A Philosophical Question About Hyperlinks

 By Shamus Sep 3, 2009 119 comments

Screw that “one hand clapping” business, here is the question I want answered:

When you get to the bottom of the page on a blog and they have links to go to earlier entries in the archives, the link usually has an arrow pointing either to the right or left. Which is correct? And should this link be called “prev” or “next”?

Blog entries are posted in reverse-chronological order. This seems to confuse people. Do we reverse EVERYTHING, then? If we think of each group of posts in the archive as pages in a book, then which way is it read? Are new pages added to the beginning of the book, or the end?

Destructoid has a link at the bottom which points left and says “Next”. It links to earlier entries.

The same link on my site points to the right and says “Prev”.

I’ve seen blogs that use other combinations, such as a rightward “next” or a leftward “prev”.

Without worrying about the “correct” or “standard” way of doing things or what the “default” behavior is, just picture it in your mind. Which makes the most sense to you and feels intuitive?

A Hundred!19119 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


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  1. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Left pointing arrow <- to indicate the Previously typed entry.

    From the beginning of time, left on the net has meant back in time.

  2. Gary says:

    I have noticed this too and been equally confused and annoyed by how some people handle it.

    I personally prefer it to read like a book, that is, you move to the right. Even with it in reverse chronilogical order. The first page is the first page, no matter “When” it happened and all subsequent pages should be to the right of the first page.

    As to the names, I prefer “Older ->” and “<- Newer”, or something similar.

  3. Zeta Kai says:

    I second E.C.’s opinion. That’s how the browser always works, so that’s what I expect from a page within my browser.

    For some reason, Gary seems to be contradicting himself.

  4. Roy says:

    Anything else just seems silly to me. We read left to right in English, which means, to me, that earlier things (previous) are on the left, and newer things (what is coming up) will be on the right.

  5. Wobbler says:

    The previously made (i.e. older) entry on the bottom left, and any later entries on the right, so time flows L-to-R as Ergonomic Cat says. But I really like the lack of ambiguity with older/newer names as Gary says; so to sum up: I would say this

    <-Older Newer->

  6. Gary says:

    Zeta Kai,

    I know, it is a quandry…. but for some reason it feels right-er to me that way.

    It is really quite inexplicable :D

    • Shamus says:

      Older and newer is a really good idea. Next time I tinker with the theme I will do that.

      • Shamus says:

        I didn’t want to put my own answer in the post because I didn’t want to influence the answers people gave. So I’ll do it in the comments here. The thing with “left for older” means that page one is:

        5
        4
        3
        2
        1

        And page two is

        9
        8
        7
        6

        Now, if you read it like a book, you’ll read them in this order 5 4 3 2 1 9 8 7 6.

        If right is older, then page one is

        9
        8
        7
        6

        And page two is:

        5
        4
        3
        2
        1

        And if you read them like a book you get: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  7. Abnaxis says:

    In all honesty, whenever I have taken a dive through your archives the right arrow on the Previous entries link has thrown me for a loop for a good ten seconds when I get past the second page.

    It’s weird–I understand the logic of putting it there, and it makes more sense than “left previous” when I reason it out, but it instinctively makes my brain contort when it comes to actually using the interface.

  8. Fede says:

    In my mind i picture past pages on the left, so i’d say
    <—- Previous

  9. Bob says:

    Left is for previous, older entries, just like a book (or a diary).

  10. Narkis says:

    I’ll add my vote to what most people say: Left for previous entries.

  11. Seb says:

    I’d say either reverse everything: newest post on top of the page, “” on the bottom, like you add a note on a pile of notes;
    or use the “natural” order all the time, more like posts in a forum thread.

    I’m all for consistency

  12. Athanasius says:

    A left-pointing ‘prev’ link for older pages/articles, and the obvious complementing right-pointing ‘next’ link for newer (when viewing an older than latest page/article).

    In the book analogy we are indeed on the current last page of the book when viewing the latest.

  13. Jeremiah says:

    Another vote for earlier/older. Should remove any ambiguity about what the author means when they say previous and next.

