Automatic titling was recently enabled for internal link to questions, to lower the number of plain links with no descriptive text. I think this is a great change, and think it would be great to extend this to external links.

When a plain link is posted, the URL could be fetched by the system, and if there is a <title> attribute on that page, the link text could be changed to that text. To prevent absurdly long link text, it could be truncated to, say, 100 characters. If the link were just the domain (e.g. http://stackoverflow.com/) or maybe just the domain and a single subdirectory (e.g. http://stackoverflow.com/faq/), it could be allowed to remain since that type of URL is fairly clean and may sometimes be useful. If a user absolutely needs to have the link text be the URL, then they can do so manually.

I understand that there would likely be some challenges with implementing this. It is not however impossible - Facebook does something similar every time they fetch a page that a user links on their wall, and other sites surely do similar such things. I think this would be very helpful in lowering the incidence of bare-bones links to at least bare-bones links with titles, and a descriptive title goes a long way.


It sounds good, but some remarks:

  • You would need a caching system (you don't want to be used as a way of ddossing a site)
  • if you encounter big pages or slow domains, it means you will either have to wait for it to finish while posting a question/answer, or have the content of your post changed later, which can cause unexpected behavior
  • Not all pages have good or descriptive titles. It does not have to be better then the 'bare' url, which can give a lot of information.
  • What happens if a title changes?

I would think this to something that gives more problems, and resolves not that much of a problem.

  • 2
    Agreed (so: no thanks, please do NOT implement), if only as some pages have huge titles, including company names and search terms. (Note that the internal links only use the question title, which is shorter than the page title.) Luckily, as detecting shortened URLs (which needs a much smaller HEAD request instead of a full GET) is declined for performance reasons too, I don't see this implemented. As for changed names: automatic names of internal links are frozen until a post is edited too.
    – Arjan
    Mar 3 '11 at 8:10

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