Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2017 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The printed word and http://

When I'm looking at a page of printed text I find it a bit hard to spot the web addresses embedded within it unless they are in colour or underlined. Web addresses written with www. at the beginning, instead of http://, just seem unfinished to me, and perhaps less easy to spot. An http:// or two is helpful to guide the eye, being the textual equivalent of a highlighter pen. A sensible alternative would be to put the web address at the end of the text and reference it in-text, and if it's a long address it's helpful to provide a shorter alternative to save whoever's typing it in from the printed page.

Some accessibility guidelines recommend against underlining text (presumably because the line interferes with the shape of the words but since we've managed to invent strikethrough and double strikethrough surely we can invent an underline that's lower down...) or italicising words, meaning that the links aren't made particularly salient. Sometimes links are presented in bold, which is a big help, but it depends on the house style.

This is when I skim read in hope of finding http:// as this 'word' looks different from all the other text on the page. It's probably the :// that's doing it but the h and the p form a nice shape too. Probably we've all got used to the idea that typing http:// into a browser address bar is generally redundant as the default setting is for web pages (although you have to be careful if you want to use the https:// format for secure pages).

In electronic documents internet addresses are usually more obvious. Pressing the space bar after typing one in my email programme (Outlook) or Word automatically turns the preceding address into a link or email address (of course you can set it so that it doesn't do this). In some email programmes the mailto: command isn't needed and the presence of an @ is enough to create a clickable email address, similarly the http:// isn't necessary and www.blah will resolve to an active link.

Plenty of web addresses don't even need the www, for example bit.ly and twitter.com. Having said that I notice that the http:// seems still to be required in tweets in order to render an address as a blue-text active link (similarly # in front of a word renders it as a link to the Twitter search results for that word).

Presumably someone can 'set' Twitter so that bit.ly/blah will go to http://bit.ly/blah in the way that someone must have done something to email a few years ago so that mailto: in front of an address would 'activate' it. But at least in these cases it's obvious what the link is, whatever it looks like.

But for printed pages, bring back the http://

With thanks to @the_beacon for the point about https and to @jjsanderson, @mokuska and @rpg7twit for disagreeing with me :)

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