There is a re-occurring discussion that rears its head every so often about how links are the economy of the Internet. Usually when these discussions start it revolves around the idea that this base part which is the glue that holds the world wide web together is breaking down because people are linking more and more to stuff within their own sites.
Such was the case with a post yesterday by Mathew Ingram; a fellow blogger, journalist and (hopefully) a friend, where he suggest that when this happens these sites become no different than the mainstream media.
This post was followed up with one from Alexander van Elsas who feels that Mathew nailed the problem but also points out that even people who supposedly believe in the Open Web aren’t immune from the MSM disease. He points to Tim O’Reilly where he says
I have a lot of respect for Tim too, but it’s a bit ironic that the O’Reilly blog tends to link internally too. They use a tagging system below every post that leads to O’Reilly articles only. It’s just a variation of the same theme. It seems that as soon as a blog becomes monetized or written by more than one author linking to the outside world is under pressure.
While we can have this type of esoteric discussion until the end of time it means nothing if we don’t understand why this type of linking is bad and really why considering links as an economy isn’t. To do this though we have to understand that while we use the term Internet to describe everything we do online the fact is that the Internet was around before the world wide web. What the majority of people are use to; and what all of Web 2.0 is based on is the world wide web as invented by Tim Berners-Lee some time after the Internet was invented.
The reason Tim’s work is so important is because he was the first one to understand the immensity of the Internet; and that without some way to connect all the information that was available on the Internet in an easy way that everyone could understand the Internet would forever be an abstraction. The information would still be there but within silos that were only accessible via cryptic methods most people would never be able to understand let alone be able to remember how they got to those individual silos. His invention of HTML and the ability of linking data between silos forever changed the world wide web.
Let’s look at it this way using some real world examples.
So you’re standing in a bookstore looking over the books on display. Now let’s think of those book titles as hyperlinks that you can press and when you do you could find yourself at any one of the following places
- at the library where you could look up other books on the same related idea or other books by the same author
- at another bookstore which has other books by the author that the first bookstore doesn’t have
- in the living room of the author’s home where you can talk with them about their books or thoughts that they are having
- or still within the same bookstore and their limited selection of related books by that author or others like them.
From the first two examples you could literally keep going for a very long time by pressing on the book titles and learning more and more as you go. With the third you could end up visiting other authors like the current one and again learning as you go. However with the fourth option you find yourself traveling in a smaller and smaller circle as your options become less and less.
In this case you’re sitting in a cafe somewhere reading a newspaper and each of the headlines or sections of the article can be pressed on. In this case you could find yourself in any of the following places
- at the library where you can read more about the background of what the article was talking about
- picking up another publication that is also talking about the same thing but with a different perspective
- with the journalist who wrote the article talking about their reasons for writing about what is in the article and what they might be writing about next
- on older issue of the same newspaper
The first two options allow you to learn more about what is being talked about and lets you go as deep into the subject as you want to. The third option lets you gain a better understand of the person and could let you continue on to read about the people that they find interesting. With the last option though you find yourself
slowly travelling down a narrowing tunnel of less and less information.
In the first three options of each example this ability to travel beyond where you currently are allows you to learn – to add value to what came before. These outward links are the ties that provide the roadway by which we can travel and learn. For the author of the book or the journalist writing the article it can bring them more and more readers adding to their own personal value. For the bookstore and the newspaper they gain by both the increased popularity of the author or journalist as well as the increasing number of people coming down those roadways.
In both examples though where the links are roads only travels inwards they both lose because less and less people will be coming as the number of roads become fewer and fewer. Without the links that tie together all those different locations we slowly return to an Internet full of silos and nobody makes money standing alone staring at the walls of a silo.