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Visited Links and Updates

Friday 15 October, 2004 ( 2:35PM GMT)

It is a common "good practice" to style visited links in a different way than links that have not been visited so that, to aid navigation, a user has a clue where they have already been.

The BBC News website is one of the few sites that I visit not only daily, but a number of times a day. I think it's a great site in terms of content, design and ease of use and I regularly pick up on the cues of their lighter-coloured visited links to quickly associate a headline with an article I have already read and therefore don't want to read again.

There's a slight flaw to this, however. It is clearly a policy of the BBC News site not to have a new page for every update on the same story, but to alter an existing page, which makes perfect sense. The trouble with this is that their "helpful cue" becomes increasingly less helpful with every update. The lighter links tell me I've already been to a certain page, as in one with the same file name, but I haven't actually been to that latest story, or update of that story.

A case in point is the story concerning the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which I followed with interest. Over recent weeks the same page has been updated numerous times and the story has swung from Silverstone being taken off the calendar to a consortium coming in to save it to Silverstone actually having a provisional place on the calendar (without the help of the consortium, in the end). So the latest "updated" page is actually radically different to the original page.

How many changes can you make to a web page before it is no longer helpful to use differently styled visited links?


Comment 1

The :visited pseudo-element makes sense excusively when that resource has been *visited*. In other words, the question is, does a resource changes identify if it's modified? The answer, for me, is yes. I never use :visisted for dynamic (back-end driven sites), only for static content.

One could argue in favour of a system which checks the date of the last visit and use a regular CSS class to highlight changed content, but that's beyond the scope of this discussion.

So said Gabriel Mihalache on Friday 15 October, 2004 at 3:28PM GMT.

Comment 2

I talked some time ago about this on my blog [1 , lang="es"] . My proposed approach was generating "dynamic links" and appending the last-modified date of the linked document to the query string. Thus, everytime the document is updated, the link would be slightly different and the browser would see it as new. This also very handy when building blogrolls, since a blog with new content since the user's last visit shouldn't count as a 'visited link'


For example, if i have, last changed on Feb 25th at 2pm, the link would be

If it's updated on March 1st at 10pm

This should solve the problem :)

So said mort on Friday 15 October, 2004 at 3:41PM GMT.

Comment 3

mort, great idea but query strings arnt too hot for semantics, what about:

Thus if we went to the parent folder we could see all updates for the 15/10/04, and if we went up another level we could see all updates to the document.

Im sure mod_rewrite could handle the conversion nicely.

So said Tom on Friday 15 October, 2004 at 4:28PM GMT.

Comment 4

I feel pretty strongly that url's for articles and news should be singular and permanent - hence the reason bloggers are all so caught up in their structured permalinks (myself included).
Once that news article is no longer about the events of [insert date here] relating to [insert topic here]; the use of the original uri is incorrect by definition - Universal Resource Identifier... where did my resource go?
If the web is to embrace its capability as a long term intellectual resource, content developers cannot overwrite the past with the present.
</gets off soapbox ;)>

So said Andrew on Saturday 16 October, 2004 at 10:48AM GMT.

Comment 5

Each entry on Livejournal has a comments link which lists the number of comments, and a nc=x in the URL. This was if another person comments on an entry the nc=x grows by one and the link stops being visited. Unfortunately it doesn't play any part other than that (you can go to an nc=2 page with 15 comments and it won't make a difference)...

So said Robin on Sunday 17 October, 2004 at 4:16PM GMT.

Comment 6

:visited means, simply, that you've been to that address recently. It has never meant that the content has not been updated.

Any user operating under that misunderstanding is simply misinformed. Far better to teach users what the mechanisms really mean than to change the mechanism on some sites so no one's ever sure what it means.

So said Neal on Friday 22 October, 2004 at 8:02PM GMT.

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