Hyperlinks Get Even More Respect

Hyperlinks have never really got the respect they deserve.  Without them the Internet would be impossible.  The word is often now shortened to link and this word is often bandied around without thinking about the mind-opening implications bound up in that hyperlink word.

The term “hyperlink” was coined in 1965 (or possibly 1964) by Ted Nelson.  The Wikipedia explanation describes what he had defined

Hyperlinks are the basic building block of hypertexts. For example, some key words in a wiki such as Wikipedia are highlighted, and provide links to explanations of those words at other pages in the same wiki.
In directed links, the area from which the hyperlink can be activated is called its anchor (or source anchor); its target (or destination anchor) is what the link points to, which may be another location within the same page or document, another page or document, or a specific location within another page or document.

He also coined the word hypertext and the associated word hypermedia.  He bemoaned the fact that the latter had not taken off and instead became what we often call interactive media.

The hyperlink concept is really very powerful.  However Microsoft, as it has done with so many great ideas, did not leverage that power.  It is true that files or documents in the Office Suite of programs always have the hyperlinking capability.  So you will find:

  • Word hyperlinks
  • Excel hyperlinks
  • Powerpoint hyperlinks, and   
  • Outlook hyperlinks

Adobe also to an extent slowed down the wider use of hyperlinks since it is only recently that you can now create a PDF document with their software with active hyperlinks.

Luckily the hyperlink concept is much too powerful to be sidelined by this somewhat lukewarm support.  What really caused the hyperlink concept to take off was the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.  No longer would a hyperlink merely connect you with some other point in the same document.  You could now connect with some online website that could be half way round the world.

The other powerful influence was that the two Google founders latched on to the notion that hyperlinks confirmed the popularity or authority of web pages.  They then they used this concept within their search algorithm.  Since for a given Web page they were interested in hyperlinks pointing to that web page, they used the term Backlink instead of hyperlink.  If they had only stuck with the term hyperlink, then again the concept might have gained more general understanding.

The strength of hyperlinks is confirmed by what was written in 1999.  As the ClueTrain Manifesto authors pointed out, almost everyone was hyperlinking and this was a movement that could not be stopped.

However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets.

Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

Ten years later, the strength of hyperlinks and the World Wide Web they made possible cannot be denied.  Most website owners acknowledge the mutual networking benefits they receive and include hyperlinks to other relevant sites that their visitors may wish to visit.  This summer there was even a question whether the BBC had finally changed policy and was using hyperlinks to external sources.  The answer is unclear but the eventual outcome will undoubtedly include external hyperlinks.

The latest word from Google points to an even greater support for the hyperlink concept.  The Google Webmaster Central Blog is now encouraging webmasters to include named anchors to define sections of their webpages and tips on how to do this best.  This will mean that a keyword search could actually rank most highly a hyperlink to a point within a document that is deemed to be most relevant.

As the Official Google Blog explains, the aim is to enable users to get to the information they want faster. Searchers will now find additional links in the result block, which allow users to jump directly to parts of a larger page. This is useful when a user has a specific interest in mind that is almost entirely covered in a single section of a page. Now they can navigate directly to the relevant section instead of scrolling through the page looking for their information.

We generate these deep links completely algorithmically, based on page structure, so they could be displayed for any site (and of course money isn’t involved in any way, so you can’t pay to get these links). There are a few things you can do to increase the chances that they might appear on your pages. First, ensure that long, multi-topic pages on your site are well-structured and broken into distinct logical sections. Second, ensure that each section has an associated anchor with a descriptive name (i.e., not just “Section 2.1″), and that your page includes a “table of contents” which links to the individual anchors. The new in-snippet links only appear for relevant queries, so you won’t see it on the results all the time — only when we think that a link to a section would be highly useful for a particular query.

If you have such web pages, this should ensure greater visibility and higher rankings for sections of your information-packed pages, so this is something to carefully consider. As a small test, you may wish to see how these internal web page links for Therapeutic Riding Associations and for Associations for the Disabled rank in Google searches for those terms. Once indexed, they should rank highly in related searches. Those hyperlinks certainly deserve some serious respect now.

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Internet Explorer 6 kthxbye

Previous logo of Microsoft Internet Explorer u...
Image via Wikipedia

Internet Explorer 6 should be given a respectful and speedy burial according to Shane Richmond in the online Telegraph. He encourages you to tell an IT person that Internet Explorer 6 must die.

If you’re not familiar with online chat shorthand, “kthxbye” is a slang term generally used sarcastically as a condescending and dismissive insult (“Thank-you for your useless contribution to this discussion, now please go away”).

Richmond writes that:

IE6 was never a top-notch product. And these days it’s even more of a nightmare to work with, resulting in extra time and money being spent ensuring that websites are compatible with the damned thing.  Digg, Facebook and YouTube are all about to end their support for IE 6 and are recommending that users switch to a browser that works.

