Barker on Hyperlinks and Emphasis

I’m easing back into things over here by highlighting the good articles I find regularly now that I actually read people’s blogs again. ICYMI and all of that. Even if it’s coming from in-house.

Deane Barker at Gadgetopia put together an interesting post about what we imply when we link something. More than just the words themselves, we are subtly drawing attention to certain emphasis, even if unintended. From “Do Hyperlinks Change the Meaning of Content?”:

Consider, in fact, hyperlink in the parenthetical aside above from the first sentence in this post.  There are four ways, I think, to link this:

I think each one of those changes the sentence, subtly — the existence of the link and its positioning has an actual effect on how the sentence is perceived.Is the important point of this sentence that…

  1. I read something (as opposed to doing something else with it)
  2. I read Vannevar Bush in particular (as opposed to reading someone else)
  3. It “didn’t help” (as opposed to having some other effect — the “didn’t help” is sarcastic)
  4. The combination of all three

So, the link itself becomes part of the content. Whether it wants to or not, where the link is situated changes the meaning of the words.

A link is a promise for more information, which artificially loads words in a way that we can’t otherwise do through writing, outside of the imperfect art of bolding and italicizing things. One thing Deane doesn’t even start to get into is that links can even give guidance to the different kinds of emphasis within the same words by providing added information within the link itself.

For example, if I say in person that I really don’t like something, I’m implying one of three things:

  1. I am trying to convince you that, indeed, I do not like whatever this something is.
  2. I have been misquoted, and I need to clarify my opposite intention.
  3. The something in question is universally liked, and I’m emphasizing my opinion otherwise.

Linking to “don’t” in that sentence implies that there’s emphasis of note, but even then we aren’t completely sure what the emphasis might imply. We dive into the link. We learn more. We are using them as footnotes as well as emphasis.

Of course, there’s always the opposite side of the argument: if you need links or italics or bolding to help imply meaning, chances are your sentence is written well enough to begin with. Probably. Just don’t tell that to any of my blogs.