Being able to see links I've visited in Firefox is startlingly better

May 27, 2021

I recently wrote about how I wanted to make links that I'd already visited be clearly visible in Firefox. At the time I was hoping for a general style that I could temporarily enable on anywhere and have work regardless of the site's choice of colours, link decorations, and other details. In writing the entry I discovered that Firefox supported the special colour name of 'VisitedText' for your standard visited link colour. While I considered general solutions, this led me to start writing some very quick site-specific styles with Stylus to use this on suitable sites. Each site style is the same:

a:visited {
  color: VisitedText !important;

There are a lot of sites that this very simple style works on, because it turns out that there are a lot of sites that are basically black text on white background; they've just decided to suppress visited links as a separate color (and sometimes fiddle with the link style too). At this point I've added Stylus styles for about a dozen sites.

(It turns out that Stylus has an interface for adding additional domains to a style so I theoretically don't need one style per site. In practice it's probably still easier to type this out anew for each new site I apply this to rather than find and add the domain name to an existing site. And this way, I can change the site-specific style if the site does something odd later.)

It's been startling how much better this has made my experience on these sites. It's encouraged my exploration of their links, has made re-visiting far less of an annoying experience, and in general has removed a source of friction that I didn't consciously realize existed. Each site is clearly nicer this way (and less quietly irritating). It at least feels as if the sites are more legible and easier to navigate.

(One of my guesses for why is that before, every time I considered opening a link I'd hover over it and try to remember if I'd already read it. Now I don't have to try that; the site tells me.)

On the one hand I feel happy that this has validated my effort. On the other hand, this vividly demonstrates that so many (other) sites are clearly damaging their own usability (at least for me) by deliberately hiding this information in the name of some design principle.

(Of course this fix isn't complete, because some sites also put their own tracking additions on their outbound links. This makes Firefox consider the full link to be 'not visited', even though I've already visited the link without the extra tracking goo. But that's life on the modern web.)

Written on 27 May 2021.
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Last modified: Thu May 27 00:25:37 2021
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