Among those speaking out against IE6 is a group of more than 70 developers who have banded together to form a project called ie6nomore.

Despite this clamor, according to the BBC, Microsoft is backing a long life for IE6. Indeed the software giant now says it will support IE6 until 2014, four years beyond their original deadline.  Their reasons may be more bound up with strategy versus Google and its cloud computing initiative than with what is best for customers.

The opposition as documented in the online Telegraph is virulent:

A crueller person might say that any IT manager who forces his company to run IE 6 in 2009 is dangerously incompetent and should probably not be in charge of anything more complicated than buying biscuits. However, it’s possible that they’re doing this because their company uses an intranet – or some other custom-built web service – that was designed to work in IE 6 and is useless in any other browser.

It is suggested that victims locked in by corporate policy should use one of the range of posters produced by the helpful people at Hey IT!

hey it ie6 poster

It is suggested that you should print it out and stick it on your computer, around the office or on your IT manager’s forehead. The Internet as a whole will be much improved when we all have said kthxbye (or should that be kthnxbye) to the worn and weary Internet Explorer 6.

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Google, Apple In Conflict While Microsoft, Yahoo Agree

All the headlines this morning confirm that Microsoft, Yahoo agree on long-sought search deal:

Microsoft Corp. has finally roped Yahoo Inc. into an Internet search partnership, capping a convoluted pursuit that dragged on for years and finally setting the stage for them to make a joint assault against the dominance of Google Inc.

The 10-year deal announced Wednesday gives Microsoft access to the Internet’s second-largest search engine audience, adding a potentially potent weapon to the software maker’s Internet arsenal as it tries to better confront Google, which is by far the leader in online search and advertising. Microsoft didn’t have to give Yahoo an upfront payment to make it happen, as many Yahoo investors had hoped.

It will take up to 2 years to get put in place, so don’t expect sudden changes. It’s the kind of headline to yawn about.

There’s another headline that really should be getting all the attention: Google Pulls Apple from Search Results. Since it is the kind of headline that cool thought may attempt to bury, here is the start of the story:

Google Apple Fight

Perhaps the final paragraph of the story, although humorous, may correctly indicate the seriousness of this item:

Some industry analysts think the retaliatory moves could result in all-out war like back in 1939, when a Polish sausage company stopped using pork from Germany. In response Germany invaded. “We don’t want another situation like that,” said Bank of America’s George Pendry.

It all confirms that the company which has set as its high ideal to catalogue all knowledge while doing no evil is driven by the advertising bottom line. Relevancy of results takes second place to that.

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Microsoft should KISS more often

 
KISS
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart

Microsoft has finally said its courtship of Yahoo! is over. Perhaps it was never meant to be. Danny Sullivan has a very fine analysis of the whole saga and wonders whether walking away is perhaps Microsoft’s $5 Billion Mistake? There is still the same concern however that Michael Martinez raises. How can Microsoft succeed in Search?

The key question is: Should Microsoft have two brands? That same question came up two years ago. However that was discussing whether they should be running with both MSN Search and Live Search. A subsidiary question was how to pronounce the latter: Liv Search or Lyve Search.

Microsoft seems to be good at getting itself into these problematic situations. Just think Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8 as an example. In its strategic thinking it seems to follow the Tom Peters precept: “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” How much better they would perform if they followed the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart). There are many more eminent thinkers they could refer to who would support that approach.

Focus, focus, focus
Peter Drucker
The Null Hypothesis is presumed true until statistical evidence indicates otherwise.
Sir Roland Fisher
A scientific theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Albert Einstein
Of two competing theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred.
Occam of Occam’s Razor

With Bill Gates adopting a more hands-off approach, the chances of Microsoft becoming more KISSy seem remote. They presumably will soldier on trying to figure out how to get their Search horse back on its feet. The prognosis is not good.

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Internet Explorer Dilemmas

Which Internet Explorer dilemma affects you?

The Internet Explorer browser causes dilemmas for many people. Let me count the ways.

Which browser should I use?

The biggest group with an Internet Explorer dilemma are the Internet surfers. They’ve mostly used Internet Explorer but now Microsoft is suggesting that they upgrade to version 7. Some accept Microsoft’s advice with reluctance and in this case some commentators have expressed concerns with version 7. So the take-up rate has been slow.

Often techy friends may be recommending some other browser to avoid security issues with Internet Explorer. Often that other browser is Mozilla Firefox. So it’s not surprising to see a headline such as Firefox now a serious threat to IE in Europe. Anyone in North America will be somewhat surprised to see the figures:

A study of nearly 96,000 websites carried out during the week of July 2 to July 8 found that FF had 27.8% market share across Eastern and Western Europe, IE had 66.5%, with other browsers including Safari and Opera making up the remaining 5.7%. The July market share represents a massive 3.7% rise since a similar survey in March.