  14. Matt K says:

    I prefer it the way the web comics tend to set it up (e.g. 8 Bit, OOTS) SO previous/left takes you back to the next article (i.e. the older one that was posted before this one). So I guess the way it’s set up now.

  15. Nathon says:

    “older” and “newer” are unambiguous.

  16. If i were to read your blog like i read webcomics (which would be appropriate, as i started reading your blog because of your webcomic), i would start at the first page.
    I would hate to have to constantly press “<- prev” to be able to read the next webcomic.

  17. midget0nstilts says:

    I’m gonna put myself in the minority and say that I’d prefer the left arrow to take me to newer entries, and the right arrow to older entries. My reasoning is this: we read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. The majority of blogs order entries from newest to oldest, so on the main page, the further down you go, the older the entry. Ergo, the older entries should also go on the right.

    But then again, the truth is I really don’t care. I almost always look at the preview from the front page before deciding to actually go to an article (i.e. I don’t read one, then click next or previous).

  18. Dev Null says:

    Older is better, says the old guy.

    But left for older, in my brain.

    • Shamus says:

      Duh. At some point in the past I must have noticed the Next/Prev ambiguity and changed it. It already says “Later / earlier”.

      I don’t even remember making that decision. Must have been ages ago.

      Huh.

      I feel like a guy who decided to mow the lawn, got out the mower, oiled it, gassed it up, and rolled out into the yard to find it neatly trimmed.

  19. Ingvar says:

    Would it make more sense to label the links “Earlier” and “Later”? That ought to be less charged than “previous” and “next”, in that it is a distinct temporal reference instead of a mixed spatio-temporal reference.

    My preference would be for “earlier” to be on the left and “later” on the right, as that is the normal left/right scale on most (though possibly not all) time lines.

  20. Jax says:

    When I think of a blog I think of it as a book in progress that may never be finished. I could read from page one or the last completed page. Then If I start at the last page I can either read forwards or backwards.

    If I start enjoying a web comic, I’ll typically go back and read if from the first entry. At that point I like “Next” or “Newer” to be on the right side.

    I always have trouble understanding why on some sites I’m clicking “Next” on either side and not getting the “Next” entry but the previous one.

  21. SeekerOfThePath says:

    In my opinion, the answer to the question depends on what you want to express. If you want to navigate user to the next page with more blog posts, it should be “rightward next”. Else, if you want user to navigate to page with older posts, it should be “leftward previous”. Finally, to avoid any confusion, I would label arrows with full text, such as “Next page” or “Previous posts” as opposed to simple “Next” and “Previous”. I, personally, wouldn’t confuse users with left-next and right-previous buttons.

  22. Benjamin Orchard says:

    Strike out on your own! Use up and down!

    Up is older, down is newer. Why? Who cares?

    You can do it the other way, I don’t care. Use a circle! The inside is newest, outside is oldest! Group related topics! People will hate you forever!

    All that REALLY matters is UNAMBIGUITY!!! THAT I DO CARE ABOUT. A LOT. Screw that up and people will leave your blog in droves. Navigation can break every single convention you want it to, but if people can’t figure it out in 3 seconds, and can’t get to where they want to in 1-3 clicks, they won’t be looking at anything not on the main page of your site or directly linked from text. This is all.

  23. Vegedus says:

    Huuuuh. In webcomic tradition it’s leftward and “prev”. This seems logical to apply to blogs as well. Intuitively, though, right feels [i]better[/i] somehow, when I picture it. I can’t quite decide on prev or next.

    It’s definitely a better idea with older/newer, because prev and next is obviously ambiguous in this case, and thus, confusing.

  24. Foone says:

    You may want to check that your blogging software hasn’t been compromised, I have just started getting virus-detected errors when opening Twenty-Sided posts. They list the virus as “JS/Exploit-Packed.c.gen” but don’t give me a URL to which script it is.

  25. Factoid says:

    I like “Older/Newer” or variations on that theme as others have suggested.

    But if using arrows and “prev/next” I would be very confused if a left arrow said “next”. That just seems wrong to me and the thought criminals at Destructoid must be punished for their heinous infraction.

    I think the page numbering issue is kind of moot, because I don’t think most people approach reading a blog the same way they approach reading a book.

