Not All Links Are Created Equal

Stan James, CTO of Lijit, has been on a blogging tear. His most fascinating recent post is titled, "Not all links are created equal." He delineates three distinct kinds of links on the web:

1) The Pointer Link

This is the link we all think of, the link that was envisioned back when they were called "hyperlinks". It’s basically a citation, like an footnote from an academic journal.

English translation: I examined the exact content I am now pointing to, and I found it to be worthwhile. It’s worthwhile to go there.

2) The Subscribe/Friend/Trust Link

These links are the hallmarks of RSS and social networks. These links are not endorsements of the exact content pointed to, but of the author or creative source represented by the link.

English translation: I often examine content that comes from this source, and I find it to be worthwhile. Further content from this source is probably also worthwhile.

Note that this type of link talks not only about past content from the author, but is also a prediction that future content will also be worthwhile. (As Seth once said about subscriptions, it’s a promissory note for attention that will be paid in the future.)

3) Identity Link

These links are maybe the newest to grow in importance. With the proliferation of content creating platforms, it’s becoming more difficult to tie your online identity together. People must now create "identity indexes" that list who they are on different services.

English translation: "I create the content at this source, and take full responsibility for it."

Stan then predicts the next kind of link will be an "anti-link":

If I had to bet, I’d say the next important step in linking will be anti-links. In the real world, you also often recommend against things and clarify who you are not. For example:

  • "Did you hear that Mary is now into multilevel marketing?"
  • "Scrubs used to be funny, but now it sucks."
  • "My name is Michael Bolton. … No, not the singer."

There are only a few parallels to this in the online world.

  • rel="nofollow" : This microformat in a link indicates that the author does not endorse what is pointed to. It was developed to solve the problems of links in blog comments. If a commented leaves a link, the author of the blog does not want to endorse whatever the commenter linked to. (Okay, not really an anti-link, more of an un-link.)
  • rev="vote-against" : This microformat in a link indicates that the author activly recommends against what is pointed to. It is not really supported, however.  (Except by Lijit!)

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