May 11, 2006

Naive Linking

Doc Searls, Robert Anderson, and Steve Gillmor are arguing about the value of links.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Links are not currency. Links are part of the grammar and punctuation of writing. It's literally ridiculous to say (as Seth Goldstein claims) that

strong web bloggers no longer link

It's like saying that "strong bloggers now write in Korean", or that "strong bloggers prefer short sentences." Yes, some of them do, sometimes. Some don't.

Strong writers write well. Omit unnecessary words and needless links. Don't omit necessary words and useful links.

Attention is not the problem. Yes, we're talking a lot this year about getting things done and personal productivity and trimming your inbox and your subscription list. But all this is secondary. The problem is not that we have too much to read; the problem is we don't know enough and so we've got a lot of reading to do.

This is not a link.

That is blue text. Don't confuse the passing habits (and bad design choices) of 1994 browsers with the link. Blue links were a mistake; we can live with the mistake or fix it. Either way, we're fine. (The qwerty keyboard was a mistake. Lumber dimensions were a mistake. We all live with plenty of mistakes.)

We know a lot about links. Landow's Hypertext 3.0 is one good place to start. My patterns of hypertext might be another. The best use of links on the Web is within the site, not among sites.

And, underlying all this talk is the mistaken notion that it's all about traffic. Newspapers need circulation: weblogs don't. The economics of distribution and manufacturing mean that newspapers must dominate or die. It's just not true of weblogs; lots of weblogs can achieve their goals with a very small audience indeed. Even if one of those goals is money: the right readers are more rewarding than merely numerous readers.

Links explain relationships. And relationships -- in the data, and between people -- are stuff we've got to talk about.