Monday, January 25, 2016

"A Chain Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link ..."

We've heard it said, and likely had it conveyed to us by parents, teachers, coaches, or mentors along the way, that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This means that you can have a simple chain for attaching a pendant or medallion around your neck as a piece of jewelry or a massive one that is forged with huge links for some industrial purpose, and each one will fail to serve its intended purpose if one of the links in the chain break or pulls apart.

You might remember from grade school or in working with your kids or grand kids to decorate a Christmas tree with a paper chain. Essentially strips of colored construction paper (red and green typically for Christmas but also used in other colors at other festive times of the year) are glued to themselves to form a loop. Then the next piece of paper in inserted into that loop and glued so that an interlocking series of loops - a chain - is created. When too little glue or paste (white library paste is often used) is applied or it dries out after being applied, a loop will sometimes come undone - destroying the integrity of the chain. That is an example of the weak link.

So, that is how links work in chains, but let's look at another type of links that wasn't even part of our vocabulary several years ago. I'm talking about hyperlinks - a web address or location we insert in our websites, blogs, and articles to direct the reader to a site or page that elaborates or explains a key word of phrase in the text.

Here again, the article or website is only as string as the weakest or broken link. No one wants to click on an inoperative link that reveals a "page not found." We can have the strongest, best written article, commentary, or web page that suffers when one of the links does not work correctly.

There are several reasons why a link may not work as intended. The page or article cited by us may have moved or no longer be hosted on the site that we used as a link. We wouldn't necessarily know that right away because we don't receive notification about such changes. It's also possible we typed in the site address incorrectly or that the article we copied it from had a mistake in it.

Links can break. They can just stop working. A link may have worked fine yesterday or the day before that. It may work again tomorrow or next week. It just doesn't work right now, and that's a problem for us and our readers.

Sometimes, the link just disappears. Apparently there are gremlins at work online in the wee hours that like go around erasing hyperlinks so that when someone clicks on it there is no place to take the reader. It sure seems like something like this is happening anyway.

So, as diligent as we might be in linking important key words and phrases on a web page or article, there are a couple of best practices we need to incorporate.

First, never make a page or article live ("published") without trying the links in preview mode to determine that they work and that they open the site or page intended. Do this for all of the links - not just one or two of them - and even if the same link is repeated one or more times later in the text. No one needs any surprises here.

Second, on a regular basis, test each one of the links on web pages where they are used to make sure they actually open and that the correct location comes up for the viewer. Check every link and not just a couple at random. Fix any that aren't working correctly, Then calendar a time to repeat the process. 

They still may stop working for one of several reasons, but at least we will know they worked at our last test. We spend time to help our readers understand the content we post by directing them to additional explanations. It's important that the links work properly.


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Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, MCSP, MIRM, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit my website at stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.