Hacking Jakob Nielsen

Paul Dourish looked it up: “Even Internet Gurus Have To Start Somewhere.”

You know what else we found? A patent, attributed to Nielsen but assigned to Sun Microsystems, for a method of displaying tooltips in Web pages. The advantage of his system: You only have to specify the tooltip once for a given phrase and it will appear for all instances of that phrase on a page.

We’re not sure just how this is substantially better than the TITLE attribute, which you can place inside a <SPAN> tag to cause tooltips to appear in compliant browsers for that phrase. Yes, you have to repeat it all the way through, but that’s not exactly a huge cross to bear.

<SPAN title=”the usability potentate”>Jakob Nielsen</span>

And if you define a new class in your stylesheet, like SPAN.jakob, you can underline the relevant SPANs so people will know to run the mouse over them.

SPAN.jakob { text-decoration: underline }

So the final example is:

<SPAN class=”jakob” title=”the usability potentate”>Jakob Nielsen</span>

There. No patents required. (We use this trick from time to time, actually. Kind of fun, this metadata.)

Posted on 2000-10-28