’t know they can shift/command/right-click on links to have more control over how pages are opened. If someone is not savvy enough to shift-click, are they savvy enough to understand that when they click on a link with a _blank target, a new browser instance is opened which they must close rather than clicking on its disabled back button? That’s not really an issue on Macs because it’s pretty evident that a new window has opened, but on Windows, if the browser is maximized to fill the entire screen (which I’m guessing is the norm), it’s much more difficult to tell that a link opened a new window. Windows users out there, is that correct?It is in fact true that opening a link in a new tab will do the right thing whether the target of the link is _blank or _self, so when intentionally opening links in new tabs, I’m happy regardless of the target. What is frustrating, however, is when I click on a link with the intention of replacing the content I’m looking at, and it opens an entirely a new window. For some reason (probably because I’m addicted to tabbed browsing), I have come to believe that people should not be opening new windows and cluttering up my desktop without my permission. (More on tabbed browsing below.)It is also very true that sometimes you don’t want to completely take someone away from what they are doing just to follow a link. I completely understand and agree with that. For instance, if someone is filling out a payment form, then decides they want to read your privacy policy, you don’t want to replace the page with the payment form with your privacy policy. No matter now you look at it, you have just decreased the chances that the user will complete the transaction. My approach, therefore, would be to open a small pop-up window containing the information they need so that it is clear they can close it and get back to what they are doing. I would not open a new full-sized window out of fear that my users would not realize it was a new window, and feel lost. I think scaled down pop-ups (used sparingly) can help users keep their bearings better than using blank targets.Finally, I agree with Modius that this is probably a complaint more likely to come from people who use browsers with tabs. If you are used to using tabs (or the “snap back” feature of Safari — very cool concept, but I haven’t gotten used to it yet), you probably want to make the decision yourself as to how links open. You are used to having more control, and have probably come to loath having more than one one browser window open at a time (which is the case with me). If you don’t use tabs, you may appreciate sites who try to help you navigate more efficiently by using the occasional blank target.Ok, back to tabs. Personally, I can’t imagine using a browser without tabs. I started using them with Mozilla, and couldn’t use Safari until the second beta when tabs were introduced (probably the #1 requested feature since so many of us were coming from Mozilla). I had to install Firebird on my wife’s computer because I couldn’t stand to use IE when surfing the web upstairs. Even something as simple as reading the news is much more efficient with tabs, in my opinion. I recommend that those who have not tried using tabs do so immediately. Today. Right now. (Can IE be made to use tabs?) My guess is that most of you will never go back.I think it all comes down to being a matter of consistency. There’s a time and place for inconsistency, creativity and spontaneity, but that place is not user interfaces. I really like the suggestions of using different link styles for different effects (solid lines for target=_self, broken lines for target=_blank and mailtos, etc.), but I also agree that it’s a hopeless crusade. As more and more people discover the power and convenience of CSS, I predict we will actually see less consistency and more “creativity.”(PS: Take the new poll, and let’s get some idea of how many people are using tabs out there.)

12 Responses to target = _blank = annoying (Part II)

  1. Rob Brooks-Bilson says:

    Tabs are the greatest browser innovation since, well, the browser!

  2. Adam says:

    How about worrying about how your “Comments” open in a new window 🙂 What I find frustrating is that they’re in a pop up that won’t let me resize it. So if I follow a link in a comment, and forget to open the link in a new window, I’m stuck forcing another site into your predetermined window size. Many blogs suffer from this “feature”The other massive annoyance I have (not directly related to your site) is following a link from an email received in Hotmail…Hotmail mangles the displayed URL, and forces everthything into a frame.As you can see, everyone has different opinions on the worst usability features of each site. Ultimately, I think each user comes up with a system for viewing pages that works for them regardless of how the pages were built. However, I tend to agree with your approach of not forcing target=_blank, since it gives more options to the user of what they want to do with the new page.

  3. Tabs are the way to go, but I’m not able to use a tabbed-navigation capable all the time, since I’ve been to lazy to install Mozilla or Opera in all the computers I use at my clients’. That’s one point.My second point would be that a person doesn’t have to stick to a unique navigation pattern. I don’t know about the rest, but I don’t always navigate in the same way, my flow within the browser depends on what I’m doing, and I can’t expect site owners to read my mind.For instance, someone mentioned Google and how it would be great if every link opened in a separate window, since most probably many if them won’t be my last stop. I totally agree with that. Same thing with blog/news aggregators, an example that was also mentioned in the comments to Christian’s earlier post. So, when doing research or browsing the news, I just use the right-button of my mouse and do the proper thing.What I find really annoying is when, at somebody’s site, all the internal links open in new windows… and if somebody forces my browser to go fullscreen, I will never come back again, ever. In my blog, I apply a simple rule: internal links open in the same window, external links open in new windows, which is based on a personal preference, as that’s the behavior I would expect elsewhere.Obviously, if everybody used browsers with tabs, all this discussion would be worthless… unfortunately, IE users are the ones that make the stats.

  4. Adam, right. Moveable Type comments are one great example of un-usability 🙂

  5. Doug Gibson says:

    Back to tabs in IE, there’s a little program that “sits on top of IE” called MyIE2. If it weren’t for the inferior product underneath (IE and it’s CSS support primarily), I would swear by this browser. It’s a got a nice set of features that someone from Mozilla needs to look at,

  6. Felix Turner says:

    After hearing all this talk of tabbed browsing I just installed Firebird, and you guys are right – it’s fantastic! I never realised the little mouse dance I did every time I wanted to open a link in a new window in IE.

  7. Yeap, can’t live without them tabses. Which reminds me that while Mozilla+Multizilla catches _blank as “new tab” that does not work with links on a Flash movie. I, then, get this weird feeling you mentioned.

  8. 1) I don’t advocate the use of _blank or _new either, but I am not against opening new windows. I always use a named target, so that if there is the possibility of opening a new window multiple times from within your own site, they at least allways open into the same popup rather than spawning a new one each time.2) I also despise sites that open a browser fullscreen without asking. When I am working on a screen that is 1600×1200, I do so because it lets me see multiple things at once. Opening a window full screen to show some paltry 600 x 400 content really bugs me. If you really want to do that, give the user the choice.3) Popup windows are fine, just do so in a way where you don’t block the user from doing what they want with the link, such as open in a new tab. Use the syntax: The link. This will also allow the link to work when JavaScript is disabled.

  9. My previous post removed the link example. Trying again: <a href=”theLink.html” onclick=”window.open(‘theLink.html’,’windowName’,’features’); return false;”>The Link</a>

  10. callum says:

    I am not a fan of _blank I use it is if I am linking PDF files though

  11. Kevin Jones says:

    Yes I do the same.