Modern Software Experience

2008-08-10

Permalink

I argued, in Social Bookmarking Overload, that you do not need a bookmark ribbon with dozens of icons or text links to every possible social bookmarking site, but need just one permalink and just one icon.

position

Many blogging tools place a permalink in some footer at the end of each post. That is eminently sensible. If you just read the post and want to keep a link to it, the permalink is right there. The obvious alternative of putting a link at the start of each post instead seems somewhat presumptuous, but is actually quite logical.

An article proper may be followed by a bunch of updates, links, footnotes or comments, and that complicates the link placement decision. For example, it makes sense to place the permalink before the comments, but a link in the middle of the page is harder to navigate to than one that is at either the top or the bottom.

multiple links

One solution to this dilemma is the use of multiple permalinks; at the top of the page, at the end of the post, and at the bottom of the page. That certainly makes it easy to find the link, but it also clutters the page with multiple permalinks, and it takes up additional bandwidth. Now, a duplicate or triplicate permalink does not hog bandwidth like a bookmark ribbon does, but avoiding bandwidth waste remains a good principle.

title as permalink

permalink titles

Many blog footers title the permalink with "permalink", or a single character such as the Number Sign (#). Often there is no title at all, just an permalink icon. The advantage of this approach is that the permalink has a fixed size, independent of the article’s title, but it is not very informative, and counterproductive from a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) viewpoint.

title attribute

Many blogs put the title - and the word "permalink" in the title attribute instead. Most browsers display title attributes as tooltips. You may think that this practice compensates for the lousy link title, but point 13.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines clearly states that the link text should be meaningful enough to make sense when read out of context -- either on its own or as part of a sequence of links, and such links still violate that guideline.

title as permalink

A growing trend is the article title as permalinks. It avoids the clutter of an extra item on the page, and gives the visitor an easy to find, big click target. A nice bonus is that the permalink will automatically have the article title as its link title, even if you update the article title later.

The obvious objection to this practice is that it is so much more logical to have permalinks at the end than the beginning. A popular solution to that objection is making the title a permalink and still include an ordinary permalink at the end, but that once again involves duplicate links.

Another objection some raise is that it is wrong tot use the title as a link because the link does not lead anywhere. I understand the objection, but the argument does not convince. It is like saying that permalinks are wrong on principle. Permalinks are in fact quite useful, precisely because they do lead somewhere, they lead to the permanent location of the post.

Blogs that post teasers will generally have a link from that teaser to the full article. Visitors that do not know about permalinks will think of it as just a link to the full article, but it actually is a permalink. The title as permalink repeats that link, and users soon grasp that it is exactly the same link, learn about permalinks in practice. If they use a bookmarking service, they will soon start taking advantage of that permatitle.

ideal approach

The permatitle, the title as permalink, is an ideal approach. It give a nice big, easily found click target instead of a tiny one you have to hunt for. It does not clutter up the page with an extra item at all, and adds minimal mark-up overhead, as the title is already there. That title is also a proper link title, instead of something generic like "permalink". Perhaps most importantly, it is easy to do, and easily understood, even by visitors who never heard about permalinks.

Having the permalink at the start of the page does need to break a reader’s flow. If you don’t mind the overhead, you can always add another permalink at the end. However, the real problem with that, is that you have to come up with rules as just what the end is, and place it consistently. Anyone who wants to bookmark something, should already have noted that the title is clickable, and hitting the Home key to get back to the top of the page is easy enough.

automating

The real trick to doing with just one permalink, anywhere on the page, is to make to them auto-detectable by Marking Permalinks; that makes it possible for a bookmarking add-on to auto-detect permalinks and then present these to the reader for bookmarking, regardless of where those links are or what they look like.

links