You’d think after 20 years, people would have worked out how to compose links on the World Wide Web. But Nick Carr, who is very exercised about distraction in modern society…
Oh look, kittens.
One post recommended a technological solution: get the reader to decide how the links should appear. (And if you go there, you should at some point find a lot of what appears below in a comment). But this is applying a technological solution to a cognitive problem.
People need to take a step back and consider why inline linking gets used. I have to write using a number of different styles which use either inline links or links at the end. The two styles of writing turn out to be quite different – and I’ve argued against house styles using one or the other in different contexts because of this issue.
Inline linking became popular largely due to blogging and is useful because it allows you to construct a post quickly – all I have to do is put in the link and assume if the reader is not up to speed on the subject they will click to find out. Those that are aware of what’s at the end of the link don’t have to read through yet another description of what the link’s endpoint says, which is what happens if you bung the links at the end (and then provide some more description to remind people what the links are all about).
So, I’d argue for someone who is aware of a thread of stories, the inline link format is less distracting because the knowledgeable reader does not have to wade through stuff they already know.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that authors play with distraction all the time in the interest of maintaining interest in a story by scene shifting. With inline links, you’re just inviting the reader to do their own scene shifting if they feel like it.