The link is one of the foundational technologies of the modern world. The ability to connect a web page to multiple other pages was the genius innovation that made the web possible and made web pages a medium in their own right, rather than being simply a digital representation of the physical page. But links are limited. The web page as the gross unit of differentiation for web content is somewhat clumsy — why a page? Each page can contain any number of levels of organization that we might want to link to.
Of course, it is possible to link to so-called fragments within a web page, allowing us to navigate to a specific section, but even that is somewhat limiting — ideally, we’d be able to link directly to a specific paragraph or sentence or to any arbitrary chunk of text.
Linking directly to specific content is called deep linking. Deep linking has several benefits that ordinary links don’t.
- Social Media — When linking to an article in a tweet, it’s common to quote a snippet of the text that you find especially interesting. Sometimes you simply want to point people in the direction of the page, but more often than not, it’s a specific idea or quote that you want them to see. Deep linking allows you share content and take the user right there.
- Citations — I write a lot of articles, and most of them contain links to other pages that exemplify, define, or provide evidence for whatever it is I’m talking about. That’s exactly what links were invented for, but they don’t provide a great user experience. I mention a concept, and link to a Wikipedia article that is thousands of words long — the onus is on the user to search through that article and discover the relevant content. It would be much better if the user could be taken right to the exact words I have in mind.
Verbatim is a JQuery and WordPress plugin that allows for the implementation of deep linking. It’s fairly straightforward to use and the result is that visitors to a website can highlight a chunk of content and be given a link, which, when they share it, will take people right to that part of the article. Click on this link to see Verbatim in action on a demo site (unfortunately, it doesn’t work well on Internet Explorer). Verbatim will also handily pop up a Twitter button so that the deep link can be directly shared.
It’s about time the link had an upgrade. As Sebastian Kersten recently discussed, links are broken where user experience is concerned. Deep linking is one way that they can be improved.