Link me, Amadeus!

We’re all gung-ho on metadata as a way of adding richness to the “mere” words in Web content. But are links themselves content?

In most cases, yes. Links add richness, depth, and realness to a Web site. They acknowledge that more exists online than that specific page. If the reason you’re visiting that page is to find out more on a topic, links are usually of value.

At least in principle. And we know someone who’s making us quite a bit more aware of what the principles really are. Kirk McElhearn, writing in Tidbits, drops a few bons mots about links as an end to themselves:

[L]inks are easier to generate than content, particularly quality content. It is worth considering whether or not this practice merely meets the demands of users. Do people value a long list of links more than a long article? In many cases, yes, because a list of links offers unlimited promise without the immediate responsibility of reading and comprehending text. People are seldom interested in reading long texts online, so maybe lists of links are the only thing that meet the requirement that content be both copious and free.

Aha. And here’s another goody:

In large part, venues that use links sparingly and appropriately have editors who focus on original content. Although anyone can be a publisher on the Internet, it seems that all too few people can be editors on the Internet.

Finding appropriate links for a NUblog entry has been known to take us 150% of the time required to write it in the first place. Though we don’t hold a candle to Mac the Knife, who uses links as a sort of ironic distancing mechanism, we like to think we add links judiciously. It does take restraint. (Except for the time we engaged in an experiment and wrote a diary entry with fully 240 links.)

From a production standpoint, you need to build time into the critical path to add appropriate links. It’s not enough for your content staff to write as if they were producing a document for print, where the words they write are all the information available. Your writers (or editors, or programmers) need to add hyperlinks and other meta-information. It’s usually the first thing to suffer in a rush job. (Actually, all HTML attributes fly by the wayside then: Everything looks like a quickie export from Microsoft Word, which you can actually verify by viewing the source code.) We’ve actually read corporate press releases, for example, that don’t even link to the product pages they’re talking about.

Um, hello?

We trust it’s self-evident that a content site without links to the outside world is a waste of time. This is the Internet: You’re supposed to link externally, and no, it won’t tarnish your “brand” image, and no, refusing to provide links will not force people to remain at your site, enhancing its “stickiness.”

In fact, if you provide good content and good links, people are more likely to come back. Why? Because they know you give your readers some credit. Encouraging readers to leave your site in turn encourages them to come back. This isn’t the checkout counter at the grocery store. You don’t lose your position in queue by jumping to another one.

Posted on 2000-07-11