Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Linking is a public good

[2b2k] Linking is a public good

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has posted the Twitter stream that followed upon his tweet criticizing the Wall Street Journal for running an article based on a post by TechCrunch’s MC Siegler, who responded in an angry post.

Mathew’s point is that linking is a good journalistic practice, even if author of the the second article independently confirmed the information in the first, as happened in this case. Mathew thinks it’s a matter of trust, and if the repeater gets caught at it, it would indeed erode trust. Of course, they probably won’t, and even if you did read the WSJ article after reading the TechCrunch post, you’d probably assume that the news was coming from a common source.

I think there’s another reason why reports ought to link to their, um, inspirations: Links are a public good. They create a web that is increasingly rich, useful, diverse, and trustworthy. We should all feel an obligation to be caretakers of and contributors to this new linked public.

And there’s a further reason. In addition to building this new infrastructure of curiosity, linking is a small act of generosity that sends people away from your site to some other that you think shows the world in a way worth considering. Linking is a public service that reminds us how deeply we are social and public creatures.

Which I think helps explains why newspapers often are not generous with their links. A paper like the WSJ believes its value — as well as its self-esteem — comes from being the place you go for news. It covers the stories worth covering, and the stories tell you what you need to know. It is thus a stopping point in the ecology of information. And that’s the oeprational definition of authority: The last place you visit when you’re looking for an answer. If you are satisfied with the answer, you stop your pursuit of it. Take the links out and you think you look like more of an authority. To this mindset, links are sign of weakness.

This made more sense when knowledge was paper-based, because in practical terms that’s pretty much how it worked: You got your news rolled up and thrown onto your porch once a day, and if you wanted more information about an article in it, you were pretty much SOL. Paper masked just how indebted the media were to one another. The media have always been an ecology of knowledge, but paper enabled them to pretend otherwise, and to base much of their economic value on that pretense.

Until newspapers are as heavily linked as GigaOm, TechCrunch, and Wikipedia, until newspapers revel in pointing away from themselves, they are depending on a value that was always unreal and now is unsustainable.

11 Responses to “[2b2k] Linking is a public good”

  1. Not linking, in today’s world, is akin to desperation. WSJ, along with many news organizations, went into stealth mode due to its failure to read the market. They failed to get things, like the collaborative process or to see how to fit into the model. This mirrored many “old economy” reactions to the Internet and the social, collaborative, movement. It also demonstrated how rigged some markets were operating from top-down death sentences.

    Many newspaper organizations that had monopolies, like the journal, simply didn’t see risking their place in the market as smart, and they didn’t have the vision to adapt to their readers. Their problem isn’t much different than that of brands like Kodak, Blockbuster and the print moguls in general. They all were built on the “I am the hammer” concept and didn’t understand that the world was no longer a bunch of nails.

    My question is, is this a good enough reason, for those who follow a researcher’s model, one with proper citation and collaborative ideals, to ostracize those who do not? Are we just being smug, or are we benefiting our audience and the new model?

  2. Journalists: Link To Win…

    Why MG Seigler is right to complain about the WSJ not linking to him – and why you win through linking….

  3. They also hate you for your freedoms and want to impose Sharia Law.

  4. I wonder if there is also some corporate web baloney about how “we don’t want users to leave our site.” I got that while trying to negotiate freedom for the library to design our own website within an institutional one. “You don’t understand search. A basic principle is that you don’t want users to leave our branded site.” Uh, we’re a LIBRARY. We aren’t selling ourselves. We are providing a portal. And guess what, we also know a thing or two about search.”

    News depends on sources. Linking to sources is crucial. Among items on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics are the following:

    –Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
    –Never plagiarize.

    Journalists, don’t listen to the marketing folks, it’s okay if your users leave the site to check on your sources. Not linking (not acknowledging) is wrong. Also, in an era when a lot of “news” is repackaged press releases, it’s cool to have a source other than the company on which you are reporting. That’s how we used to do things.

  5. There is certainly some corporate web baloney, although I think (hope) companies are learning that “sticky eyeballs” are not always the highest desideratum.

  6. [...] @dweinberger – “Linking is a public service that reminds us how deeply we are social and public creatures.“ JOHO The Blog [...]

  7. [...] Steve Myers agreed with Salmon, while Digital First’s Steve Buttry and web philosopher David Weinberger echoed some of Ingram’s points. Weinberger argued that places like the Journal are failing to [...]

  8. [...] Links are a public good. If you are an individual who has hired librarians or information professionals and is promoting something personal, like a website or event or candidacy in an election, I will exchange your views on hiring for linking to your site or profile, etc. [...]

  9. [...] [2b2k] Linking is a public good DAVID WEINBERGER  |  SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2012 [...]

  10. [...] [2b2k] Linking is a public good DAVID WEINBERGER  |  SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2012 [...]

  11. [...] [2b2k] Linking is a public good DAVID WEINBERGER | SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2012 [...]

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