September 11, 2008

Link This

Awhile back, I wrote a freelance article for an IT think tank that explored what the future look and feel of the Internet may have in store. I interviewed Daniel Nations, freelance writer and editor for's "Guide to Web Trends."

One of the areas that didn't make it into the article, but which I found extremely fascinating--in addition to his opinions regarding newspapers vs. the Web--was the current state of the online, link-based economy. Rather than let that part of the interview wither and eventually get taped over, I thought I'd post it here, for any of you who may be interested. Here's what Nations had to say:

Newspapers, most of them kind of shot themselves in the foot because they were very antagonistic towards the Web for the longest time, and way too many of them still are. Early on, it was just too difficult for people within the newspaper industry to figure out how to really make any money on the Web; they were just too reliant on their print economic models, and too slow to adapt. The Web, on the other hand, has evolved and adapted practically on a weekly basis. Just look at what Web pages looked like back in, say, 2003 compared to today's Web pages; by comparison, newspapers changed very little, if at all. Now, some of them are starting to catch on, although a little late in the game, coming to terms with the online community aspects of the Web and how to attract and retain readers.

Thrown into all this has been the emerging and sometimes competing opinions on what has more value: content or links. Clearly, I think the value is in linking. People are still sometimes struggling with this idea that linking to other sites is good; it seems so contrary, but it's cooperative game theory at its best, something that seems contrary to your own interests but at the end of the day it's going to do you good. This is an area that newspapers and a lot of other news media have trouble wrapping their heads around, because you may have all these news aggregator and similar sites popping up that snip a portion of a news article as a tease and then link to the original site and the entire article. This is kind of a gray area, because you start walking into areas of copyright law and plagiarism and fair use and a lot of other hot button issues. But, when it comes right down to it, those news aggregator sites are creating links to the original content, and those links are being clicked by people who would otherwise probably never have even visited the originating site if it hadn't been linked elsewhere. And this isn't limited to news aggregator sites, either. You have Stumbleupon and Twitter and forums and all these Web-based applications and sites that are potential links and traffic.

The #1 thing you want to do if you want a successful Web page with a lot of traffic, is to be ranked high in Google, and a sure way to get there is to gain a lot of legitimate links to your content. Interesting content is important, but content means nothing without links to it, and a lot of them. Links are sort of the equivalent of online currency, which is something a lot of people just don't understand yet. Links are valuable.

However, it's important to understand that simply linking to someone else doesn't mean it's entirely okay to snip some or all of an article; people have a genuine claim to content they've created, and while some people are enthusiastic about being excerpted and linked, you have to respect those people who don't necessarily want their content essentially copy-and-pasted. I would say there are more people out there who want to be linked and quoted, but that's not everyone.

Posted by Ryan at September 11, 2008 09:24 AM | TrackBack
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