The BBC is experimenting with the idea of linking out to external sources from within the body text of its news articles, in a trial which will last for four weeks.

Obviously this is a good idea, though why it has taken a decade for the BBC to roll out a ‘trial’ is anybody’s guess (though it won’t have done any harm to The Beeb’s own Pagerank).

However, the way it is going about this is, well, a little bit Noddy…

Surely every internet user is more than familiar with in-text links? The BBC seems to think not, judging by the way it introduces the initiative. It invites users to turn on the trial (and to ‘read more about inline links’ as if they’re somehow alien). Seems unnecessary. Why not just roll it out? It will skew the numbers, once the trial is over.

Anyway, once you flip the switch, a few links appear within the text of the story. Publishers have been waiting years for this, but the execution of such a simple strategy has been ridiculously overcomplicated, for what appear to be slightly selfish reasons.

Take the example below. Here, clicking on the link doesn’t take you to another website – as most link-aware users expect – but instead triggers a pop-up, used to preview the Wikipedia page related to the article. It shows the summary from the online encylopedia:

BBC external link preview

This is vaguely handy if you want to quickly see some background on the article, but you can’t actually visit Wikipedia by clicking on the link! Seems that the BBC doesn’t want you to leave its website after all. This is not our idea of a link.

Worse is to come. Clicking other links within the preview window (provided by Apture) just opens up more pop-ups, so eventually your screen will look like this:

BBC external link popups

Horrendous, don’t you think? Talk about over-engineering a problem. We’re wondering how many man hours have been spent on this so far?

That said, other (non-Wikipedia) links are more user-friendly. Further down the same article a link takes you directly to the British Museum website without the preview box. Was that really so hard?

Meanwhile, the use of preview panes makes more sense with this link to YouTube: 

BBC YouTube link

The above example at least gives users the option of either watching the video on the article page, or going to YouTube to view it; as clicking on the player will take you to the site.

Most of the links I have seen so far are to well known sites like Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia. It’s early days I guess but it is essential that the BBC links to a broader range of sources, and not just the bigger sites.

Inserting links has always been about spreading the love and providing credit to creditable websites. The BBC has been very late to the party, for reasons yet to be explained to me. Introducing links are a great idea, but why overcomplicate the matter? 

We hope that the BBC simplifies what is for most publishers an inherently simple task.

Related articles:

BBC website revamp continues

Mainstream media benefits from outbound links – study