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This is from a post on the SO Blog:

So how do you share questions? I mentioned in an earlier post that we support a shorter URL form specifically for sharing:

http://diy.stackexchange.com/q/970/123

You can access the shorter URL form using the twitter and facebook sharing icons on public beta sites, or by right-clicking and copying the link conveniently provided under each question, on any site.

To encourage this sort of sharing, there’s a certain tiny percent chance a little reminder will appear on recent hot questions, or when upvoting questions that have reached a certain vote threshold:

enter image description here

Don’t worry — these reminders are very infrequent by design, and limited to public betas only. They also go away forever if you hold one of the badges.

Well, recently (before I had read the post) I've been trying to share a question. I didn't plan to do it on Facebook or Twitter, so I didn't press those buttons, since I didn't know whether I'll get a chance to just copy the link before it posts it on my profile.

I did remember seeing that little dialog, and now I spent way too much time trying to recreate it, but it didn't help. When I pressed on the "link" link, nothing happened. At no point did it occur to me to right-click and copy the actual link itself.

So I think that there's a number of problems here:

  1. All the other links on that list (edit, close, delete, flag) provide immediate visual changes on the screen, while the "link" link merely refreshes the screen, and if you're super-observant, you might notice the slight change in the address bar. I'm not sure whether to classify this as a problem with visual affordance, consistency, predictability, meeting user expectations or all of the above.
  2. When the dialog does appear, it's visually connected to the "link" link, thus stating very clearly that you need to press that link to expose the dialog. Yet, "there's a certain tiny percent chance" that it will actually work - and that only in case the dialog had first appeared by itself, and you closed it. In all the other cases the user feels they're definitely doing something wrong or blame it on a bug.
  3. Many other places on the web provide short links or permalinks on demand, and the vast majority of them do it in plain sight, so what happens here is quite non-standard.

So, is this bad UI? Should we try to change it?

I wasn't sure whether to post this in Meta or here, but since this is after all a proper UI issue, I put it here.

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see my update -- we basically implemented your recommendation, though I think a more generalized version of this question as "how should permalinks and link sharing work?" would be good. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 29 '11 at 10:13
    
That's great, thanks @Jeff! I updated the title or the question. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 29 '11 at 10:48
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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I think Vitaly Mijritsky sums up some downsides quite clearly. The way it is currently set up it is not clear what the link link does and clicking on it doesn't provide any feedback at all. But even more: the popup doesn't indicate it is not standard behavior. It may be different it said something like "copy this link to earn [etc]" without putting the link in text. By showing the actual link you create the expectation that the link will be shown again. And by creating that expectation even people that know rightclick->copy may very well be stuck in a different train of thought, because once they have seen the dialog they go looking for that, rather than for a solution to the underlying problem (copying a link). That's how users handle UIs - only minimal thought processing goes into using UIs and they rely on easy hints and customs. So somewhere is the vague memory of a dialogue shown, and they expect it to be shown and when it isn't they think 'it is not working' and that gets more attention than 'oh wait, why did I want the dialogue again'?

Of course people will eventually find out how to work it. And they will copy links (although I think it is far more likely that people will either copy the url in the address bar or the link from the title, because those are the places normally used). But all the arguments of 'you have been on the internet', 'other sites do it too' etc - those are just not good arguments for unclear UI behavior. (And I'm sure is not clear to everybody - how did it do in the hallway tests?)

Mostly, I just don't see any reason at all why you shouldn't pop up the message that is already there. It meets expectations created by the first showing of that box, it gives visual feedback to anyone who ever clicks that link (things that do nothing are confusing and bad UI in any case), and it doesn't interfere with people who prefer to use rightclick (or whatever ways of copying a link location).

