W3C Obsession and the Return of target=”_blank”

It was a very dark time in web design history, it was the time of XHTML Strict code and the obsession with W3C validation, which had made us slaves to the almighty goal of standards-compliance.

My name is Bryan Hadaway, and I was a W3C junkie. I had to see that green. If I didn’t see that green verification approval that signified your code was perfectly, 100% valid, I’d stay up for hours searching for workarounds to get my green fix.

A few years later, I found my savior in good old-fashioned common sense. I use Firefox religiously and I still very much respect the W3C, but I’ve let go of having to validate every single page, when the compromises I was making to the code didn’t make any sense and were in no way helpful to the visitors of my website.

I still use W3C to check for obvious errors that can be corrected, but I no longer worry about things that aren’t technically errors. The W3C validator just doesn’t agree with or recognize everything. The bottom line is: if there aren’t actually any errors in your markup or syntax that break anything on the page, you should safely be ignoring W3C warnings.

For the longest time, the very most likely number one thing that was causing us web designers a headache, was the fact that the target=”_blank” attribute, which was the most logical way to open a link in a new window, no longer would validate with the then popular and standards-compliant XHTML Strict doctype. We went through all kinds of drastic workarounds to use JavaScript to inject target=”_blank” wherever rel=”external” was placed.

So really, we were still using target=”_blank”, just tricking the W3C validation robot, so that our pages would still validate. It’s really silly, looking back. HTML and CSS validation has been obsessed about just as much as PageRank. Although, I still think they both have a time and place of importance, the level of obsession was just ridiculous. I know I’m not the only one.

However, if you’re still obsessed, well I have good news. With HTML5, comes the return of target=”_blank”, which fully validates under the HTML5 doctype:

<!DOCTYPE html>

Which is now completely safe to use, so without further ado, I present the return of target=”_blank”.

<a href="#" target="_blank">It Returns!</a>

For those of you that think something should never open in a new window, I see where you’re coming from. But, it has a very valid use, if done correctly. I’ve actually had way worse experiences opening things in the same window, than a new one.

For instance, if you’ve ever been applying for something, or filling out a long form, or even writing a story and submitting it, etc., then, when you get to a form field that asks for something peculiar like: “IFHF PIN #” with “What’s this?” next to it. Naturally, you have no idea what that is, so you click “What’s this?” and WHAM!, you’re taken away from the page, losing everything that just took you a half hour to fill out. That is actually the worst thing I can imagine happening regarding how windows open.

As far as new windows opening is concerned, the worst case scenario here is that you’re mildly annoyed, but no damage done or data lost. I personally have my blog set to automatically open all external links in a new window. Why? Because blog articles are informational and chock-full of quick reference links. It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is done reading an article and wants to lose their place, over quickly checking a reference you’ve linked to.

Well, the User Should Decide Then

I couldn’t agree more, but I think that’s up to the web browser (Firefox, Chrome) to allow that option. Just like most browsers have the right-click context menu option of Open Link in New Window (which I use 9 out of 10 times on links), it should have the option of Open Link in Same Window. I think that’s the clear and obvious answer.

For now, as far as better safe, than sorry is concerned, I think it’s better to have some links open in a new window, than the same. Unfortunately, the majority of computer users are not computer-savvy and they need some things decided for them at the very basic level.

Where pages opening in a new window’s worst case scenario is an annoyance, pages opening in the same window’s worst case scenario is screwing up an application (job or app), test, financial info, an online order, disconnecting a web-based chat, phone call or meeting, disturbing the progress of an upload, download, or other progress. The list goes on.

What are your thoughts on how windows should be handled?