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The BBC has released the results of its experiment with in-text links,  and it seems the corporation is still not sure how to deal with the issue of linking out from its articles.

The BBC Internet Blog reports on the results of the experiment, which used the Apture service to add links to the text of articles. 90% of the feedback received during the two week trial.

Having looked at the experiment in action, I'm surprised the BBC had so much positive feedback, though there there were 306 negative out of 1200 comments altogether.

The way the BBC went about linking out during this trial was overcomplicated, and pretty poor for the user experience. Instead of just sending the user to an external site, the links opened a pop up window with a preview of the website.

Click enough links and your screen could eventually look like this: 

BBC link popups

In some cases, you couldn't even visit the website if you wanted to; it seemed like the BBC was determined to keep you from leaving its site, while it didn't link out to a particularly wide selection of external sites.

So what is the BBC going to do next? 

According to the blog, the BBC is now going to look again at its links policy, though it does say that: 

"In the meantime, we're talking to Apture to explore whether it's possible to extend their product to deliver the functionality you liked and to answer your concerns.'"

This seems to suggest that the BBC intends to continue with the popup previews, and that it isn't considering using plain old text links, which perhaps means that the corporation is reluctant to pass on link juice,

The BBC Trust's 2008 service review contained this passage, criticising the website's linking policy: 

"Linking to external sites needs to be more effective. We are
disappointed to find that bbc.co.uk’s provision of links to external sites is not
leading to more click-throughs, despite this being identified as a priority in the
Graf review."

"We are asking BBC management to find ways of increasing the
effectiveness of its provision of links and ensuring that bbc.co.uk helps its users
navigate to external sites from all parts of the site."

What the BBC should do to achieve this is start adding simple text links, and to a wider range of websites than it used during its trial. Most internet users should be familiar with the way links work by now, and this is a less intrusive way of doing it than using pop-up previews.

Related articles:
Mainstream media benefits from outbound links - study
BBC launches live streaming TV

Graham Charlton

Published 4 December, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

totally agree with your points. To differentiate between internal & external links they should do something like:

1. All external links should have a very inobtrusive icon next to them to designat that they go off-site.
2. First time someone clicks an external link, show a preview in a layer (not a popup window). At the bottom of the preview have a 'Visit this external site' link & a tickbox 'Always visit external sites'.
3. If you've ticked the tickbox previously, clicking external links just delivers you straight to those sites.

daniel

over 7 years ago

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Kari Rippetoe

I checked out what CNN.com does, and they just provide a straight link out - simple and uncluttered:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/12/01/lw.gift.registry.trends/index.html

They make a very slight distinction between an internal link (underlined) and an external link (not underlined); but there is no click or mouseover preview. To me, that just wreaks of in-text ads (like the double-underlined links in the MSNBC article here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28002891/). BBC doesn't have to make it so complicated and un-user friendly.

over 7 years ago

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Tristan Harris

Hi all,

Thanks for your feedback! I'm surprised to see Apture cause such a stir here. Let me clarify some points about how Apture works

- First, I think there's a bit of a misconception. Apture isn't intended for linking to any arbitrary web pages. We are not trying to replace all links on the web or turn them into previews - not at all. Instead, we're trying to help the BBC tell more multimedia-rich, and contextualized stories. If you want to see reference content, or a video, or an image, or a document or interactive guides - why should you have to leave the page to see it? That type of content (specifically) adds to the story's richness and background. I'd argue that it's more relevant to see that content on the BBC's website than to run across it elsewhere - and it's easier too! I think that's where the overwhelmingly positive feedback (90%) came from. See my post on Apture's blog for a larger explanation:
http://blog.apture.com/2008/08/buzz-about-apture-and-the-bbc/

- It is indeed possible to view the source web page of any Apture link, just click on the title text of any Apture window. It turns blue and underlined and when you hover over it to indicate that it's a link. This is great feedback that perhaps this isn't clear enough.

- Apture links are hand-selected, *not* automatically generated. They never link to pure advertising. The BBC editors used the software to select the phrases on the page they wished to link, and then selected content from Apture's Media Hub, allowing them to quickly source content from 25+ sources so it only takes a few seconds per link to add. We're trying to help journalists and storytellers enhance their stories.

- I agree that Apture should help feed Google juice, link love, all of that. But the reason Apture was so easy to implement on the BBC is because it's just one line of code (a <script> tag). That's it. It literally takes less than a few minutes to get started - so I wouldn't say they spent many tax dollars or time to do this. :) But because our script doesn't have access to the BBC's custom, internal CMS - there's no way we can rewrite the HTML to bake in the links. An extended, more integrated version of Apture for the BBC's CMS specifically would allow those links to exist in the HTML and feed google juice - we'd do this in a heartbeat.

- Finally, I'd say that information overload is information overload. Opening up six Apture windows isn't far different to me than opening up six different tabs. Either way there's going to be some clutter - we're just trying to make accessing that information just a little easier and more efficient. Hopefully more meaningful too.

All the best,
Tristan

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Kari I agree, I agree that the CNN way is simpler, though I'm not sure that a disctinction needs to be made between internal and external links.

I normally hover the cursor over the lnk and look at the URL at the bottom of the browser before I click, though with certain sites, I would trust that the sites linked to would be OK.

@Tristan Thanks for your comment. I'm not familiar with Apture, and it would be good to find out more about what you do.

My gripe is more with the BBC taking such a long time to start linking out when the rest of the web has been doing it for years. Interesting point about the link love, the BBC does seem to be reluctant to pass it on...

over 7 years ago

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Jem Stone

btw. "the BBC" actually should read "one area of BBC News." as this is a trial covering off just one specific area. The whole of the BBC as the BBC Trust recently identified has more to do in terms of the qaulity/volume of its external linking but outside of this bit of BBC News then there is a considerable amount of inline texting to external sites exactly as CNN et al. (Blogs, BBC Music for example).
See more on the external links on BBC Music here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/07/bbc_music_artist_pages_beta.html

For more on the "link love" discussion then my colleague John O Donovan explains it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/11/knowing_when_to_go_1.html

Jem Stone, BBC.

over 7 years ago

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Dwight Zahringer

We (http://www.linkxl.com) work with other news publishers in the US helping to monetize their content. The best way is to utilize a system that does not make a high call-to-action to the consumer and obstruct their origional intention to read the article. Editorial control and "mucking" up the article is not a wise move by the BBC.

over 7 years ago

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Steve Green, Owner at Labscape

My concern is that the accessibility is very poor for people with some user agents such as screen readers. The following is a brief review I wrote for an accessibility group in August 2008. I assume (or at least hope) that the exercise was a proof of concept and that the production code would be greatly improved.

"It's good for sighted users but the impementation is poor.

When a link is clicked, the contents of the popup are inserted into the DOM at the top of the <body> element, which means that a screen reader user is never going to find them. This sort of technique is fine but you must insert the contents of the popup immediately after the link that triggered the popup. That way it appears in the natural flow of the document.

If you view the generated source (the Accessibililty Toolbar does this) you will see that approximately 300 lines of styles have been inserted by means of JavaScript, which is not visible when viewing the source normally. This raises the page weight from 45kB to 170kB, and that's before any of the images and other linked files. It does this even if you don't click any of those links. If you're viewing the site on a low bandwidth connection such as a mobile device you had better turn of JavaScript if you want reasonable page loading times.

I have no idea why they didn't link to an external stylesheet that would be cached. The current implementation means that these 300 lines of styles get downloaded every time you load a new page."

over 7 years ago

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