Thoughts on Disclaimers
Post from October 28, 2008 (↻ August 24, 2017), filed under Everything Else.
How awesome that these are particularly popular in Germany: disclaimers on both websites and emails. Recently I came across the German Wikipedia article on disclaimers which talks about the topic in detail, and I could not but go for yet another “thoughts” post, focusing on the worst in disclaimers.
In a nutshell: We deal with misconceptions around both the Web as well as disclaimers, disclaimers say silly things, and there are some laws in some countries that require you to use them.
The “technical approaches” recommended by Wikipedia that should come with site disclaimers are great to avoid being linked to other websites:
“Clearly identify external links”: Kind of silly but still a very popular concept probably due to people thinking “websites,” not the “Web,” another form of territorial thinking. For a user it rarely matters whether or not he’s on your or another person’s site. Thus having site owners use external link flags to complement a disclaimer looks like a misconception of what the Web actually is, and how it’s perceived.
“Open external links in new browser windows”: It’s getting worse here, though German Wikipedia’s recognizing that this method might not be appreciated by site visitors. There are some exceptions to the rule, however links shouldn’t open new windows or tabs at all, and that’s again due to the Web metaphor mentioned above.
“Don’t ‘deep link’ but only link to the other sites’ homepages”: Even worse, though Wikipedia stresses that this is not quite usable (I wonder whether techniques that aren’t usable should be recommended at all). Indeed this recommendation sounds like a rather silly idea considering that links are useful, and that they build some kind of expectation that will not be met when being specific about a target on another site, then linking to the site’s homepage. Considering that this homepage might change, too, following up on the original “linking to evil sites or to sites that might theoretically turn apocalyptic” problem.
“Highlight the dates when external links have been added.” How helpful is that really, not just referring to that there might be other ways to determine such dates (cached versions of respective pages, versioning system repositories, and the like), but also how something like that is supposed to look like? Will dates being added to all “external” links be of relevance and interest to users?
The article seems to reflect a discussion that shouldn’t exist. There have been few thoughts about usability, then ramifications. The only good thing is that German courts don’t require external links to be accompanied by disclaimers and the like yet (contrary to what many people seem to think considering more than 150,000 disclaimers quoting a 1998 court order) as fortunately, it appears to be the context that is important.
There are a lot of questionable signatures out there already—something I forgot to mention earlier, huh—, however Germany introduced new requirements for corporate mail two years ago targeting companies listed in commercial registers. Among the mandatory things (otherwise to be fined) signatures need to include the name of the company owner or executive, company name, legal form, full address of office location, register entry and number; on top of that there is the name of the sender and his or her position, &c., easily resulting in signatures that are longer than 20 lines.
This requirement compounds the issue with all-popular top-posting habits, contributes to even more cluttering, and makes email even less user-friendly. A simple solution like having a link to the companies’ website that contains the required information added to signatures might meet legal requirements, but apparently, that would mean that you have to designate that link as external, including the date when you created or updated the signature, and…
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a tech lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves to try things, particularly in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
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On October 28, 2008, 21:09 CET, Dave said:
As usual, you’re spot on. It’s of course important to accommodate users, but I’ve received a growing number of requests and questions along the lines of “what if our users don’t know that the blue underlined words are a link?”
As web developers, I think it’s important that we refuse many of these silly changes rather than assume the role of kindergarten teacher for each visitor to our site.
Still, Wikipedia has nice little icons for external links as well.
Have a look at the most popular posts, possibly including:
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