One point of discussion I had with J5 today around Fedora Community and links is how should you distinguish, in a web application, between links that take you elsewhere within the web application and links that take you “offsite” or outside of the web application. They’re both links, in most cases are full-page load links in both cases… is it *really* that bad to use
target="_blank" links to handle offsite links within a web application?
I think our conclusion was yes, even then it is bad form to use
Still, there may be some cases where distinguishing between application links vs. off-site links is useful. One example I can think of – if the web application vendor decides to not ship documentation with the app but instead provide links to the documentation on their corporate website (so within the UI, users always get the latest version of the docs for their product), then the documentation becomes an off-site link. If you’re using the web application in an environment where there is no external internet connection, it might be nice to know which links will be dead and which won’t before you click on them.
Okay, okay. Maybe that’s a contrived example. Well, a more practical scenario: Links that keep you within the application will have the same look and feel as the application by definition. When you click a link that goes offsite, more likely than not you’ll start seeing a different look and feel. That could be confusing to your users. If the offsite link looks too dissimilar to your app and they are expecting to remain within your app, they may think something is broken or they may not understand how they arrived there. If the offsite link looks too similar to your app, they might think they are still in your app but are actually on a site or web application you have no control over and then start filing bugs against your app!
The way I decided to treat offsite links for now (and we don’t do this consistently in Fedora Community yet, let me know how you feel about it and based on that I may expand our usage of this pattern or stop using it), is to add a little icon. For example, in the screenshot above. What do you think?