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On-line media giants creating “self linking” walled gardens?

Trust on the web is something hard earned. As a blogger, earning the trust of other bloggers as well as larger media publishers requires an appreciable amount of effort. Some might have you believe there’s a silent movement towards an intellectual embargo by the media giants. As you might expect, I see things differently…

Trust on the web is something hard earned. As a blogger, earning the trust of other bloggers as well as larger media publishers requires an appreciable amount of effort. Some might have you believe there’s a silent movement towards an intellectual embargo by the media giants. As you might expect, I see things differently…

In a recent O’Reilly Radar article, Tim questions what he sees as a recent trend in “self linking”.

The thrust of Tim’s argument is that some of the major on-line newspapers and magazines are linking to their own content, when there are plenty of other, maybe better suited and more authoritative articles out there.

Tim highlights something that I saw years ago. So he’s either very late to the party, or I saw it coming but didn’t identify it as a problem.

And it isn’t a problem.

A question of trust versus quality

From time to time, I’ve written articles that make reference to someone or something that’s less than trustworthy, but was pertinent to what I was writing about. On these rare occasions, I’ve had to think long and hard about linking to those sources. In the end, I either add the “nofollow” attribute to the link, or I don’t provide a link at all.

Also, there’s been times when I’ve been trying to find something to bolster an argument of mine, but have failed to find anything other than a previous article of my own — the only article with any reasonable degree of authority.

If you’re a major media player, like the BBC for example, you have a truly colossal back catalogue of trusted, highly authoritative content to draw upon. So it comes as little surprise to see these guys reference their own articles at the expense of anyone else.

Or so you’d think.

If any of the big players had a reason to exercise caution, that would be the BBC. For the longest time, they’ve shied away from in-page links (regular links within the content of the articles, like you see here on Blah), using the See Also box in the top right of the web page as a place for external sources.

However, they’re running a trial on what they call “in-page links”, which I found in an article of theirs discussing black holes.

BBC trial in-page links

Clearly, this runs counter to the argument that Tim is putting forward. In fairness, the BBC is just one example. But I’d hazard a guess and say there are plenty other examples out there.

However, none of this really matters.

No matter how big these guys are, if they’re just giving people the run-around and not serving quality content — be they links to internal or external content — then they’re only ever going to harm themselves.

Over time, word gets out via social media websites and social networks and people just stop visiting their websites. So it’s an entirely self-regulating process.

In the end, it really is all a question of trust and of quality

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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