    As long as posts are clearly and visibly date stamped it should be reasonably clear to people how the ordering system works. The worst crime a blogger can commit in my opinion is not putting dates on their posts. Thankfully almost everyone does because all the major blogging systems do it automatically.

  26. someguy says:

    well, I can say that your currently used “earlier” and “later” got me confused a couple of times :) (on that occasion: yes, you may absolutely read this as “I’ve spend quite some time on your interesting and enjoyable blog”)

  27. Neil Polenske says:

    While it’s not the same as blogs – which I honestly do not peruse save here – here’s how I prefer my webcomic navigation:

    <<FIRST LAST>>

    I figure it would apply here, just swapping pictures with text. In this case:

    <<FIRST = Previous category. i.e. if I’m looking at a DnD, this will take me to your last Anime post.

    = Newer post.

    LAST>> = Next category.

  28. Rallion says:

    It can be a LOT less confusing if you just stop insisting that you start on page 1.

    I think of it like a book. When you start writing it, yes, that’s page 1. But then the next time, it’s no longer page 1, that’s set. It IS confusing for the contents of already-written pages to move around.

    You can also read it like a book, starting with the beginning, going in chronological order. The difference is just that when you go to the site, it (for the regular viewer’s convenience) starts you on the last page.

  29. Oh man…

    This discussion is as bad as when someone says that the meeting has been moved “up”, or has been moved “back”.

    I always think to myself, “What the heck does that mean?” Does “up” mean earlier in the day? Does “back” mean later in the day? Or vice versa? Now I’m going to miss this meeting completely because I’m so confused!

    <<Older—–Newer>>

    Leslee

  30. Neil Polenske says:

    Uh…I don’t know what the hell happened to my prev post, but I bet it has something to do with the tags that I don’t know anything about. Also, edit aint working, so I’ll…I dunno.

    Just ignore the previous post. It did not come out as I wrote it.

  31. Johnny Hazzard says:

    I honestly got lost at where previous and next where ambiguous. I have always equated previous to something that happened earlier. Timelines seem to set those events to the left and current events to the right.

    As a side note it’s interesting to see how other individuals minds gravitate towards the opposite set up. I would have never given it a secounds thought.

  32. Previous. Or older/newer, as others have mentioned.

  33. mneme says:

    My preference, is left=>prev, right=>next.

    That said, there’s a problem here — and it’s a problem with the “blog” format in general:

    Standard page order is reversed (latest on top). However, optimal reading order for a total read through is normal (earliest on top).

    You’re quite right that when you’re reading in reversed order (with latest entries on top), it makes much more sense to have an ‘Older –>’ link (eg, next=<older, as you’re reading in reversed order).

    Of course, if you want to make it easy for people to read in natural order, it would be very cool to offer a “normal order” option with older entries on top and ‘<–older newer–>’

  34. ccesarano says:

    It has gone back and forth so much that I can’t even decide. Sometimes when I click the third item in a stack of an inbox, I’ll see previous and think upwards; previous entry from the top. However, then I think it may mean previous in terms of time.

    It depends on how the designer planned it. Are previous/next in relation to the physical representation of the stack, where next descends down the stack and previous up, or does it refer to time?

    Gary had it right: the most clear representation at this point is simply “older” versus “newest”.

  35. thegrinner says:

    I prefer it styled like

    It just makes more sense to me like that.

  36. Lalaland says:

    Left and Right as indicators for the passage of time are culture specific. Given that I would wager that the majority of readers here are speaking a european language (English, Spanish, French, etc) and read left to right then left indicating a prior post and right for a subsequent post makes sense. In the middle east that probably wouldn’t work as most Arabic scripts work right to left, as do a lot of Asian languages and some of those work on the vertical plane so up and down also become expressions for the passage of time.

    As for the actual words to use why not ‘prior posts’ and ‘subsequent posts’, overly flowery perhaps but unambiguous

  37. onosson says:

    I like the suggestion of using up and down. I think of blogs, not as books, but as long scrolls of paper. As far as that goes, I would go with up=new down=old, but really it could go either way.

