April 15, 2014
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Every Page is Page One

In passive vs. imperative linking, Mark Baker discusses the difference between imperative links – links that tell you to Click Here! – and what he calls passive links – everything else.

A friend wrote to ask whether this distinction has a counterpart in hypertext theory. I don’t believe it does, in part because most students of hypertext rhetoric always viewed imperative links as a mistake or an anomaly. Baker agrees.

What we’re really talking about here is not the link but the link anchor, and the distinction is really one of voice: do we tell the reader what to do, or do we lay the matter out in front of the reader and trust the audience. Lots of current Web practice despises the audience, treating it as a herd to be lured into whatever lurid sideshow you’re using today to decorate your ads. That’s clearly neither sustainable nor desirable.

In his Hypertext ’87 keynote, Ted Nelson drew pictures of what we today would call banner ads, shouting “Click Me!” Everyone assumed this was satire.

Are imperative links ever useful? I think they make sense in only a few contexts:

The most important point in Baker’s piece is that writers must not presume to know what the reader wants or needs, or why they are reading. The reader’s purposes are hidden from us. They are hidden from the reader. No one knows, from moment to moment, why they’re reading what they are; endless studies of hypertext reading behavior have revealed little, but this much we know. When it comes to reading, nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, but never imagine that you know better than your reader what she needs or wants.