Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Nofollows=on: an esoteric Wikipedia topic
What happens as a consequence, in my opinion, is that Wikipedia gets valuable backlinks from all over the web, in huge quantity, and of huge importance - normal links, not "nofollow" links; this is what makes Wikipedia rank so well - but as of now, they're not giving any of this back. The problem of Wikipedia link spam is real, but the solution to this spam problem may introduce an even bigger problem: Wikipedia has become a website that takes from the communities but doesn't give back, skewing web etiquette as well as tools that work on this etiquette (like search engines, which analyze the web's link structure). That's why I find Wikipedia's move very disappointing.
Some of the neighborhoods in the Portland suburbs have sidewalks; some do not. Now I think it would be a good thing for all neighborhoods to have sidewalks because it encourages people to walk (over using their cars), and it also encourages people to get to know their neighbors -- it builds a community. But should we force every subdivision that does not have a sidewalk to put them in and force homeowners to pay for them? I think most readers would say no -- unless the price of gas makes driving unaffordable and sidewalks are generally seen as a positive improvement; the gains of the community in this case takes a back seat to the gains of the homeowner.
The "no follow" option on Wikipedia external links is the same thing.
The cost involved in external links is the cost of fighting spam: the selfish who believe that their right to sell you something is more important than your right to choose what you want to read -- or even to be left alone. They have managed to take perhaps the most egalitarian communication tool -- electronic email -- and threaten to make it unuseable: the Internet transmits more unsolicited commercial emails about products no one wants than all other kinds of email. In other words, in order for your email to a friend, family member, or an inquiry to a business to buy something, the network must be paid to be built (and maintained) to also carry at least one email about Viagra, magazine subscriptions, or shady business offers from Nigeria.
Our community shares with the rest of the online world our knowledge, and we expect nothing in return. Expecting us to also share in the cost of search engine optimization is unfair, and as a Wikipedian I find this expectation offensive.
(Note: I don't claim that this essay is the most eloquent response to this outrageous demand. Stan Shebs has a good one that begins with "Oh boo hoo." And then there is the always diplomatic David Gerard, whose response includes the observation "And it is entirely because of festering parasitical weasels like your own good selves." But this post says what I believe.)