You asked for it…you got it: Go Links without the toolbar

One of the main comments/concerns/aggravations about the new Go Links service was the addition of the toolbar. I’ve added a new option for link owners to address their concerns and requests, but first let me explain why the toolbar exists now.

Go Links is a self-service, self-policing method of creating shortened “branded” URLs for NC State University. We did not implement an approval mechanism that stood in front of your ability to create a Go Link, because we knew that would hinder the service’s adoption, and also create an unsustainable amount of administrative overhead.

The toolbar is the first line of defense for this self-policing service. It provides an instantaneous method for visitors to report misuse or abuse of any Go Link, directly from the link itself. If the service was a blind redirect (like Bit.ly or Goo.gl), then there would be no easy way for visitors to report abuse (they would have to visit the NCSU homepage, search for contact information, and hopefully find their way to the help desk). The toolbar makes it easy for people to immediately report these problems, as well as contacting the link owner if it’s a question that should be directed there instead of an administrator. This reason seemed to be sufficient for most people, as we were only asking people to click the “close toolbar” button to remove it if desired.

However, some problems were reported that made me realize that the tool bar’s implementation needed to change slightly. The initial reports were:

  1. Printing the page — caused only the toolbar to print instead of the target website
  2. Bookmarking the page — cause the go link to the bookmarked instead of the current page navigated to.

Instead of the requests just being “would be nice if there was no toolbar,” now there are actual usability problems to address.

The Solution:

The default for all Go Links is still to have the toolbar be displayed. However there is now a new “Theme” option that allows link owners to specify if they want their link to be a “Direct Link” which will go directly to the URL, bypassing all themes, toolbars, and additional analytics. It is simply a blind redirect without any additional logic at play.

To access this new feature, link owners can sign into go.ncsu.edu, go to the link details page for one of their links, and click on the Theme tab.

This allows link owners to choose the behavior that works for their individual links. If they choose to have a themed link, then they can still do that. If they want a direct link, they can do that too.

Hopefully this will help to meet the needs of all link owners, while addressing the usability concerns some people had with the toolbar.

An added note on the accessibility options:

If the toolbar is displayed, there are screen-reader friendly links at the top of every page (before the toolbar) that give the user the ability to go directly to the link, contact the link owner, or report abuse or misuse.

2 Comments

    Thanks to all in OIT for the quick response to our concerns and especially to Nick for making it happen lickety-split. Another issue recently raised was “why do we allow off-campus target links via this service at all?” I can think of a number of reasons (essentially the same reasons one would use a blind URL shortener in the first place–to get rid of the long URLs used by many news services and journals). But since we’re offering this as a “branding” resource as much as a URL shortener, would restricting the target URL to an ncsu.edu address be as effective at removing the burden of policing the service? Do we have any numbers on the amount of on-campus versus off-campus target URLs?

    One of the problems with restricting this service to only NCSU addresses, is that NCSU actually owns many addresses, and has partnerships with external parties that don’t share the “ncsu.edu” domain. Postini is one in particular, where the URL for our quarantine is actually “login.postini.com” but you can get there via go.ncsu.edu/junkmail. If we restricted to only “ncsu urls” then this would not be possible.

    The other thing, is that the software running go links is open source. I built it so that we could give it out to whoever wants to use it. If i was to restrict to certain URLs, then i’d need to add in extra logic for admins to put in “acceptable target urls,” and well, that seemed unnecessary for a service like this.

    I haven’t looked at the stats for off-campus versus on campus links, but that wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. If i have some time i might generate that and post something about it here.

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