It’s so funny to me that I deal with the exact same issues at different organizations whenever I am new– this week it’s new windows! Opening up a new window is so important to people (who don’t understand the web) because they don’t want their users to leave their site– that’s just exhibiting a selfish desire to keep the user on their site. Instead, let’s be generous to the user and respect their browsing experience. If you respect the user, in the end your user, your customer will respect you and use your esrvices. I sent this out to my staff today and I thought this is perfect blog fodder, too! So here’s my philosophy (and some links to some folks who are an expert on web accessibility) on new windows:
Avoid opening new windows when at all possible—even when linking to pages off site. The web was made for links and when you send a user off to a valuable web site through a link they appreciate you keeping their browsing experience intact and will remember that you referred them to useful site and will come back to you (of course this assumes that we only link to valuable sites).
On the other hand opening a link in a new window opens a new browser on the user’s computer without their consent and breaks the back button where they cannot use normal usability constraints to find their way back to your site. If you have ever watched a novice web user use a site where links are opening in new windows, then you know you are completely confusing them with those new windows and at the end of their browsing session they could have seven or eight windows open.
At times it is appropriate to pop-open a new window for special features such as flash animation, video or podcast. When we do pop-open the window it’s nice to make sure we are controlling the size of it to make sure the user can still the the original content behind it and know they are in a new window and if you want to be really nice you can provide a nice close button so the user can get rid of that window.
Here’s some good reads on not forcing a new window on the user
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Don’t force windows on new users
- Dive into accessibility – Not opening new windows
- Discussion on opening new browser windows
- Accessibility tips
If you’re not sure whether or not you should open or new window, then err on the side of the user and just don’t open it.