I'm currently working with a startup providing a bookmarking service. When a user saves a website into his account, it's also published on our service so the other users can see it.

Here is my question : should we open the site in the new window or in a lightbox ?

Actually opening the site in a lightbox brings a lots of complexity for us (as designers and developers) but also for the user.

So, if my question isn't precise enough, is it ok to open the site in a new window ?

I'm afraid it gets the user out and makes him forget about us.

3 Answers 3


All 3 major social networks (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) open links to other domains in a new window/tab by default.

Social bookmarking site Delicious and Pinterest also open in a new window. Google bookmarks open links in the same window.

I would say the user is used to open links to new domains in a new tab. I would open links in a new window/tab as the default but would include an option to open links in the same window if the user wants it.

  • Yay, you're right ! Those social networks largely contribute to give habits and using those is probably the most natural way to do things nowadays.
    – Gabin
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 6:54

I'd always expect bookmarked / saved web content to open in new browser tabs so that I can open multiple bookmarks without having to go back and forth in the same window.

That said though, my typical user behaviour is to just open content such as this in new window anyway with the mouse wheel but the majority of user's probably wouldn't do this.

You could perhaps also consider loading the bookmarked pages in an iframe and keep a fixed menu at the top for navigation/usability. Like StumbleUpon do.

  • +1 for StumbleUpon reference. That's probably the best way to do it.
    – Mike
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 15:40

Neither of these are appropriate defaults.

First of all, web standards dictate that links should open in the same window. This is demonstrated in baseline anchor tag functionality, which requires explicit additions ("target") to be overridden. That is the first indication that new windows should be very carefully considered.

A second issue is around new window/new tab failures. Pop-up blocking has become a standard, opt-out feature of modern web browsers, and even an alpha geek like me has been left scratching my head after a click on a major publisher's website appeared to be dead, until I finally looked up at the alert area beside the address bar alerting me to the pop-up blocking.

Furthermore, depending on your user base, new tabs/windows could have catastrophic results on user navigation. The lowest-common-denominator of web users, IMO (I don't have data to support this so take it with a grain of salt), exhibit a linear browsing model. By this I mean that users click on things to move forward and click the Back button to retrace their steps. Introducing a new window breaks this linear flow and can lead to the user wondering how to get back from where they came (your site).

Power users who are more likely to embrace a New Window nav pattern probably have their own browsing patterns which include some manual form of opening links in a new window or tab (for me it's a CTRL Click on Mac). By respecting web standards you can satisfy all use cases. Non-savvy users get the nav pattern they're used to, savvier users can still customize their browsing pattern, and the pop-up failures (and necessary workarounds and fallbacks) are eliminated.

If you think that new windows are a crucial part of your interactions then I would suggest adding an explicit "New Window" link (or whatever semantics you want to use) which will provide the same one-click new-window behavior you're looking to achieve without making the sacrifices I've mentioned.

  • Forgot to add that in today's mobile + touch world an Iframe or light box is 1,000,000% not an option (unless for some reason you know this will be 100% used on desktop/laptop) Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 22:53
  • Thank you Matt ! Your answer is definetly interesting and full of great references. Oh and in some mobile browsers the target="_blank" just don't work ^^
    – Gabin
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 6:47
  • Windows/tabs spawned from a user's click are usually not identified as pop-ups, hence not being blocked.
    – DanMan
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 3:11

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