Whose links are they anyway?


[credit: jurek d. via Flickr]

This is a link to a New York Times story that is informative, but I must admit, it’s filled with nuanced “link irony.” The irony is this: the headline is “Mainstream News Outlets Start Linking to Other Sites”, but the story (as of 7 a.m. on Monday) has no links to other sites — including to websites and individuals who are quoted in the story. (Brian Stelter, certainly the most blog-savvy reporter at the New York Times or any newspaper, wrote the story but I doubt he actually “posted” it on the site, so I feel certain the irony is not his making.)

The article is a great leap into the mainstream media for my friend Scott Karp who coined the term and started a company dedicated to the concept of link journalism. (Jeff Jarvis also gets a shout-out.)

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I’m a great believer in link journalism. As Scott has pointed out, the way to develop a base of readers who return to you time-after-time is by embedding links in an article or post that take the readers to the most relevant destination rather than to an internal link that is not relevant.

It is also a little ironic (coincidental?) that Brian’s article appears on the same day that a startup called MashLogic is launching in an invitation-beta version of a FireFox plug-in it says will allow users to take back control of the hyperlink. (In an article focused on a cool thing happening on the web — and not on doom and gloom — here’s Michael Arrington’s review of MashLogic.)

I’ve spent about 30 minutes using MashLogic this morning, and that’s enough to convince me they are on the way to solving a problem that is the making of media companies and companies like Vibrant media. That is, if you embed irrelevant links or embed advertising in the context of editorial content, then users will rebel. (And conversely, as Scott points out, if you embed helpful links, you gain loyal readers.)

MashLogic allows the user to say, “pox on all your links, I’ll use my own.”

Here’s a quote from MashLogic’s blog:

“Hyperlinks define relationships on the web. With the advent of self-serving techniques like internal links, SEO, and link farms, content publishers have diluted the utility of hyperlinks. We intend to liberate the link from their clutches and let you take back the web! Some refer to this as Benevolent Hyperlinking, but we’re not quite ready to print up the T-Shirts.”

Benevolent hyperlinking. Link journalism. User-controlled hyperlinks. Whatever you call it, the message is clear: If you are a publisher or marketer, hyperlinks should serve the reader, not abuse them.

Update: Via Twitter, Brian responds: “Thanks for the blog post, and for recognizing the irony. (I’ve asked the web producer to add links to the article.)

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