Perhaps Avoiding Links Is Really A Way To Get People Not To Read The Details Of The Studies You're Misrepresenting

from the link-link-away dept

Earlier this year, as part of a discussion about Nick Carr's most recent book we pointed to some reports that noted Carr appeared to misrepresent the scientific research to support his point. It appears that others are finding more examples of this as well. There was a little web-hubbub that I ignored earlier this year when Carr declared that links in documents were bad, and he was shifting all his links to the end. This was apparently based on some research, Carr claimed, that showed links in text are really distracting. Personally, I found that premise to be laughable, as I think after my second week online I stopped being distracted by links and quickly learned to use them effectively.

Still, without having a chance to dig into the research, I didn't have much to say on the subject. However, Scott Rosenberg is digging in and finding that, once again, it appears that Carr is conveniently misrepresenting the studies he relies on to support his anti-link thesis. The problem is that the study seems to show that poorly used and explained links distract people, but that hardly condemns all in-text links. Basically, the key study involved two groups looking at a piece of text, one that had a "next" link at the bottom, and the other that had three "links" randomly inserted into the text, with each of those three links doing the same thing as the "next" button (and there was no "back" button). In other words, as Rosenberg notes:
What the researchers did was to muck up a perfectly good story with meaningless links. Of course the readers of this version had a rougher time than the control group, who got to read a much more sensibly organized version. All this study proved was something we already knew: that badly executed hypertext can indeed ruin the process of reading. So, of course, can badly executed narrative structure, or grammar, or punctuation.
In fact, Rosenberg notes, another study that Carr looked at also focused on "next" links, rather than how actual linking tends to work online. I'm sure that Carr really believes in his thesis, but it seems quite problematic that when anyone looks at the evidence he relies on, it doesn't seem to say what he claims it says. In the meantime, I'm guessing that many people's feeling towards links reflects Rosenberg's statement:
Maybe in the early days of the Web, when they were newfangled, people felt compelled to click -- like primitives suddenly encountering TV and jabbing their fingers at the channel selector, wondering what will magically appear next.

I think we all passed through that phase quickly. If your experience matches mine, then today, your eyes pass over a link. Most often you ignore it. Sometimes, you hover your mouse pointer to see where it goes. Every now and then, you click the link open in a new tab to read when you're done. And very rarely, you might actually stop what you're reading and read the linked text. If you do, it's usually a sign that you've lost interest in the original article anyway. Which can happen just as easily in a magazine or newspaper -- where, instead of clicking a link, we just turn the page.

Filed Under: linking, nick carr, scott rosenberg, studies


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  • identicon
    IronM@sk, 1 Sep 2010 @ 3:25am

    How to Suck at the Internet

    ^The title of Nick Carr's biography.

    If done properly, such as the links in articles here on TD, renamed links can be perfectly complementary to an article. Anyone who thinks otherwise should only ever write with a quill and feather.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rose M. Welch (profile), 1 Sep 2010 @ 3:26am

    Man, I'll barely even read an unsourced article nowadays... And those sources had better be underlined and in blue, and interspersed throughput the text (Salon-style) beats the bottom summary (HuffPo-style).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 1 Sep 2010 @ 3:39am

    If I write an academic journal article

    without any references it will (rightly) be rejected.

    All that a link is is a mechanised version of the referencing system which has been one of the foundations of scholarly research for over a hundred years.

    No one questions the value of references in journal articles. Of course a set of irrelevant or inappropriate references will get your paper rejected as easily as no references will - but that doesn't mean that properly used referencing is a bad thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2010 @ 4:39am

    I would add, as a layman, that I occasionally interrupt a page reading to read the link text if that text explains something in detail that I need to know to fully understand the original page. Then I go back to finish. Not always do I loose interest. Now where was I.....

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    The AntiMike PR Agency Company, INC, 1 Sep 2010 @ 5:14am

    Hey Mike

    Hey Mike, I have a message. 元気 グダグダ マイク

    Have a good day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 1 Sep 2010 @ 6:30am

    I won't ready unsourced articles either

    And no, I don't get confused about links.

    I hate mouseovers that purport to give me 'more information' about a word but really just cover the article for 5 seconds.

    Finally, TAM. Wow, The Google Machine has already indexed your unholy mix of Kanji and Kana. But please don't do that again. It hurts my head.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    out_of_the_blue, 1 Sep 2010 @ 6:55am

    Haven't read the unsourced opinions above.

    Think it's obvious that hypertexting can be done badly, or that writing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/writing) without links, or at the end can be just fine.

    In support thereof:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/wrong
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/relevance
    http://en.wiki pedia.org/wiki/hypertext

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2010 @ 8:11am

    Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of referencing links I think.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sumquy, 1 Sep 2010 @ 12:00pm

    I thought nick carr was a teen pop singer. What's he doing writing articles about the internet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 2 Sep 2010 @ 4:00pm

    Something has been nagging at me ever since I read this post and I just realized what it is. There is a brilliant example in the punctuation realm Rosenberg mentioned: the semicolon.

    Basically nobody knew how to use them properly, and they are damn annoying and distracting when used improperly, so now nearly every publication insists on leaving them out entirely. I wonder how long before that happens to the comma; nobody knows how to use those either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sundein, 7 Sep 2010 @ 2:51am

    replca tag heuer| Very useful article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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