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if it's any indication, we've had 2.5 years of "hallway usability tests" and millions of users and this is quite literally the first time I can ever recall anyone bringing this up... –  Jeff Atwood Mar 26 '11 at 12:22
    
ok, I correct myself, it has been discussed: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/80676/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/18635/… .. bear in mind the popup box behavior being described is quite new, it is barely 6 months old –  Jeff Atwood Mar 26 '11 at 12:24
    
On the other hand, according to the blog post, the reminder is out there since september. And I can imagine it not being brought up, because it is hard to bring up something that you don't know is there - "wasn't there a dialog or something". And I think one important difference between actual testing and running live is that in testing you ask users to perform a specific task. In this case I think it is likely many people will just not use the permalink. (And I understand if this doesn't get high priority to fix - but the design isn't in principle the clearest it could be.) –  Inca Mar 26 '11 at 12:37
    
@Jeff to be honest, I never mentioned it, but it always has been annoying having to right click and I can't count the number of times I accidentally clicked on the link when all I wanted was to share it on another question for another user. :) –  Martín Marconcini Mar 29 '11 at 11:56
    
Another reason to avoid depending on right click is that it doesn't work on touch screens. –  Patrick McElhaney Apr 4 '11 at 14:47
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Well, you're kind of glossing over the other way to share directly on the question, too:

enter image description here

There is also a dynamic share that appears below answers if they are of sufficient length, 50% of the time, with that percentage declining as your reputation increases.

enter image description here

The UI you're referring to is largely for users who know how to copy and paste a link. The above question and answer sharing buttons are for users who can't handle that.

At no point did it occur to me to right-click and copy the actual link itself.

I must say I find this rather shocking -- how did you ever share links in the last 10+ years of the internet?

edit: I agree that this is a good idea and we implemented the suggestion. Try clicking "link" now...

enter image description here

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I did specify why I didn't use the Twitter and Facebook links. And when I said what you quoted I didn't refer to URL in the address bar, but to right-clicking the word "link". That link is confusing because of the way all the other links in that list behave, and because of the other things i mentioned in the question. It's perceived as a button, not as a link, because it's one in a series of links that behave as buttons (despite their appearance as links). –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 26 '11 at 10:11
    
@vitaly hmm, well take marco.org for example -- how do you know the little infinity symbol is a permalink? Permalinks are just a convention, I could point to dozens of other places they're used.. like johnmayer.com/blog/permalink/5368 what happens when you click on "permalink"? –  Jeff Atwood Mar 26 '11 at 10:20
    
these things can't be considered out of their real context. On the sites you mentioned, the permalinks are isolated, so no other controls shape our expectations of their behavior. But here we have a row of about 5 controls that look exactly the same, yet one of them behaves very differently from the rest. And on top of that, its behavior in itself has no visual feedback, so the one thing that could potentially make the difference clearer to the user does not happen. I think @Inca below provides a good explanation of the problem (and the solution). –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 26 '11 at 12:13
    
@vitaly it is titled "link" and the tooltip for it, when you hover your mouse over it, says "permalink to this question/answer". That's unclear? I'm not opposed to this popup you are describing, but I think you're being a bit chicken little with the claim that "one of these things is unclear!" Link.. means link. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 26 '11 at 12:16
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I don't mean that its purpose is unclear. Indeed, it's absolutely clear, and that's why I've spent a couple of minutes pressing it a dozen times and expecting to get the link :). What's unclear is its interaction model - how I get the link. I expected, that just as is the case with the other links, I'll get some box with the link inside it, or something else will happen on the screen. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 26 '11 at 12:22
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I didn't realize the behavior had changed but I agree with the OP that it isn't obvious what is going on due to the automatic redirection to the "full name url".

In the past when I wanted to share a link to a question, I'd click the hyperlink "link" and copy the URL displayed in the box. Just as I would when sharing a link to a Google Map etc.

enter image description here

When I look at what is happening now... I click the link... and 1/2 a second later the screen refreshes and I'm back where I was.

Now that I know I can right click the link and copy the url I'm ok... but it took some time to discover this (e.g. it wasn't obvious)

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