  38. Budke says:

    Why is it always Left/Right? It seems like you should have an arrow pointing DOWN at the bottom of a page saying “Older Posts” And and arrow at the top of archive pages saying “Previous Posts”. Of course, your previous post link should point to a marker at the bottom of the next page.

  39. Yes I’m going to go with the majority of the crowd here, while offering reinforcement and a caveat:

    Reinforcement: look at the rewind and fast forward buttons on your remote. Which way do they point? OK, do that.

    Caveat: Unless your blog is in Hebrew. Or Arabic.

  40. elwood says:

    @Shamus (comment 13)

    if 1 is newest and 9 is oldest

    page one goes
    1
    2
    3
    4
    5
    and page two goes

    6
    7
    8
    9
    10 <- this would be the first post.

    and you read them in order. the older button just loads the 5 next oldest comments.

    It doesn’t matter which way the older button points. In my mind it should be left is older and top is newer.

  41. Rutskarn says:

    I guess left/prev makes more sense to me, but I actually have no idea which Chocolate Hammer uses. One sec…

    EDIT: Left/Older Entries.

  42. Josh says:

    I prefer Older (Previous) on the left and Newer (Next) on the right.

    Makes more sense as if you are reading a book.

  43. goldcup says:

    left & or previous should be, and usually is, the previous post. anyone reversing that is an irritation.

  44. SiliconScout says:

    I am with Elwood here.

    have it load the 5 previous comments. For a blog people are used to reading newest @ top and older down.

    Left pointing arrow should just grab the next oldest posts.

    Label that Previous and the right pointing entries call Next.

  45. Greg says:

    I think you need two different navigations setups:

    For the Archive pages, it runs in reverse order from newest to oldest, so clicking the right arrow will actually bring you to older posts and clicking the left arrow will bring you to newer posts. You should probably have another button that takes you back to the first (most recent posts) page for quick navigation.

    For the individual posts, it makes the most sense to have the left arrow take you to the older post and the right arrow take you to the newer post. You could then make <> buttons that take you to the first and last post, respectively.

    I get the feeling that people here all want the same thing, just some () are thinking of the individual post level and others () are thinking of the archive level.

  46. maehara says:

    Are we getting a vote? :)

    My internal logic says:
    ← Older / Previous
    Newer / Next →

  47. Greg says:

    EDIT: There is supposed to be text between the parenthesis.

    First set: left=older, right=newer

    Second set: left=newer, right=older

    Just clarifying.

  48. Jazmeister says:

    Older and Newer make more sense.

  49. SireCh says:

    given that there isn’t a convention that is used consistently across blogs, I think the only good option is Older/Newer, as some people already suggested.

  50. Greg says:

    To answer your question next seems more natural than prev, but I agree with most folks here that older and newer makes things clear.

  51. stvdwtt says:

    I prefer something to the effect of “Earlier Posts” and “Later Posters”. Also, arrows to the right should mean “closer to the present” and arrows to the left should be “less recent”.

  52. Dan says:

    Wait a minute. If left goes back in time, does that make it right in the past?

    I’m pretty sure you should alternate it – left goes back first, after which right goes back, until you skip ahead by going left, in which case the back in time arrow reverts back to left.

    Having solved that, I must return to drafting the new tax code.

  53. Zaghadka says:

    Penny Arcade uses a block of four buttons. I’d label them this way.

    |<–First | <–Prev | Next –> | Latest–> |

    Grayed out, as appropriate, is best. This makes the most sense to me.

  54. Tacoma says:

    Timeline.

    I assume that the blog posts are organized in the order they have been posted. When displayed they appear at the top of the page first for convenience of regular readers. But I understand that to read in chronological order I must go to the bottom of the page and work my way up. This involves reading the post title, reading downward, and then skipping across what I just read and the body of the next post to the next post’s title. Then reading down again to the end of that post and repeating.

    Since I understand that organization, I know that to click the “prev/earlier” or “next/later” buttons will take me to posts lower or higher on the page respectively. But I don’t think about it like that – I think of a timeline with posts along it. The beginning is on the left and the ending (current post) is on the right. Just like most timelines drawn by English-speakers.

