Reading on the Web takes more self-discipline than it does offline. How many browser tabs do you have open right now? How many are from links embedded in another piece your were reading and how many of them will you end up closing without reading since you don’t have the time to read Everything On the Internets? The analog parallel would be your New Yorker pile, but even that—now matter how backed up—has an endpoint.
Links add another dimension to a story when used well for context, sourcing, and reference. They’re extremely valuable and a critical part of the value that the Internet brings. But some people are better linkers than others. Look at that New York Times screen capture above. Every one of those links takes you to a topic page rather than something specifically relevant to the point in the text. That’s not worth the distraction of the links.
Here’s a Times story with editorially selected links in the story:
And here’s how it looks on the iPad:
Which is more readable? It’s not even close. Does that mean we ought to do without those links? No!
So what do you do about it? Probably nothing, of course. Footnotes are distracting in their own way. But what about a button to turn off in-text links?
Dismissing the question of what links do to attention and readability as some anti-link nonsense does nobody any good.