Almost sneakily, the New York Times rolled out an update of the trusty hyperlink on its website's stories. New code embedded in the pages allows you to link to and highlight individual paragraphs and even sentences. The changes seem especially significant for bloggers who want to call attention to specific portions of Times' stories.
Here's how it works. In the story above, the base URL is: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html
- If you wanted to link to a specific paragraph, you'd simply add a "#" and the number of the paragraph, e.g.: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html#p2
You can even go a step deeper and skip to a particular sentence, e.g.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html#p2s2Update 12/2: while you can *highlight* particular sentences, you can't specifically link to them, according to the NYT system's developer, Michael Donohue.
- And here's where it really gets cool, though. If you want to highlight that section, you simply switch the p to an h. I generated the highlighted text below with the following link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html#h2s2
- To simplify things, if you hit your shift key twice on a Times story, small icons appear next to every paragraph. Click on one of them and it'll place the paragraph linked URL up in the address bar of your browser.
While the Times' system is the most sophisticated linking system I've ever seen, it's not entirely unprecedented. Paragraph-level links were first executed by Dave Winer on his website and have since even appeared in a Wordpress plugin created by wunderkind Daniel Bachhuber. Winer points out that the Times' implementation isn't quite perfect, as it can be broken when a story is updated.
The linking system is sufficiently complicated that I don't think it has been designed for every day users. Rather, it's a much-appreciated addition for us power users, who routinely link to the Times.
Still, I think the deepening of the information contained in a hyperlink is significant. Even a small change to one of the fundamental structures on the Internet could end up having far-reaching (and not necessarily salutary) impacts.
Take URL shorteners like bit.ly. Until their rise, when you saw a link, you knew, at the very least, to which domain it would take you. Now, that's not always so clear. URL shorteners made linking on Twitter more convenient, but less safe and harder to scan. Another way of thinking about it: they made a little more work for the linker and linkee, in exchange for a reduction in characters. The whole thing is a net loss. Still, given how Twitter works, it was a necessity.
On the other hand, the Times' linking system is a win for everyone, I think. It makes a little more work for the linker, but has the potential to seriously reduce and clarify which has been linked. It's a positive evolution of the hyperlink and I hope other sites take note and get busy.