    Based on that, imagine the “prev” and “next” buttons to hover directly over a horizontal timeline. When you click “next” you move to the right. When you click “prev” you move to the left. Thus it’s obvious your “prev” button should be on the left and your “next” should be on the right.

    With controls that include “first” and “latest”, these should be on the outside of the other two. Organized like so:

    FIRST PREV ARCHIVE NEXT LATEST

    In the sense that the center point of the control scheme is neutral and the farther from the center, the more dramatic the movement.

    The central button can be blank and nonfunctional. But I’d rather see it as a usable control that transcends movement along the timeline. “archive” works with that and is useful.

  55. Vladius says:

    Unless it’s in Hebrew, the right arrow should be next, and the left one should be previous.

    And then I guess if there’s a line next to the arrow, that modifies it to “First” and “Last.”

  56. Dnaloiram says:

    Wow, more than fifty posts for a previous/next on the bottom of a blog?

    Anyway, I think it just makes sense like this:

    <older postsnewer posts>

  57. CrushU says:

    When you have to objects and one was posted before the other, you don’t put them side by side and have Next of the second one pointing to the older.

    You’re a programmer, I’ll explain it like this: Objects[]
    You’re saying that Objects[1].Next() should point to Objects[0]?

    You said that if you have it as Newest First on a page, the first page would be 5 4 3 2 1, and the second page would be 10 9 8 7 6, attempting to use that to justify it… Here’s the problem with that: When someone first comes to a blog, they see the LAST page, the page with the newest. So they see 10 9 8 7 6. And then they click the button to take them to older entries, and now they see 5 4 3 2 1. No problems.

    To put it another way, assume that each individual post is its own page. If you put Right > Older, that means that ‘Right’ of post/page 10 is post/page 9, backwards from books.

    It’s assumed that if you start at the oldest posts, you’ll be reading backwards, that is, up the page.

  58. Yar Kramer says:

    Yeah, I’m with the “same way your browser works” kinda thing.

    Or webcomics, for that matter, which typically have links for First, Previous, another link like “Home” or “Archive” if “latest” isn’t the same, Next, Latest and in that order. That just seems to be the convention, I guess.

  59. Mark says:

    So you’re asking if the arrangement should be like this…
    9 | 6 | 3
    8 | 5 | 2
    7 | 4 | 1
    …or like this…
    3 | 6 | 9
    2 | 5 | 8
    1 | 4 | 7
    …where each number is a post and each column is a page of posts. Navigating between posts is just scrolling (vertically) within the page, and navigating within pages involves clicking links with arrows pointing left or right.

    How should you arrange your columns? Neither way.

    The problem is that we’re using two axes to try to represent a single dimension of time.

    If the blog presents posts arranged vertically in descending order, the link at the bottom should point down to indicate older posts. The link to newer posts should be at the top of the page, pointing up. This way, the arrangement of posts within each page is vertical, and the arrangement of pages is also vertical:
    9
    8
    7

    6
    5
    4

    3
    2
    1

    Add anchor links to quickly jump to the bottom and top of each page, and you’ve solved the problem for everyone.

  60. freykin says:

    For me, left being previous and right being next makes the most sense, due to the vast amount of webcomics I read. They all pretty much function that way, so I’m used to it now.

  61. BaCoN says:

    Just consider the net like a giant book. When you turn a page to go forward, you turn to the right. When you start at the beginning, you start at the far left.

    Unless you’re reading manga, I guess?

  62. Galenor says:

    I prefer < – being older.

    The reason behind this is probably due to the navigation buttons on a web browser. When you want to go back a page you’ve previously viewed – in the past – you click the arrow pointing left. If you want to then advance back to a page you viewed after this one – in the browser’s ‘future’ – you click the right one.

    Also, going right is a sign of progression in a lot of games. I can’t name you a single sidescroller that starts you off on the rightmost side and has you walk leftward.

  63. T says:

    I like “Older” and “Newer”, but the actual label doesn’t bother me that much.

    What bothers me is when there’s no easy way to get to the oldest post and then read them them in the order they were posted.

  64. Kimari says:

    I prefer “old” for older entries, and “new” for newer entries.

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