An E-Media Tidbits post today suggested that news sites might benefit from the Orbitz.com technique of spawning pop-up windows when readers click away to other sites. "Use this window to go back to the article you were just reading," the pop-up might say.
Fundamentally, this idea isn't half bad. It's too easy, especially for patience-deprived surfers like me, to click an offsite link and forget one's position in the previous site. Sure, that's what the Back button and History are for, but those tools can get hairy -- particularly when surfing in a tabbed browser. I can see some good in a Web site that remembers what I did last.
But the pop-up implementation? Horrid. Maybe -- and that's a big maybe -- it's appropriate for critical, transaction-based applications, where it's vital that you leave your browser open to a particular site before you complete, e.g., a multi-page purchase. But do we really want this for news? With few exceptions, it essentially would mean that clicking any external link (your bookmarks, your e-mail client, in-page external links) would result in a rather intrusive popped-up message:
"Hey! You're leaving our site! But we'll stick around in this pop-up window just in case you ever decide to come back. You know. Just in case you forget our URL."
If news sites are going to start keeping track of the last article I read, they'd best do it on their servers. Not on my precious desktop space. Set a cookie, and use it to display relevant session-based data directly in the page layout -- as Amazon.com does. Don't pop up.