World Wide Wasteland

Nobody links to other websites anymore!

Bloggers didn’t die, and neither did blogging. But somehow, it just stopped being a vast, interconnected blogosphere …

When did the blogroll die anyway? Didn’t bloggers used to have links to all the blogs they read? Didn’t they talk about each other’s posts? Didn’t they quote and even reblog each other?


All of it, like a puff of smoke that was never really there.

No, Tumblr doesn’t count. When was the last time somebody re-tumbled anything more substantial than a picture with two lines of text? And where have all the blog-spanning debates gone anyway? There used to be one almost every day, now I’m lucky if a story spans more than two blogs once every three months.

All of this really means the death of discovery.

Back to the future

Back to the future
Back to the future

It’s 2015, the year of the hoverboard.

Twitter is an orgy of bots spamming bots.

The average Facebooker shares more baby pictures than party pictures.

Google+ is a wasteland of geeks bragging about Circle configurations.

There are no more links

The anchor tag is still with us!

But it’s only used to get people from one part of a website to another part. Well, most websites are one-page apps anyway … due to something about cross-device compatibility.

But external linking is completely dead.

Good Old Link’s demise started when some bright person or another realized that there is no immediate value in linking to other websites. Even worse, not only did it take users away from their product, it advertised that other thing.

Advertising is a money game and nobody wants to do it for free. The Web of connected documents be damned!

The situation only worsened when SEO spammers started building link-back factories, content farms if you will, producing endless amounts of generic content to push their products higher up Google’s search results. Soon, Google put penalties on content farming. Take that content farmers and SEO spammers! Ha!

Smaller websites and even bloggers caught on, those that remained, stopped linking to cool things. Screw you cool young startup! Not only am I providing free advertising for you, you’re harming my search results! However will the five hundred readers I have find me?

Finding good websites became almost impossible. Search results were dominated by paid promotions, journalists butchering news without citing their sources … all without linking to new sites, even Google struggled to build its index.

Master list of websites, by anselm23
Master list of websites, by anselm23

People turned to the whispernet of their time – social networks. Links were whispered. Carefully protected as the lore of a people long gone. Tiny parcels of information adapting to shifting conditions like a message in a game of telephones.

When spammers caught wind of this they started shouting their own crap. For a small fee you could get content shared to a huge, huge tribe, thousands of people would see it and pass it onwards, the spammers would laud.

Just like that, all useful content was screamed out of the collective mind. Only spam remained. But the spammers had another trick up their sleeves – bots started clicking on links. You have to drive those metrics, y’know!

Actionable, measurable metrics!

Nobody cares about the users. The users have all gone anyway. What matters is proving to your boss that X was shared a bazillion times and seen ten bazillion times.

It doesn’t matter what was shared and what was seen! As long as all the graphs are going up, it means you’re doing a good job.

The web wasn’t a globally connected network anymore, it was just an endless wasteland of information pillars – ready to be explored one by one by anyone foolish enough to attempt the journey.

Brave explorers took up the challenge.

They waddled the stream of tweets, they climbed the tall pillars of information and sometimes, just sometimes, they found something good. Something everybody should see.

Explorer, by Artful Danni
Explorer, by Artful Danni

Link markets were created. Places where explorers could sell what they found in return for eternal fame as measured by something called “karma”. It was the fairest of marketplaces, good content got a lot of karma and bad content didn’t get any.

In theory, the bad explorers would eventually die out.

Instead, the marketplaces became popular. Everyone knew magnificent explorers were sharing links here and only the good content reached The Holy Front Page!

So … as is usually the case … the marketplaces grew. But they lost their touch, and many of the best explorers simply left. Only the mediocre explorers, their fans and the spam remained. Alas, it was still better than waddling the torrentous stream of Twitter and much better than roughing it out on Google.

Even this was no longer a walk in the park.

Nowadays, the only way to discover good content is somebody walking up to you saying Hey, there’s something good here!

Link Love

The more I thought about the question What would the world be like without links? the more I realized what I’m imagining isn’t some dystopic future, it’s happening right now!

Discovering things on Twitter has become nigh impossible, people are painfully selective about which Circle they share something to and Facebook is completely overrun with Page updates . You can hardly even see what your friends are up to anymore.

Link markets have come and gone. Most failed. The cycle is usually one of initial excitement and an incredible signal-to-noise ratio. The community is growing as the direct result of Hey dude! You have got to see this website! It’s where all the cool links are!

Hey dude, by Wonderlane
Hey dude, by Wonderlane

Followed ever so swiftly by Hey dude! You have got to see this website! It’s where all the thought leaders mingle and click on stuff. They’re the ones most likely to share it onwards and have a huge following of even more eyeballs! It’s so rad!

Soon, the gaming starts. People start pushing their own articles to the front page by ever so slightly nefarious means. It’s not too bad. and the links don’t last for more than an iota of a second if they’re low quality. Eventually even good content has a hard time getting to where the users are – it keeps getting pushed down too quickly.

Right now HackerNews and Reddit are top notch. But they too will die eventually.

One thing is for ever. Link Love. Those related articles at the bottom of posts. That friendly signpost from one piece of content to another. The friendly Hey, there’s something cool over there! And it’s related to what you’ve just read. Go check it out.

Hell, I’m going to leave anyway, you might as well tell me where to go.

You should go here:

Link Love – Why is linking out good for you (by Zemanta – social blogging) from zemanta on Vimeo.

You should follow me on twitter here

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