E-mail addresses in bylines: What's best?

At work I’m investigating adding reporters’ e-mail addresses into their bylines, as mailto links of some kind. One issue I’m debating is whether we should use any of various methods of obfuscation from spambots, or whether that would compromise news organizations’ obligation to make their addresses as public as possible.

The biggest question I have not yet answered, though, is how to format reporters’ contact information. There are several ways other sites do it:

  1. Making the reporter’s name a mailto link. is one site that uses this style:

    In this screenshot, the reporter's byline is a mailto link to his e-mail address.

    This design violates usability consultant Jakob Nielsen’s advice (tenth item) to only use mailto code on links “that explicitly indicate that they’re email addresses.... Don’t place mailto links on names.” (Update Jan. 24, 2003, 10:50 pm: Julie Albertson has already explained why this option is evil.)

  2. Making the e-mail address itself a mailto link. This follows Nielsen’s recommendation and makes it much more obvious what clicking the link will accomplish. uses this style:

    In this screenshot, the reporter's e-mail address is below his byline, and the e-mail address is a mailto link to itself.

  3. Making the reporter’s name a link to a popup window. The popup can provide a reporter’s e-mail address and phone number — even his or her picture, fax number and mailing address. uses this style:

    In this screenshot, the reporter's name is a link to a popup window with contact information.

    Clicking the reporter’s name brings up a popup window with an e-mail address and phone number.

If I implement something like this at work, I am leaning toward either the second or the third option, but I haven’t yet decided which is best. I like the additional contact information — rather than just an e-mail address — available in the third option. But I think the second option, where the e-mail address is a link to itself, makes it most intuitive to contact the reporter via e-mail.

Which design for contact information do you prefer? Are there any news sites doing it differently than these three examples? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

Comment by kpaul, posted January 23, 2003, 10:23 am

To be honest, I like it a lot better when the byline links through to a 'bio' page of some sort.

My vote would be for #3 ;)

Comment by Adrian Holovaty, posted January 23, 2003, 10:55 am

Another scheme would be to link to a page listing all stories by that reporter. (I guess that fits in #3, but I figured I'd point this out.) Here's an example from the Maneater, the student newspaper at the U. of Missouri. The Indiana Daily Student and The Harvard Crimson do the same.

Something like that is ideal for student publications, where a large percentage of readers are parents or prospective employers and it makes sense to make it easy for people to find other things a reporter has done. (Disclaimer: I made the Maneater site several years ago.)

Comment by Brian Hamilton, posted January 23, 2003, 1:01 pm

See The Top 10 New Mistakes of Web Design by Jakob Nielsen -- #4 : Lack of Biographies

I'd suggest using the third method, but not opening a popup window. Just send them to another page in the site that has that author's biography along with the others.

Comment by Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, posted January 23, 2003, 4:49 pm

Thanks for the ideas about adding fuller biographies. The LJWorld popups left me a little disappointed for not offering more information than they do — whether that extra information is a bio or a page listing all (recent) stories by a reporter.

The stories-by-reporter pages probably are most useful at student publications, but most “real” newspapers assign reporters to beats, and having a list of articles by the education reporter, for example, would be a great additional method of archive navigation. Unfortunately our CMS here can’t do that for us. Oh well.

Comment by Keith, posted February 3, 2003, 8:25 pm

I really like #2. I'll tell you why.

While I think Nielsen has a point, in theory, with his tenth item on his list of mistakes, what he doesn't tell you is that many, many of your users will accept this as a convention. I've tested for this in specific and so far I've not seen anyone expect anything other than a mailto: on a linked name.

I would agree with Jakob that it's not the ideal way to handle this (darn conventions!). Which brings me to why I like your second option. This way you satisfy your users by providing an obvious link to email and you satisfy the Gurus in the process.

#3 sounds good, but you need to ask yourself how your readers will view a pop-up - if they show annoyance to a mailto you can bet a pop-up will not go over well. I'd take it a step further and bet that many users will be surprised if a linked name doesn't go to a mailto. I know that goes agaist what Jakob is saying, but, hey I disagree with him as much as I agree with him.

Good luck with whatever you end up using.

Comment by francois, posted February 5, 2003, 8:01 am

I'd say #3 is best, but only if you have useful information to provide, like biog/photo and story archive.

Otherwise #2, which makes a good argument for human-readable email addresses, like

As for spambot avoidance, any mailto: is vulnerable, even those that use entity encodings (see my comment on this old web-graphics thread.) Others, like gazingus's rely on javascript being available. I saw a good non-js method on Simon Willison's site -- this would only work on a separate reporter biog page.

Comment by francois, posted February 5, 2003, 1:17 pm

Just saw a nice approach on OJR that does both, following a link from your How to let readers comment post. The reporter's name is hyperlinked to an article archive page (no biog), and next to it is an envelope icon with a mailto: link. It could've done with ALT or TITLE text, though.

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