Making Links

By now we all have come to understand that links are a unit of currency. The number of inbound links you have, the number of customer accounts, the number of subscribers to your site’s feeds are all metrics that denote something about how successful your doing. In turn we know that links create graphs and graphs of links often have power-law distributions with amazing class distinctions betwix the parties in the graph. We know those class distinctions are not a consequence of the merit or value created by the links but instead of how fast the graph is grown or how the nodes merge as market share is rolled up thru mergers. So we know a lot about links as elements in the process of creating wealth. Every scheme for creating links will become the target of bad actors.

We also know that links play a role in the identity problem. That the more you know about a persons links the more accurate your model of him can be. We know that accurate models of users are fungible. A better handle on who the user is enables targeted advertising and more highly discriminated pricing. A better handle on who the user is enables transaction costs to be reduced. Single sign on, one-click purchasing, automated form filling are not the only examples of that.

It surprises me that we need to be reminded of this each time we encounter another effort to create a means to creating a large quantity of links.

This month’s contribution to the let me help establish a mess of links party is one-click-subscription. The puzzle in this case is how to lower the barriers to subscribing to a blog. Solving this problem requires moving three hard to move objects – all the blogs, all the readers, and sticking something in the middle between them. Both suggested solutions need to move all three; but they vary in where they put their emphasis. The blog hosts are probably the easiest of the three to move – they have an incentive to move and the market is already very concentrated.

One plan is the classic big server in the sky plan. Everybody rendezvous around the hub server. Requests to subscribe are posted to the hub. The user’s reader keeps it’s subscription set in synch with the hub. The business model suggested is a consortium organized by the common cause of a stick – fear of somebody else owning this hub – and a carrot – the bloom of increased linking it would encourage. Since early and fast movers will capture power-law elite rewards in such linking build outs there are some interesting drivers to build the consortium. Large existing players should find it advantageous to get on board. The principle problem with this plan is it’s a bit naive. A consortium of this kind is likely to become player in any number of similar hub problems, for example identity. This hub will have account relationship with everybody. It would know a lot about everybody’s interests. To say the least, that’s very hotly disputed territory. This plan has triggered more discussion than the following plan.

The second plan that’s been floated is to introduce into the middle a standard which blogs can adopt and readers can then leverage. This implies changing the behavior of most of the installed base of blog readers. The structure of that installed base is less easily shifted. The idea is to have the subscribe button return a document to the client’s browser (or blog aggregator/reader) which describes how to subscribe. Automation on the reader side can then respond to that information. This means introducing and driving the adoption of a new type of document, a new MIME type. It probably means installing a new bit of client software on everybody’s machines. The browser market leader would have some advantages in making this happen; and could there for very likely coopt any success in this plan to drive users to use his aggregator. But then that may only point out that the only reason we have a vibrant market of blog reading solutions is because the dominate browser has been dormant for a few years.

These are hard problems, and this is only one of many we currently face.

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