Feeding the Link Parasites is a Sin

Your invisible if your art doll site doesn’t have anybody linking to it!

I know! Let’s make some links! Hmm… blog comments?

We have a problem here. Blog comments are a platform for link parasites just as Microsoft Outlook as a platform for spammers.

That is a problem with the current architecture of the blogging universe.

By virtue of how search engines work web sites accumulate quality ratings from the incoming links they attract. Meanwhile they accumulate reputation by their content, and the out-bound links they create. That reputation gives weight to the links.

Designers should accept some responsibility for creating systems that nurture this. Their designs should help to create good links. At a minimum they should not encourage the creation of links by bad actors.

Good people making lots of good links is a public good. Delightfully it also benefits both the source and the destination of the link. It creates a tiny bit of reputation for the source and a tiny bit of quality rating for the destination.

What’s excellent about the blogging ecology is how it has helped to generate a huge increase in the number of the best kind of links. Links generated by good actors; links that raise the reputation of the source site and raise the quality ranking of the links destination.

Link parasites create links that aim to aid only one side of the link, and manufactured blog comment links tend to drag down the reputation of their hosting blog.

Hacking the search engines with manufactured links is nothing new. Political parities, activist groups, marketing firms, and artists all do it all the time both in the real and the virtual world.

Should one of these link hackers chooses to manufacture a thousand links from art doll blogs to my site, hence slandering my site as being a high quality art doll site, then there isn’t much I can do about that.

But I can complain to the art doll blog
owners, and in turn I can complain about the blog authoring tools that enabled it.

The blog comment mechanisms are a dish of agar for bad actors to manufacture bad links the same way that Microsoft’s mail programs. Just as Microsoft Outlook is a platform for mail virus the blog comment system is a platform for link parasites. That’s a sin!

The good news is that link parasites damage the reputation of the hosting site. Good news? Yes, because it creates an incentive to get the problem resolved. Bad links mislead the search engines. They make the comment pages almost impossible to assign a usable reputation to, and that bleds over to the rest of the site.

The site owner desires a means to protect his reputation and the search engine wants a hint how to treat the links it finds.

A simple solution is to mark the link using attributes in the link. “Please consider this link to be the responsibility of an unknown third party. Your’s sincerely: site owner”

A site authoring tool that fails to do this is doing a disservice both to the public good of the web and to the reputation of the site author. Bad tool!

It has long been a fantasy by hypertext geeks that links would have bundles of meta-data on them. Today you can annotate a link to indicate that following it will take you to the “next page” and most browsers have a keystroke equivalent that will follow that link. This is rarely used for the usual reasons a standard fails to get adopted, i.e. the chicken and egg problem. Chicken: why learn the next-page keystroke if nobody annotates their pages. Egg: why bother to annotate if nobody knows the keystroke.

It seems hopeful that both the search engine and the blog authoring tool have their incentives line up. If they both adopt the standard then the link parasites will have to find someplace else to play their games.

Additionally it appears that we have some hope that mechanism to help is already there, say by adding something like author=”unknown-3rd-party” to the links in comments.

I think it’s neat that while historically putting meta-data onto links hasn’t created much return on the investment in this situation the benefit flows right back to the site author. Now he can defend his reputation and the authoring tools gets to avoid being bad.

If this was a discussion at an international industrial standards body then we would call this annotation a ‘pedigree’ and we would want to use something like SAML to create the assertion. That starts to drag us into the whole identity rat hole, among others.

So while we wait for those guys to get back from their meetings maybe we could just start putting author=”unknown” into blog comment links. If a handful of the big blogging tools and one or two of the search engine leaders indicated that they would get with the program the problem would be solved.

This problem goes by many names in the real world: astroturf, whisper campaign, etc. and you can hire firms to dis-intermediate the bad acting for you. Of course for others it’s just called mobilizing your base.

So! Anybody who’s got this far I want to encourage you to link to this art doll site. It will accrue to your reputation, I’m sure!

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