Submit Response


Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the web category. The previous post was , and the next post is .


Two problems, two solutions, and a trite conclusion:

The problem with links, in the context of weblogs, is that they are assumed to be endorsments by the linker of the file being linked to. Not, of course, by the real human reader, who can evaluate a link in context, but by the unthinking spider sent out to read weblogs by the search engines, aggregators and filters that we rely upon to find content - especially ephemeral, of-the-moment content - on the web.

For example, if I link to the British National Party, I am improving its ranking on Google and inserting it into the indices of Blogdex, Memigo et al. In short, I am, albeit infinitessimally, casting a microcontent vote for the BNP.

This is not ideal. I don’t agree with the BNP, to put it mildly, and my link to them ought to register that fact. The developers at Technorati (one of the more sophisticated trackers of weblog linking activity) have cottoned on to this and propose an interesting solution: VoteLinks. Without getting too technical, the Technorati team are suggesting a way to flag links on a web page with a vote for the content being linked to, a vote against it, or an abstention.

You won’t be able to see the difference but this link to the BNP registers my disapproval of their site’s content, rather than simply pointing to it and, therefore, implicitly endorsing it. Future applications designed to track linking activity across weblogs and websites will be able to register this disapproval, aggregate it with the disapproval of others, or weigh it against the approval of others still. The result: differentiation between fame and notoriety, with linking as commentary rather than simple pointing. Sweet.

Similarly, the problem with the social networking sites (aside from the fact that they are essentially pointless) is their binary approach to relationships. A fellow user of Friendster is either friend or not-friend. When relationships are so bluntly defined, the usefulness of a vast, browsable network of related people diminishes with every connection made. There is, obviously, a significant difference between the Friendster I’ve known since childhood and the Friendster I met in a nightclub once six months ago, and marking both relationships as the same breaks the social functionality of the site.

Flickr, the social network meets photo sharing meets live chat site that launched Tuesday last, provides a solution. The site has been garnering much praise for actually having a point - the focus is firmly on the photos - but taking it for a spin last night, I was as impressed by the rubric for categorising relationships as I was by the slick interface. Instead of simply flagging someone as a friend, you can rank them as Acquaintance, Friend, Best Buddy or Soul Mate. The wording is mawkish, reading like an American take on the primary school playground demotion (‘Get out of the sandpit! Eric is my best buddy now!’), but the comparative subtlety should give Flickr a longer shelf-life than the countless networking sites I’ve joined, only to lose interest in within a month.

The point? Subtlety is good. I might be looking at this through weblog-tinted spectacles, and this point is a commonplace for fellow travellers, but it seems that where I once saw the web as an archive of information to be mined for research, that archive now seems to sit beneath a web of people; people who filter and mediate by making links. Where information can often be ranked simply (not always, I know, but often), uncovering the links between people, their views and tastes, cannot. These subtle tweaks to the way we make links, be they social or hyper, aren’t just interesting, they’re fast becoming essential if we are to have any chance of navigating the massive messy morass of information that is the web.

Not unrelated:Blog Discussion and Citation, Flickr - Birth of an online community.

Posted at 4pm on 12/02/04 by Jack Mottram to the web category.
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