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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 

Graham Charlton

Published 18 August, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Ciaran Norris

Wow - this really is a big step. But if it's as much of a dog's dinner as it seems from your post then it is a huge disappointment.

Still, the first time one of us gets a link from the body of a popular article, we'll be more than happy..

almost 8 years ago

Ally Manock

Ally Manock, Head of Digital Strategy, Planning & Insight at Brass Agency

I'm sure useability will clean up following the trial and its typical of the BBC to test different functionality - although I agree this seems clunky. As an online PR I can tell you it won't be easy getting links -the story has to be very good in the first place to hit and any external link will really have to add value to it. Still it makes for stronger content all round, so this is a very positive step.

almost 8 years ago

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Phil Reed

Let's hope the Beeb's execution of this "trial" is somewhat less ham-fisted than your post suggests. I'm a huge fan of the BBC site, and it's not before time that we'll start to see in-text links. I agree with Deborah - those of us who spend our time developing in-bound links will see this as a huge step forward, but getting links in a BBC story won't be easy. And that's a good thing. If the Beeb's online editorial standards slipped and links were strewn like confetti, their value would soon be lost in the eyes of users.

almost 8 years ago

Andrew Nesbitt

Andrew Nesbitt, Developer at Forward Internet Group

I tried this out today, didn't find it quite as intrusive as I expected it too, the links are standard html with a _blank target, and some of them (usually youtube and wikipedia links) have had their onclick functions overridden to display pop up windows, you can still right click on the link and select "open in new window" and it will behave as expected.

almost 8 years ago

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Vinay

Very interesting move by BBC but it is annoying when it opens several of those blocks in the page which only makes it less UI. What if a User wanted to share the wikipedia/link that he is currently viewing..?

"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?"

--> They are using the service from Apture - http://www.apture.com/

Good coverup about the feature that BBC have implemented! Wondering how the feedback from normal users might be.. a big thumbs down from me though.. (from UI standards).

almost 8 years ago

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Marc

What a revolutionary concept!

Traditional media outlets still don't get the message. "Adapt and evolve or be fossilized."

They should not have even shed light on the fact that they don't do this already.

almost 8 years ago

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Stephen Cronin

Can you still see the links? There doesn't appear to be anyway for me to turn the trial on (and I've searched the page and the source code thoroughly). Maybe they've taken the trial down as a result of the problems you mention?

almost 8 years ago

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Suree

This trial definitely was removed because I can't see anything relating to this. Because outbound links are precious and newspapers live off advertising every day that passes news sources become more reluctant to give free links or even mention anyone who doesn't pay them.

about 7 years ago

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Daniel

We become what we think about, all day long!

almost 6 years ago

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Melissa S

It is about time. Most major newspapers include intext links throughout there news stories. It makes sense, adds a layer of convenience, and is the right thing to do. You are not losing people by doing this, you are gaining and showing confidence in your product.

Melissa S
<a rel="do follow" href="http://www.bluelock.com/">VMware Hosting</a>

over 5 years ago

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Alice

Let's hope the Beeb's execution of this "trial" is somewhat less ham-fisted than your post suggests. I'm a huge fan of the BBC site, and it's not before time that we'll start to see in-text links. I agree with Deborah - those of us who spend our time developing

about 4 years ago

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