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I have seen a lot of questions with hyperlinks posted in them and even more answers with links in them. Since the user's (at least my) objective in these cases usually is to view the rest of the question or the other answers would it not make sense to have the links open in new tabs?

Sorry if this seems like a noob question. I tried to find if someone had answered this question already but I couldn't find anything.

---Edit---

Sorry for the confusion. I dont want the actual question or any of the answers themselves to open in new tabs, just the links that the users provide.

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    With the advent of the "middle click" standard to open new windows/tabs I think it's become mostly bad practice to open new windows/tabs. Experienced users can do so at will as long as you leave the default to open in same tab, and less experienced users always know how to use the back arrow; they don't necessarily know how to navigate tabs well. Here at UX we probably all know how to do both, but would probably all prefer to chose as most advanced users do – Ben Brocka Sep 9 '11 at 21:36
  • What about when you are on a laptop? – Viraj Sep 9 '11 at 23:43
  • @Viraj - Ctrl+Click does the same thing. – Charles Boyung Sep 10 '11 at 21:45
  • Of course it does. But if you know that the user wants to see a link emanating from an answer, there's a very high probability that they would also like to see the rest of the answer. – Viraj Sep 11 '11 at 6:57
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    @Viraj - what does that have to do with SirTapTap's comment or your response (which is what I was responding to)? – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 13:02
  • @ Charles - What I'm trying to say is that the default behavior is often not to go to a link but to open it in a new tab and ctrl + click or right click + open in new tab is not the default. The default action should match the intended intent. – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 17:48
  • @Viraj - The intention of clicking on a link is to open that link. Not in a new tab, just to open it. The intention of Ctrl+Click or Middle-Click is to open a link in a new tab. That's the reason that these alternatives exist - to let a user easily perform that alternative function. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:09
  • @Viraj - also, if you don't put the space between the @ and the username, people will get notified when you reply to them. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:11
  • @Charles - Thanks didnt know about the space between @ and the name :) – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 21:41
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I accept all of the points about "you can do this if you want" and "let the user choose". But it still irritates me that the links open in the same tab, because I always want to see the new location in a new tab, because it is information backing up the question. I never want to go there instead of SO:UX, I wlways want to open it up separately, look and explore it, re-read the question, and then possibly respond. The fact that I ALWAYS want to open it separately - and I cannot see any reason for anyone not to - means that I would prefer it to do this as a default.

I take Rahuls point about forcing that decision, and allowing the user to use the tools, but at the same time when there is an obvious option, I think this should be taken. IMO, it is good usability to do what users expect in context - which in my case is to open in a new tab. This may be partly because another discussion board I use does open in a new tab, because they are a sideline to the discussion.

I would not push for a change, because I accept that others disagree, and if it did open in another tab, there would be discussions about why they force a new tab. I have expressed my view on what it should do, but I am not everyone. I think this is one case where there is no answer that everyone will agree on.

  • You make a good point about how a system should do what users expect it to do. However, your problem is that you for some reason think that users would expect a normal link on a website to open in a new window, which is most definitely not what users would expect to happen. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 13:05
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    I was trying to make the point that it should do something sensible, and opening on a new tab is something sensible. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 12 '11 at 13:08
  • Not opening a new tab is just as sensible, so why do something different than what is expected? – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 14:51
  • As I said - this is not something that everyone is going to agree on. Ever. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 12 '11 at 15:40
  • And as I said, if you think that both are sensible options, then the logical choice would be to do the one that users expect. Users do not expect links in general to open in a new tab, no matter what. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 15:44
  • @ Charles - Expectations can change with the right design. If we are slaves to what the users expect or want then why are we even in UX? Lets go to marketing. I think sometimes design needs to change expectations and behaviors. The only reason people expect something today is because they are used to it. If popular sites like stackexchange do something else which seems equally sensible then people will come to expect that after a while. – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 17:53
  • @ Schroedingers Cat - Perhaps you are right about pushing for a change. Thanks for letting me know I'm not totally wrong. :) – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 17:55
  • @Charles, the point is that I expect these sort of links to open in another tab. This is why I don't think that there is a clear answer. And why I don't think it is worth changing. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 12 '11 at 18:49
  • @Viraj - Actually, the only reason people expect links to not open up automatically in new tabs is because it really pisses them off when a site does that. A good site does not force that sort of thing on their users for that exact reason. Bad sites have links open new windows all the time, so the argument that "they are used to it" doesn't hold water. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:04
  • @Viraj - and the reason we are in UX is to make sure that users get what they expect or want when they do something. Getting an unexpected result when you click on something is what happens when you don't have a UX person involved. Links popping up in a new tab/window is the exact sort of thing sites with poor UX do. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:05
  • @Schroedingers Cat - I still don't see why you expect that. That expectation makes absolutely no sense if you use the internet in general. The expectation for a user on a site is when you click on a link, it opens the target of that link, nothing more. Anything beyond that is not the normal situation, and as such, should not be expected. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:07
  • @Charles - 1) I didnt make the 'they are used to it so lets do that' argument. You did, in comment 1 and 3 as a reply to Schroedingers Cat's post. I whole heartedly support change if the change is going to be better. How to make the change backward compatible can be a different discussion. 2) I asked about links opening in new tabs, not windows. Opening in new windows is very different and definitely a big no no. :) I am sorry if it came across that I am suggesting that links should open in new windows. 3)Also look at my reply to your comment on Rahul's post. – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 21:51
  • @Viraj - Exactly how are new windows and new tabs different? Both actions take control away from the user and both change the focus from the window you are on (or open in the background, which is even worse). And you can't actually force a browser to open in a new tab, that's user-driven settings at best, and completely uncontrollable at worst. The only option is to tell the browser to open the link in a new window (target=blank) and hope that the user's personal settings are set to open popups in tabs instead of new windows. – Charles Boyung Sep 13 '11 at 0:45
  • @Viraj - oh, and as for your statement that you didn't make that argument - "The only reason people expect something today is because they are used to it." - from your comment 8 above this one. – Charles Boyung Sep 13 '11 at 0:46
  • "As I said - this is not something that everyone is going to agree on. Ever." <-- and that is why it's best left as an end-user's choice. If you feel links should open in new tabs, then you, as the user, can open them in new tabs if you want to. – DA01 Sep 14 '11 at 16:11
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Because opening questions in tabs should be at the user's discretion. It's a bad usability practice to force that decision in code. You can decide to open them in a new tab yourself using the tools the browser makes available to you.

