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Every time I add a link to a comment in Stack Overflow I have to take two attempts because the information provided in the help box is confusing.

This is what is currently looks like enter image description here

I never know if the actual url goes inside of the [link] or inside of the (http://example.com).

Can it be changed to [Description of link](http://example.com) or something a little more clear than two things with the same meaning.

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  • I don't think the markdown there is meant to be a description, but an example. link is the example creation that uses that code. I think example.com could certainly not be the description, and link certainly isn't a valid URL, so that's the only way to interpret it.
    – zondo
    Apr 5, 2017 at 23:03
  • As a person who is relatively new to Markdown, I sympathize with your dilemma. The way I got around it is to think of it in either of two different ways. One way is to visualize inserting a link in existing text. Then it's more intuitive to put "[ ]" around text and the URL follows. The other way is to visualize more general Markdown where you will put the URL elsewhere (usually at the end). Again, you would use "[ ]" on the text and the URL is elsewhere (usually follows). That's how I reasoned it out.
    – John
    Apr 5, 2017 at 23:04
  • @zondo The word link means a link to something. Example in casual conversation "Hey can you give me the link to that site?" -> "Sure: h️ttp://️somewebsite.com". Super easy to misinterpret if you've never seen markdown links before. Should be e.g. [link text](http://example.com).
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 0:37
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    (PS Note that in 'learn more' it is presented as [basic links](http://example.com), which is slightly better. Seems reasonable to want that in the blurb. Although something I just noticed is if the blurb example link text is extended it'll word-wrap in weird ways in its current form, but that's not an insurmountable problem, just kinda funny.)
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 0:50
  • @JasonC Good catch on the learn more section. Why can't that just be inside of the help box to begin with? Apr 6, 2017 at 5:33

2 Answers 2

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Ever since WorldWideWeb (an "hypermedia browser-editor, an excersise in global information availability", later renamed to Nexus) was released (outside of CERN) in 1991, a "link" has been the text on a web page that the user clicks on to go somewhere else.

WorldWideWeb Screenshot

The use, and idea of a link, or hyperlink, in hypertext first saw practical use in the Hypertext Editing System (HES) in 1967. HES was used by NASA during the Apollo missions.


The system itself was composed of text "areas" which were of any length, expanding and contracting automatically to accommodate material. These areas were connected in two ways: by links and by branches. A link went from a point of departure in one area (signified by an asterisk) to an entrance point in another, or the same, area. Although the HES team used Ted Nelson's conception of a text link, Doug Engelbart was incorporating the same idea into NLS independently, unbeknownst to Van Dam, who wishes he had known about this work. "I hadn’t heard of Engelbart. I hadn’t heard of Bush and Memex. That came quite a bit later," Van Dam recalls. Links were intended to be optional paths within a body of text — from one place to another. A link was intended to express a relationship between two ideas or points: an intuitive concept.

Source: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 2010 Volume 4 Number 1, Crafting the User-Centered Document Interface: The Hypertext Editing System (HES) and the File Retrieval and Editing System (FRESS)


[link](http://example.com)

clearly says

[this](will://take.you.here)


Since "link" has been used in that context for longer than ~99.9% of us have been using links (and likely longer than ~75% of us have been using computers), I believe the content of the blurb on how to make a link is perfectly clear, concise, and succinct. Keep it the way it is.

Update
After a (deleted) exchange in comments with @JasonC, I'll accept that changing both the [link] in the help box, and [basic links] in the learn more section, to [link text] could help some people understand better what's expected and how to do it. Still makes perfect sense to me, and seems to have worked for these many years. It can' hurt to accommodate the next generation of users, however.

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  • It clearly doesn't say that? There is legitimately no harm in adding a better description than just the word link. You are acting like I am requesting the entire meaning of link to be different. I'm simply asking for a better explanation of how to put a link in the comments. Apr 6, 2017 at 5:27
  • If you click help then learn more the directions to add a link is [basic links](http://example.com). Why can't this just be what is inside the help box from the start? Apr 6, 2017 at 5:32
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    @Gypsy If anybody ever asked you to send them a link to something, and you replied with a URL, you've already proven yourself wrong and shown the ambiguity. And I guarantee you've done this. Not to mention in the examples you've given in your post, a "link" is the combination of the label and the target URL. In the usual context, it is the pair, not the text alone. [description](http://site.com) is a link.
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 5:36
  • That was a rather amusing exchange of edited -> deleted comments, heh.
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 5:58
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The real definition of a link, as specified by Wikipedia, is:

In computing, a hyperlink, or simply a link, is a reference to data that the reader can directly follow either by clicking, tapping, or hovering. A hyperlink points to a whole document or to a specific element within a document. Hypertext is text with hyperlinks. - Wikipedia

This can be interpreted to say that the link name is "link", while the "hypertext" is the link address. The only difference is that StackExchange provides an example link address http://example.com within the rounded parenthesis.

However, having said that, it can quite often get confusing for many users, including me. However, what I do to try and remember where the link goes, and where the link description goes, is as follows:

  • If you are posting the comment, and an option to post an answer as well is available, then try fitting the description and the link itself in it. The preview should shos up.

  • If you look at [link](http://example.com), then the link address is in the round parenthesis, and the name "link" is in the square brackets.

This is just my personal advice on how I feel the community can avoid a confusion between the link and the description of the link. If your feature request is passed, then you won't have to worry about it anymore though

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    This essentially says "the community can avoid being confused by the documentation by remembering to not be confused by the documentation"...
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 0:46
  • No, it just provides some memory aids. I never say anything like: "To avoid the confusion, remember to not get confused wher to put the link description and the link itself". Besides, I just provided some tips that help me. Apr 6, 2017 at 0:51
  • Memory aids posted on MSE, no matter how generally helpful, unfortunately don't help much unless a link to this post is added to the current comment help text. That's the problem. I'm not criticizing you. My point is just that giving helpful aids here can't realistically take the place of ambiguous documentation. I'm making more of a neutral, possibly uninteresting observation.
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 0:53
  • @JasonC Sorry, my bad. I didn't know about that. Should I take off my answer? Apr 6, 2017 at 0:56
  • I am not the judge of whether or not anybody should delete an answer. It's not bothering me, I can tell you that much. I mean, in reality I probably should have just never said anything, heh.
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2017 at 0:57
  • @JasonC Thanks for that vote of confidence :) Apr 6, 2017 at 0:58
  • I do not see the harm in adding a better description of how to put a link in the comments. Why bother giving excuses on the current method when there is no harm in changing it to better terminology. After all, it is the help section. Apr 6, 2017 at 5:29

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