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by Tony Chang

All opinions on this site are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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hyperlink usability

Jun 05, 2005, 11:11pm EDT



Jeffrey Veen writes about the usability of subscribing to feeds. This same problem has been pointed out about greasemonkey user scripts multiple times. People see links to user scripts, but don’t know how to install them in the same way that people see links to feeds and don’t know what to do with them.

Part of the problem is that we’re using links to point to data objects. This breaks the typical user experience of links which provide navigation (visiting a link) or a way to download a file. These are the two actions users expect out of a link (and hopefully the two different actions are clearly labeled).

Feeds and user scripts (and even torrents to a lesser degree) are represented as links, but have different actions associated with them. I want to subscribe to a feed or I want to install a user script. Links like the Add to MyYahoo! or Subscribe to Bloglines help, but only if you happen to use a particular web aggregator. Alternately, some aggregators use the feed:// protocol, but again, this only works if you happen to use the right aggregator. Of course, you could use quicksub, but it’s a usability nightmare and will scare away anyone new to feeds.

I think we’re going to start seeing more data files get passed around on the web because it makes a whole lot more sense to use the web than building a new communication system.

So what can we do to improve the usability of data links? My initial thought is that it’s going to require easier ways of adding pseudo protocols to web browsers. What other options are there?

Nikolas ‘Atrus’ Coukouma at Jun 06, 2005, 03:49am EDT

The two common ways I’ve seen are @type and @rel. @type is limited to mime types and generally works well. @rel is intended for relationships (first, next, alternate), but has recently been hijacked for denoting how use, or perhaps a meta-type. The two are used in simulatenously for feed autodiscovery (Atom spec). I’m not a fan of pseudo-protocols because they don’t fail gracefully (“unrecognized protocol”). I think most of the existing protocols are real, if misnamed. mailto: is SMTP, aim: is OSCAR, irc: is IRC.

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