Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Consumer surplus in action

Like most people who use the Internet, I’m not an HTML expert. I understand the basic idea, but the last time I was anywhere near the cutting edge, <B>bold</b> and <I>italic</i> tags were new and exciting. So when I was advised to make the links in these posts open in new tabs, it’s not as though I knew how to do that off the top of my head.

Fortunately, I’ve long practiced the principles behind the XKCD Tech Support Cheat Sheet. A quick Google search led me to this page, which told me I needed to insert the code “<base target=’_blank/>” in the header section of my template. I did, saved, and checked the result. Presto! Problem solved.

Until the next day, when I realized every link was opening in a new tab, not just the external ones. Click on “About” – new tab. Click on “Journalism” – new tab. That’s not what I had in mind.

So, back to Google. This time my search for “Blogger external links new windows” led me to this page … and a much longer stretch of HTML gobbledygook that apparently implements some JavaScript. Fortunately, this is what cut-and-paste is for. Save again … and now everything seems to work as intended. (Let me know if it doesn’t.)

This strikes me as an example of the “consumer surplus” provided by the Internet. Thanks to the plunging price of storing and distributing information, I get a free fix to the free code that underpins my free blog. I don’t know how much it would cost to have a professional modify my blog code, but presumably it would be more than $0.

Of course, the forces that have caused the Internet to blossom with free blog fixes are the same ones making it harder for many information providers, including journalists, to make a living. One person's consumer surplus is another person's lost revenue. Still, I'm glad my links work - and despite first-hand experience with the Internet's battering of traditional print journalism, I'm continually delighted by the cornucopia of amazing writing that the Web daily places for free before my eyes.

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