  • Sorry for the confusion question edited. – Viraj Sep 9 '11 at 20:32
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    @Viraj - Rahul's answer still holds true. Doesn't matter where the link goes; opening it in a new tab should be the decision of the user. – Charles Boyung Sep 12 '11 at 20:12
  • @Charles - I this this is the main point of disagreement. I dont think all links are the same. I think how they should behave can depend on the context. Like links in gmail opening in new tabs. Because you dont want your mail tab to close or change. – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 21:43
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    I think we can agree that it's about context. In things like email, people expect links to open in a new window or tab because that was the behaviour they got when they used native email clients. Also maybe websites such as news aggregators. And on mobile devices where long presses are required to open a link in a new tab. It would be interesting to see how many people use middle-click in normal browsing, versus left click, or right-click and "Open in New Tab". Is StackExchange amenable to a study like that? – Jay Sep 12 '11 at 22:18
  • @Jayraj Thanks :) – Viraj Sep 12 '11 at 23:24
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    @Viraj - Web applications (which is what GMail is) are completely different than web sites. They have completely different expectations. SE is not a web application, however, it is a web site. – Charles Boyung Sep 13 '11 at 0:40
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    @Charles -I think you're making a distinction (web applications versus web sites) that normal users may not really be aware of. And possibly useful changes shouldn't be held back simply because of what something is understood to be. Lastly, there's no reason why SE can't be called a web application (yeah, it's open to the web, but look at all the cool things it does. And it's interactive. And they license independent internal installs of it for large enterprises) – Jay Sep 13 '11 at 7:33
  • @Jayraj - Lots of sites are interactive; that doesn't make them web applications. And SE doe not license itself internally for large enterprises. I have no idea where you got that from. And even if it did, that has exactly what to do with it being a web application vs. a web site? Oh yeah, absolutely nothing. – Charles Boyung Sep 13 '11 at 12:46
  • @Charles - They used to. This is where I go it from: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/55240/… And why isn't it a web application? – Jay Sep 13 '11 at 18:27
  • @Jayraj - would you ever have a desktop version of Stack Exchange? That's a pretty good indicator of whether or not something would be considered an application or a website. A desktop version really wouldn't make much sense. – Charles Boyung Sep 13 '11 at 19:16
  • @Charles - What about a mobile version? I don't know if there is a Stack Exchange app, but I can see one existing. – Jay Sep 13 '11 at 21:17
  • @Jayraj Hi guys, why not take this to chat? Comments aren't really the place for extended discussion about something unrelated to the answer. – Rahul Sep 14 '11 at 11:26
  • ie "take it outside guys" haha – colmcq Sep 14 '11 at 12:31
  • This doesn't really apply, it must be something else. I base this on the fact that the Chat for SE sites open links in a new tab, rather than in the same tab. If opening the links in the same tab was an active choice due to greater usability then it would (IMO) have been consistent throughout SE. – AndroidHustle Jul 9 '13 at 10:41
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Hugely interesting question and from my experience very context dependent. I think the metric to bear in mind is "what is the more usable solution". One would have to consider the user actions around the various windows and if workflow within one window or between windows is more usable and you would have to test. Adopting an entrenched position one way or the other is not helpful.

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