The web is young enough that we have yet to achieve any real consensus on a robust manual of style. With technology changing so quickly, any detailed guide would rapidly fall out of date. But here’s a general rule that takes care of several of the common annoyances I find in even “professional”-level writing on the web:

  • Don’t add meta-data unless you have additional information not available to your reader.

It’s actually a very simple rule. Meta-data, such as links, represents information. If you don’t actually have any information to add, don’t pretend you do. It undermines those cases when you do have something to say.

This rule explicates the wrong-headedness of several common practices:

  • Don’t link to Wikipedia. If you use a term the reader doesn’t know, they can look it up on Wikipedia (or any other reference) themselves. There are even plugins that let users look up any word or phrase without much more trouble than clicking on a link. If you don’t have any more specific context for a term than its entry in the encyclopedia or dictionary then you don’t really have any information to offer.
  • Don’t add ticker symbols to every company name. (I’m looking at you, New York Times.) People know how to look up business information. I’m sure there are plugins for this as well. I understand the desire to drive readers to your preferred site; just know that you’re sacrificing style to do it.
  • Don’t “enhance” your links. Over the past couple of years publishers have been junking up their sites with tools such as Snap and Sphere that rewrite links to pop up graphical previews of their destinations or search results. Users who want previews can install special tools like Cooliris in their client.