Breaking the Web

Large social websites, such as and Facebook, who attract a broad range of users, some often largely inexperienced with the web as a whole, and web-based desktop applications such as the iTunes Store and Spotify are breaking the web. Here is my take on why;

Everytime I see a link when someone is talking about music or the iTunes music store, I have a definite aversion to click it. Clicking a link on the web should be so natural and is the essence of the world-wide-web, but it is being ruined by these web-based desktop applications and, in my opinion, the iTunes store is the worst offender.

I have iTunes installed and I use it as a music player. I have the iTunes Store disabled as I much prefer to buy music on CD. Clicking on an iTunes store link from within my web browser abruptly focuses iTunes and I am prompted whether I want to show the store (as I said, I have it disabled), I click 'no' and that terminates the annoying process. I go back to my browser and there is a window saying iTunes store is being opened.

I think there are two differing, yet relatively simple solutions to this process make web friendly. Firstly, have the iTunes store accessible and browsable through any browser I choose - not just the one locked inside iTunes. Although there may be some loss of features with this version and some work needed in the cross-browser environment, overall this solution has the potential to make more sales and therefore generate more money for the artists involved and Apple themselves. Secondly, and although less satisfying than the full experience, would be to have a landing page for that artist, with a synopsis, cover-art and descriptions for the albums and related links, much like artist pages.

A similar process happens with Spotify links, taking me away from the browser in to their stand-alone desktop application. For me, Spotify is slightly less annoying as I haven't disabled the functionality the link is pointing to. Spotify also has an excuse as being a media player, but I still feel this is breaking the web in some respect. There seems to be two types of Spotify links (with examples); "HTTP Link" and Spotify URI, the latter uses their specific Spotify protocol and not HTTP. The HTTP version could use the same solution I proposed for the iTunes Store, an overview page of that artist, album or song which also links to the Spotify URI and their specific protocol.

Another recent trend has appeared on websites such as and Facebook, who have introduced a similarly annoying feature, although it don't break the concept of the web like the applications I mentioned above. The feature in question seems to appear on external URLs, that is a link which points to a webpage which isn't their own.

This feature, I'm guessing, is to try and protect users from phishing attacks and other malicious websites by making the user more aware of the URL they're about to view. However, I think that after they've clicked through four or five times, they will stop paying attention, thus defeating the point of the feature in the first place. But more worryingly for the website for which they are leaving, the user will just see it as an annoying and an unwanted step between them and their destination and will more than likely project this frustration upon the website that is trying to protect them.

I think that teaching users about phishing and malicious websites is a great thing, and something which needs to be done. However, I don't think that individual websites should take it upon themselves to educate about this issue. Browsers such as Google Chrome highlight the URL of the page, and more prominent highlighting of secure websites is appearing in more browsers. Browser features like these will hopefully help users more than these individual websites' efforts.