June 20, 2006
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Eccentric Links

The link apprentice only sees lexical patterns. It sees letters on the page, not the ideas behind them. Can its links be useful?

A common failing of the link apprentice turns out, in weblogs, to be an asset. The apprentice is easily distracted by novelty and happenstance. The apprentice has no sense of humor. It can't detect irony. It has no sense of metaphor, either; if you write that "the Bush administration is playing games with science policy", it may think it perfectly reasonable to propose a link to a post about World of Warcraft.

Let's call this sort of link eccentric. It's off-center. In a real sense, it's a mistake: the link apprentice is being misled because it doesn't understand deeply. And it's eccentric in the other sense as well -- unconventional and slightly strange

Google doesn't understand metaphor either, and search engines don't know about irony or sarcasm or jokes. People will land in the wrong place. Sometimes, the link apprentice's bad suggestions might take them where they really belong.

But what will regular readers think of these connections? Readers excel at rationalizing links. As Adrian Miles famously observed, the link works very much like the cinematic cut. And while it's possible to confuse people with cuts, film viewers are extremely adept at building a world picture that turns two isolated scenes into a continuous, unseen action. In Hollywood films today, you've got a cut every 3.5 seconds but people perceive a continuous, uninterrupted and realistic fiction.