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Some websites (using tools like tynt) have started to add something a little surprising at first : When the reader copies part of the article or blog post, something, say the url of the piece, is added to the copied text.

Is this ok ? I see what they are trying to do, but I've always removed this additional info when pasting, and I feel that it is a way to force the user, akin to opening links in new windows.

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I hope the question is not too discussiony. –  Manu Mar 1 '12 at 8:20
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Are you sure the url is being added to the text? If I copy part of a web site and paste into Notepad I just get the text. If I paste into OneNote I get a link to the web page as well. It appears that there's some meta data involved and it depends on where you paste it. –  ChrisF Mar 1 '12 at 9:32
    
@ChrisF It does seem to be into the text. For instance copy some text off this page wiki.answers.com/Q/… and paste it into notepad; you get the URL as part of it. –  JonW Mar 1 '12 at 9:38
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For what it's worth, services like Tynt are very much despised by some influential people, mostly for the reason that it violates predictability (since it's not overtly obvious when you can trust your clipboard; can you copy/paste some text into a password field?). –  Kit Grose Mar 1 '12 at 12:44
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Perhaps this is outside the realm of this question, but another reason people don't like Tynt is that every copy (maybe even every selection) is sent back to Tynt for analysis. Many people find this to be invasive. –  Kris Harper Mar 1 '12 at 14:11
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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In a marketing and publisher point of view what Tynt is providing seems very beneficial for their needs. On a UX point of view it's a double edged sword in my meaning.

You could argue that the user experience benefits from the auto generated addition to copied content since it seamlessly enables the receiver or "copier" of the content to keep track of its source. Thereby providing a shortcut that the user doesn't even have to initiate.

However, one could also argue that it is dangerously close to breaking the seventh Schneiderman rule of interface design, Support internal locus of control. I mean this because if there's no way to disable the feature, the system will format copied content in a way that may not meet the requirements of the user.

This is a hard question to get give a definite answer to, at least I find it so. It would be interesting to hear what other users have to say in this matter.

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+1 for the link to Schneiderman's rules. From a quick play with pages using tynt it does appear to still allow some user control - although the page URL is pasted alongside the content it can be deleted by the user; they're aware that the link has been pasted along with the copy (albeit they didn't actually request it to be, which is the sticking point). –  JonW Mar 1 '12 at 9:41
    
@JonW thank you. You're right about that the link is easily deleted by the user. But from experience, looking at myself and others, the smallest indication that a system is performing actions that is outside the user control is sometimes enough to totally tick off a user. However, as you mentioned, if the feature may be toggled I see no harm. This off course is a user control that the developer may choose to exclude, which probably would be a bad idea. –  AndroidHustle Mar 1 '12 at 10:01
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Great answer. The Internal Locus of Control is a big problem and it's why unexpected behaviors like this are usually negatively received when first experienced. That "WTF that's not what I copied" moment is often an unpleasant one. –  Ben Brocka Mar 2 '12 at 14:39
    
@BenBrocka Thanks Ben, I'm honoured that you like my answer! =) –  AndroidHustle Mar 2 '12 at 14:46
    
It also breaks the 1st Schneiderman rule –  darryn.ten Mar 3 '12 at 8:15
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Here's an idea for better UI for the same problem: When the user selects text, pop up a button to "copy with backlink/attribution". Then

  • the use of the feature is the user's choice, and yet also discoverable.
  • the normal browser behavior is not disturbed.

The button should be unobtrusive; in particular, not covering up other parts of the text (e.g. if the user merely wanted to highlight a passage for temporary reference, or they mis-selected and want to click on some nearby text).

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This doesn't really answer the question though. The OP didn't ask "what alternatives are there" but "is it ok". He wants to know whether doing so is an acceptable practice. –  Rahul Mar 2 '12 at 11:00
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One of the golden rules of UX is to never do anything unexpected.

Adding a bit of text to copied text is very much unexpected behaviour, and will definitely lead to frustrated users.

The users will either paste it and hit enter without removing the added text first, which will frustrate them and make them look like an idiot, possibly driving them to delete the post entirely, or they will edit it out, which is a complete time waster.

I understand marketing brains wanting to get a linkback to the site and/or content, but I hope they realize that the total impact on the userbase could be more detrimental than anything else.

EDIT

Here are citations that back my claims.

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Can you show me where this "golden rule of UX" comes from? –  Rahul Mar 2 '12 at 11:00
    
Added citations –  darryn.ten Mar 2 '12 at 11:24
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This is a little different from what tynt does, but I think it's in the same realm.

I like how workflowy.com handles this concept. When exporting a list as formatted or plain text they add a 'created with' bit to the text.

However, they don't hide the 'created with' bit, it's there for you to see and decide on whether you want to keep it or not. The text as a whole is selected in the initial state but they let you make your own selection.

This should take away the element of surprise and the possible resulting annoyance by giving the user direct control over what he is going to copy and paste. The choice to keep it in there or not is now yours to make.

Workflowy export screen

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I like this solution, though obviously it doesn't transfer over well to standard copy paste situations where you don't get a separate window for your copy text. –  Ben Brocka Mar 2 '12 at 14:40
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