A particularly worrying sign for Microsoft is that in some key European markets FF is threatening to overtake IE as the market leading browser. In Slovenia (47.9%) and Finland (45.4%) FF usage has reached parity with IE, while in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Ireland, FF has either reached or is nearly at 40% market share.

These figures may well presage the growth that Firefox usage will show in North America.

Which browser should I design for?

More competent web designers have been designing Web pages to give a satisfactory user experience with all the common browsers for some time. Others took the view that since Internet Explorer is by far the majority choice for browser, then this was the only one to check. Within the last 12 months there has been a significant change in website traffic. Although Internet Explorer version 6 is still most often the majority browser used, Internet Explorer version 7 and Firefox taken together will probably deliver more traffic. The dilemma here is that web pages that display well in version 6 may not do so in version 7.

The recommended approach is to design based on Web standards and such web pages will display well in IE version 7 and Firefox. Such a web page may or may not display well in IE version 6. However there is an increasing literature on the ways of getting around the typical problems. One practical problem is that it may be difficult to have two versions of Internet Explorer (version 6 and version 7) running on the same computer. A small help is given by IE NetRenderer. This allows you to check how a web page is rendered by Internet Explorer 7, 6 or 5.5, as seen from a high-speed datacenter located in Germany. (Tip of the hat to Henry.) It only shows the webpage “above the fold” but this will alert the designer to any major problems.

What should we do now?

This of course is the dilemma that faces Microsoft. It has accepted the legacy commitments imposed by websites designed for prior versions of Internet Explorer. The ideal would be to bite the bullet and help the world to move as quickly as possible to IE version 7. However the legacy of all those IE version 6 web pages is an onerous burden. There are no easy answers.

Related:
Trial by Firefox
Standards Lose Their Star Rating

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Conway's Law and Ray Ozzie

Melvin Conway and Ray Ozzie – kindred spirits

Coincidences are sometimes amazing. I was really impressed this week by reading a long article about Ray Ozzie, the new chief software architect in Microsoft. That was of course Bill Gates‘s title before he left. I found so much of value in that article, The Man Who Would Change Microsoft: Ray Ozzie’s Vision for Connected Software. I rarely like to write a post that just points somewhere else but it would have been worth it.

Then UIE BrainSparks, one of my regular reads, had an item on Conway’s Law. This discussed a longer post by Karl Long, which covers more on Conway’s Law. Conway’s Law was devised in 1968 by Melvin Conway. It reads as follows:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

Will Google or Microsoft win the Mobile race?

That’s exactly the theme that Ray Ozzie was emphasizing in his vision. Particularly as the Mobile Web takes off and we all try to figure out how the Mobile Web and the Desktop Web should interact, Ray Ozzie is raising the right concerns within Microsoft. Google doesn’t have a lock on this expanded cyberspace. Perhaps this is where Microsoft can do an end-run around Google.

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Can Microsoft Catch Google On The Internet .. This Year?

Bill Gates set some tight deadlines for Microsoft’s efforts to catch up to Google on the Internet (tip of the hat to Peter Da Vanzo) over the past two years. However as the San Jose Mercury News reported (subscription required), these efforts do not seem to be paying off. Here are some key figures:

According to comScore Media Metrix, the total unique audience that visited Microsoft’s U.S. Web sites in December 2006 was roughly 117 million, unchanged from the previous year. Google is fast catching up, with its number of unique visitors up 21 percent to 113 million.

Microsoft’s Internet slide is reflected in its online sales. During the quarter ended Sept. 30, sales for the online business unit were $539 million, down 5 percent in a year. Google, in cruel comparison, reported revenue of $2.69 billion, an increase of 70 percent.

Google is naturally pleased about their progress but is avoiding crowing over Microsoft’s misfortunes. In the Economist magazine, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt suggested that open Web-based standards would “sweep aside the proprietary protocols promoted by individual companies striving for technical monopoly” in 2007. “The past few years have taught us that business models based on controlling consumers or content don’t work,” Schmidt wrote.

That’s one view of history. I’m not sure that this is what history is showing. Google has a great search tool and that is the driver of the company’s success. It’s fast, it indexes new information fast and it has a very ‘usable’ interface that couldn’t be simpler. In reality the actual search relevance is difficult to measure. It’s almost like buying detergents. What has counted up till now is the packaging and Google packaged it best.

The interesting aspect of all this is that Google really doesn’t do marketing, and nor does Microsoft. By this I mean marketing that puts the customer in the driving seat (pull marketing) rather than old style push marketing. This is unlikely to change very fast so 2007 is likely to be an extension of recent trends. Google will continue to benefit from its past momentum and Microsoft will struggle to keep up.

Relevant: Search Engines really are different – just like detergents

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