I've been blogging for several years and have always delighted in sprinkling links throughout the text to give more context. In fact, a couple years ago I specifically increased the number of links I provided in many of my posts, believing that I was doing a service to the reader. I'm now considering reversing that trend everywhere that I post as I believe the style may actually be interfering with my ability to communicate.
In Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows1, there's a review of several studies indicating that articles containing embedded links actually decrease reading comprehension. From the book:
The test subjects who read the pages linearly actually scored considerably higher on a subsequent comprehension test than those who clicked back and forth between the pages. The links got in the way of learning, the researchers concluded.
These results were found in a number of other studies as well. In each study, participants were given the same material to read with and without links, and those who read the material without links always tested higher on comprehension exams later. This immediately made me think that I was doing my readers a disservice by including links directly in the text.
A former colleague once said of my blog posts, "judging by your posts, you don't seem to believe in the philosophy that Internet writing should be short and scannable." He was correct. Most of my posts are lengthy examinations or explanations of technologies and techniques. My intent is for the reader to learn something or, at the very least, understand my perspective on something. I hope that people print out my writing and refer to it later. I've always written more for that use case than the quick-scan to pick up some junk knowledge.
With this new information about how embedded links affect reading comprehension, I'm looking at changing how I make references in my online writing. My first thought was to simply not include any links at all, leaving them off completely and allowing the reader to explore the Internet for more information. But that seemed counter to the advantages that online reading offers. Links are something that cannot be duplicated in print, so just dropping them completely seems like the wrong approach.
The next idea that occurred to me is to use the old footnote/endnote paradigm that we were all taught in school. Instead of embedding a link in a paragraph, I would include a superscript number indicating that there is more information about this sentence. Then, I would include a list of references at the end of the post. You'll note that this post is written in such a manner.
I'm not sure if this is the approach I'll go with long term, but at least initially it seems like a good compromise. Numbered references at the end of a post still allow easy access to additional resources without disrupting the linear flow of the article text. I just want to give the readers of my online writing the best opportunity to learn as much as possible without distraction and I'm hoping that this will help.
- The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
Living in Silicon Valley, I've grown accustomed to the inscrutable nature of recruiters. In a state where only the most senior employees are asked to sign a non-compete agreement, people jump from one company to the next at the drop of a hat. The recruiters are aggressive, contacting you in any way possible to get your attention. But even I was surprised by an email I recently received from Amazon:
You have been identified as a candidate for Amazon or one of its many affiliate companies. We require all candidates to complete an on-line application in order to move forward in the selection process. If you are interested in being considered for an employment opportunity with us, please follow the below link to complete a short application.
You will need to know your login name and password to access this form.
You are automatically assigned a system generated password. To access this password, click the link below, then click "Forgot your Login or Password?" link at the bottom of the page. Enter your login name and we will send you an e-mail with a link to reset your password.
Your login name is: [omitted]
Please remember to visit our website regularly for a comprehensive up-to-date listing of our vacant positions and apply for the one that is right for you.
The Recruiting Teams of Amazon and its affiliates
* Please do not respond to this email, this email is unattended.
So it appears I received an automated recruitment email from Amazon.
Here's the thing: if I actually wanted to work for Amazon, this would have changed my mind. This may be the way to get more candidates quickly, but you won't get quality candidates using this approach. The chances I'll reply to an automated recruitment email is zero. The chances I'll reply to an email from an actual recruiter are about 5% (based on my own past behavior).
I can't imagine any good candidates being flattered by an automated email message asking them to fill out an application even before talking to a human being. If this is what recruitment is turning into, I know a lot of companies who better get used to receiving subpar applications.