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.)