the Target Attribute

For years and years, it has been standard practice in sites, when linking to off-site address, to have that link open up in a new window, courtesy of the target attributes (originally intended to allow us to send results to the window of another frame on the same site). I myself have often made use of the target attribute to send people off to other sites. Indeed, even on Tannock.net I used to regularly make use of it when linking elsewhere. The reason, always, is stickyness — every site owner wants people to stay at their site. It seems that when someone follows a link elsewhere, that’s a bad thing. If this new site opens in a new window, then, to a certain degree, people haven’t left. Most importantly, it’s easier for people to find your site again (just close the new window).

I’ve lately been rethinking the target attribute. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s no longer part of the syntax, having disapeared in the XHMLT 1.0 (strict) definition. So of course, sites with it would no longer validate, which is one issue (whether or not validation is a must for a site is another debate). But with the rise of tabbed browsing, and the general savviness of the average user, perhaps the target attribute’s utility has run its course. If someone wants to keep the old page, it’s fairly easy to right-click and open that new page in a tab or window. Of course, not everyone knows that they can do this, and that’s fine too. My basic argument is that it’s just not that important to keep visitors at your site. Users can easily bookmark sites (And I’ve noticed that the less web-savvy the user, the more (and more poorly organized) their bookmark list is).

More than this, and here’s where my anal-retentiveness comes in, the target attribute ‘breaks’ the web. By spawning a new window, and thus erasing my previous history, I break the thread of information that led the user to where they clicked on the link. Imagine the confusion of a neophyte user who’s trying to find the page before the one they clicked on the window-spawning link, only to find that they can’t go back any further in the history of the new window. They give up, annoyed, confused, whatever — but they can’t find that previous page. Worse, they can’t even get back to your site, which they liked because of the great link, because that doesn’t exist in the new window’s history either.

So there’s my little rant about the target attribute. Thoughts?