Ecosytem and the Value of Links
N.Z. Bear asked for my 2 cents’ worth on an question he posted a couple days ago:
[S]hould a link from a blogger who has hundreds or even thousands of links to anyone and everyone on their page be worth exactly the same as a link from a more reserved blogger who only has a small number of outbound links?
In the Ecosystem right now, all links are equal. But I’m considering changing that. It doesn’t seem right to me that if Blogger A links to 3,000 other blogs, and Blogger B only links to 300, that those blogs receiving the links from B get exactly the same “credit” as those receiving one of A’s few thousand links.
A link is a recommendation; it says, “Go look over here, and you’ll find something interesting.” So should a recommendation from someone who says everything is interesting be considered as valuable as one from someone who seems to choose their recommendations with more care?
I agree with the problem but not the solution. And I don’t know what the solution is, really.
The problem, as I see it, is artificial links, not profligate linking. Glenn Reynolds is a linking fool and nobody that I know of thinks that’s a bad thing. His links, as with the links that most of us generate, represent exactly what Bear wants them to: a recommendation or at least an acknowledgement of the specific work of another individual. (Or, in the case of the link to Reynolds in this paragraph, a courtesy to the linkee and potentially unfamiliar readers.)
By contrast, we have what I term “artificial” links. These are rote links, often by bloggers who haven’t even visited the site in question. The reciprocal links generated by inline trackbacks and, especially, open trackback posts, are one form. For reasons I’ve explained previously, they don’t represent a recommendation by the blogger whose post contained the link.
Two other forms are widely used: Carnivals and Reciprocal Blogrolls. The former, pioneered by Bigwig at Silflay Hraka, is a compendium of self-submitted links to blog posts published, usually on a rotating basis, once a week. Bear himself highlights the dozens of these things. Originally designed to garner traffic and attention to especially good posts (in the opinion of the creator, at least) they have become linkwhoring festivals as more and more of these beasts get created and, frankly, unread.
The latter, including such things as the Alliance of Free Blogs, the Blogroll for Bush, and the Pro Life Blogs have always been strictly link whoring exercises. Basically, one joins the group with a promise to display a link to the site of the guy who started that particular blogroll and a copy of the blogroll itself. In cases of particularly successful efforts, this can result in dozens if not hundreds of “unearned” links back to one’s site.
If Bear can figure out a way to filter out artificial links without taking out too many legitimate ones, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, all this gamesmanship on the part of enterprising climbers has pretty much ruined the Ecosystem as an interesting measure of blogosphere influence. If tweaking the counting rules to discourage these games can restore the original purpose of the list, I’m all for it.