To cap or not to cap?

As noted in a progress report on the main site, we’ve just put live a big update to the SFE, which now has more than 138,000 words on top of the text we launched with in October. I thought it might be worth discussing one particular change.

In the 1979 and 1993 print editions of the SFE, cross-references to other entries were written in small caps. So, for instance, an entry might say “Heinlein’s novels shamefully neglected discussion of GIANT MUTANT STAR GOATS”, and you’d know that the capitalised phrase was the title of another entry. We carried this convention over into the text that went online in October. In addition, links were underlined and in blue – as is the usual online convention.

There was a very distinct split in the reaction to this. By and large, those who knew the SFE from its previous editions made no comment or were happy with it. Those who didn’t found the presence of capitalised, underlined, blue links too disruptive to their reading.The caps, they said, now carry the connotation of SHOUTING too much. So we took the decision to put the links back in lower case (except, of course, where a sentence dictates that they need capitals). This change took quite a lot of work for our technical supremo David Langford, but has been implemented in today’s update. We hope the result is less SHOUTY without alienating those used to earlier editions.

For the moment, we’re leaving links both in blue and underlined. But comments are very welcome on whether this is something we should look at again.


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7 responses to “To cap or not to cap?

  1. Phil Stephensen-Payne

    A major improvement – congratulations to all concerned for listening to (and acting on) user feedback!
    Now if you could just get rid of those “Died” tags on living authors…:-)

  2. No, leave the links as they are supposed to be.
    Of course, you could satisfy both the traditionalists and the “capitals hurt my sensibility” camp by offering alternate stylesheets 😉

    • Ouch! Ye olde-worlde/Germanic Capitalized Terms a la “Built around the intriguing concept of Slow Glass, a kind of Time Viewer through which light can take years to travel” are much more annoying than all-caps could be. And it would NOT be that hard to lowercase them properly…

  3. Lee M

    I say get rid of the capitalisation. It’s an unnecessary holdover from the days of print. Likewise, get rid of entries that only redirect to other entries. All they do is slow searching down unnecessarily.

  4. Nick H.

    I’m very pleased the see the links are much less shouty now. I hope you decide to continue having them blue and underlined, though, as if you were to do away with that as well, how would anyone know the links are there?

  5. gojira

    > The caps, they said, now carry the connotation of SHOUTING too much.

    I think people how complain about this are just parroting “online etiquette” rules they have read somewhere. In a real encyclopedia, i.e. not Wikipedia, I would normally expect references in caps.

  6. Bob C

    I agree with the ‘pro-lowercase’ camp; I think CAPS ARE SHOUTY and didn’t need someone else’s rules to make me think so. However, not only are caps ‘shouty’, they’re also more difficult to read. There’s good scientific evidence to support this approach. Indeed, in my days in corporate communications, if I wanted the boss’s interminable rantings on the back page of the staff magazine to be ignored I simply published it in caps, in white text on a black background and in a sans serif font – this practically guaranteed that no-one would read it (it’s just too much hard work).

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