Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags

YouTubeI want to take a moment to talk to you about anchor titles. If you are like most people, you probably now have an image of an old-fashioned anchor from a Looney Tunes cartoon. But if you live in the world of computers, you know I am talking about website links. When a link is present in a document, it is done with an anchor (<a>) tag. This is, quite literally, what the web is built on. There would be no “web” without the anchor tag. So we really need to take it seriously.

But here’s the thing: no one likes a link to be a mystery. Before clicking, most people put their mouse over a link to see where it points to. There are lots of reasons for this. For me, avoiding direct links to The New York Times is important, because I only get ten articles per month. (I have a way of avoiding this, but it’s a bit of a pain.) But other reasons include just not being that interested or not trusting the writer to provide useful links. A lot of writers provide silly links — or jokes.

And speaking of jokes, Charlie Pierce provides “optional musical accompaniment” for a lot of his posts. That’s all well and fine, but I want to know what they are. In general, I’m not interested in listening to the song while reading his article; I just want to know what little joke he’s making. And this is in general the case with YouTube — which is notable because it is so common. Unless the writer is very explicit about the content of the video, it is an unwelcome mystery.

The issue came up today because I was editing an article about marketing. The writer had provided a YouTube link with the text, “For example, maybe your brand embodies attractive young people having fun.” What was the video about? It could have been a documentary about the media war between Coke and Pepsi. But it was instead just an old Coke commercial with “attractive young people having fan.” It wasn’t exactly necessary, given that we’ve all seen these kinds of commercials. But I was annoyed that I had to click over. I suspect most readers would have just skipped it.

As a writer or other content creator, it never hurts to assume that your visitors are working. They don’t want to spend a bunch of time figuring out why you linked to a particular thing. Blogs are usually good about this. For example, this page can be linked to like this: Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags. That link reads like this:

But it could also be linked like this: Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags. This is the actual URL — the one the system uses:

If a URL is relatively self-documenting, I don’t think link titles matter. But when they aren’t, they really do deserve a title. And it isn’t difficult to do. It is just a matter of adding title=”whatever” to your anchor tag. So, for example, a link to Frankly Curious would look like this:

<a href=”” title=”Greatest Website Ever!”>Frankly Curious</a>

And then the world will be a better place.

No Evidence Will Convince Global Warming Deniers

James InhofeJonathan Chait brought my attention to some exciting news, Snowball-Chucking, Science-Hating Senator May Crash Paris Climate Talks. Yes, it’s our old friend James Inhofe — back in the news to bring the Truth™ to the people of the world. That Truth™ is, of course, that global warming is a hoax and that he can prove it because it snows in the winter. Inhofe is thinking of going the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, “I’ll repeat what I’ve done several times before, which is to go over and be the bad guy, the one-man truth squad, and tell the truth, that they’re going to be lied to by the Obama administration.”

This is sounding kind of hollow now. After all, it isn’t just Obama who takes global warming seriously. The governments of India and China and pretty much every other place on Earth take it seriously. Inhofe probably acts as a kind of argument for doing something about climate change. It’s the same as crazy people marching the streets shouting, “The end is nigh!” They always make me feel that everything is okay. If they weren’t so obviously crazy, I might be worried. Of course, the people of the world might start worrying about America in a general sense, but I can’t say that is unreasonable.

Such a stunt sounds so much like what a bunch of born again Christians would do. He’s certain he knows the truth. There is literally no way he will ever be convinced. I have to admit, that I’ve been somewhat deluded these past few years. I’ve thought that in ten or twenty years, all these global warming deniers would be unable to resist the plain facts. But that isn’t true. James Inhofe will never accept that global warming is happening, just as George Will won’t. It really doesn’t matter how long they live or what they see.

I talk a lot around here about how reasoning doesn’t work the way that we think it does. In general, people decide on something and then use their mighty brains to rationalize why they are right. But it does seem that not all people are alike in this regard. Some people are more open to new information than others. In particular, there are ways to turn off reflection. Fideism is a good way to do this. And it really doesn’t matter if it is through a dogmatic religion or an ossified ideology. In this case, we are not even talking about conservatism or “free market” absolutism. In Inhofe’s case, it is just a rejection of anything that he sees as liberal.

So imagine twenty years from now and global warming mitigation is costing the world trillions of dollars ever year. Inhofe is already 80 years old. He’ll be dead. George Will is 74, so he’ll probably be dead. But there will be a lot of living global warming deniers from today. And they’ll have a reason that they were right all along. There’s always a reason. If you are determined to believe something, you will find a way. But it doesn’t matter, because the damage will have been done. What’s more, even if all the Inhofes and Wills beg for forgiveness, they will still be out there denying any new threat to our safety and preaching their convenient Truth™.

Morning Music: Abigail Washburn et al

Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow QuartetFasten your seat belts, because we have to take a quick detour to the United States. I said that my boss was interesting, not consistent. So we are out of the Sahara and into the mid-west with Abigail Washburn. She is a noted banjo player and singer. And Toni sent along the follow link to a live performance by Sparrow Quartet of “Kangding Qingge” (Old-Timey Dance Party) from their 2008 album, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. It’s a great song and Washburn is wonderful and all but…

It should be really clear listening to this that Washburn is not the star of this band. The real star in the Sparrow Quartet is Béla Fleck. In fact, he is so great that I really think I’m going to have to do a week of his music sometime soon. But for now, let’s enjoy this beautiful piece of music. It really is lowly.

Anniversary Post: Internet

InternetOn this day back in 1969, the internet was born. Really. That was the day when the first successful message was sent between two of the ARPANET Interface Message Processors. The rest is just details. It was the first system that implemented TCP/IP. And I suppose it is a good time to point out that TCP/IP is what we use, but it is hardly perfect. Like VHS and Microsoft Windows, it is good enough. As my pappy used to say, “Good enough is… good enough.”

There was a time when conservatives used to talk about the internet being this great example of private enterprise creating new technologies. The truth was that ARPANET was a government project. And up to the mid-1990s, the internet was this thing you used if you were at a college or a national lab. Sure, you had it if you were at Sun Microsystems. But in general, it was always this publicly funded thing. As always used to happen, the government nurtured the technology for years until it got to a point where people could make money from it.

Think about this. The position of conservatives — libertarians most especially — is that collective action is always bad. And so they will casually throw out the internet as an example of how the profit motive works so well. And the profit motive does indeed work really well in those cases where it works really well. But it is clear that it doesn’t work really well all the time or in all markets. But if we want to move into the future slowly, then we should follow the advice of the conservatives.

But if we want to move into the future quickly, we need collective action. And once we arrive with a new technology, we can allow the market to work it out so we have, for example, two kinds of smartphones that we can choose from. But the idea that the profit motive is what will move us into the future is nonsense, pushed by people who understand neither technology nor business.