Sue...... this link

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 09 August 2002

Which link? This one. So: What is the Web?

Wendy M Grossman

  • A one-to-many medium that publishers and broadcasters can control in traditional ways;
  • A way of getting advertising into intimate contact with consumers; 
  • The Internet; 
  • A giant database; 
  • A mechanism for self-publishing; 
  • A personal playground; 
  • Ten more things I hate about Flash;
  • A massively interconnected collection of information supplied by all kinds of people and organisations.

  • We could call these, respectively,

  • the CNN theory,
  • the Interactive Advertising Bureau theory,
  • the mainstream theory,
  • the Google phenomenon,
  • the blog movement,
  • the ultimate time-waster,
  • the idiot plot, and, oh, yeah,
  • the original design, which enables all of the above except 3.
  • The trouble is all these damn immigrants who just don't understand. At least, I assume they're immigrants, because they roll up with their old-country customs and refuse to adapt. We, however, have recourse. We can make fun of them. That's a time-honoured thing to do to foreigners, isn't it?

    Which all leads to Don't Link, which is documenting stupid linking policies. My personal favourite of their recent finds is the Easy Booking Service. There! I broke their rules by linking to their home page.

    Linking madness started around 1996, and there are two kinds. One is framing, the kind of thing British users saw in, for example, the case where the Shetland Times sued the Shetland News to get the latter to stop framing its news and photographs to look as though they were original material. The judgement went against linking in that case, setting a precedent. Around the same time, The Times got into a similar spat with Total News. The Times's objection was that when others framed the stories the newspaper lost hits and therefore advertising revenue. OK, they had a point on that one: it was costing them money. Several recent deep linking cases tackle the same issues.

    It's the other kind of linking madness - "linking policies" - that is truly silly, for several reasons. First of all, people are going to read and obey them just as much as they're going to read a sign in small print telling people not to look at a billboard. If people read the policies at all, it will be to make fun of them: such is the Way of the Net. Second of all, as the Codepope pointed out when he found the Don't Link site (thanks, Dj), if you really don't want people to "deep-link" to your site, the answer is a registration scheme. These, too, of course, can be hostile to the Web, preventing search engines from indexing your site. Or, in the case of the Telegraph, winding users up by taking them from the login page straight to the front page, no matter what page or article they actually asked for. That's just plain rude. By contrast, the New York Times manages to log you in and then send you where you wanted to go.

    Years after arriving on the Web, companies still are struggling to understand the concept of sharing information. Industries that will band together in associations and buy advertising ("Pork: the other white meat"), or that have long-running joint marketing efforts in traditional media between manufacturers and retailers (toys are a good example) seem completely unable to translate this cooperative way of working to the Web. Why don't the food processing companies put the information they already have - the stuff they print on the labels - online and why don't retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury's link to it when they do? Why can't the tennis tours and promoters get together and produce a standard template for tournament Web sites that draws on the tours' and International Tennis Federation's databases of player results and information so that fans can find everything easily every week? The information - like Freddy Krueger - is out there, but not in any helpfully coordinated fashion.

    I forget how to find the percentage of corporate-owned sites that are dead-ends (Web-ends? Web-culs?) - that is, have no outside links - but the last time I saw the number it was a lot. It has probably shrunk considerably since, as many companies link at least to their own SEC filings and to news articles about themselves.

    As silly as linking policies are, they are better than the "link licenses" some companies tried to promulgate back in 1996. That year, Kraft Foods posted fine-print terms and conditions on their Web site which required anyone linking to the site to get a "link license" first. One condition of the first version was that you could not convert the material you downloaded into "any other form that people can use." Er...recipes into food? The current version has dropped the link licensing idea, as have other companies who tried it back then. Kraft still says you can't alter anything you download, but we're not covering stupid copyright policies this week.

    We have to hope that linking policies will go the way of link licenses, though the recent court case over DeCSS ate away at what seems obvious: linking is a form of free speech. Part of the link license madness was demanding that people not link to sites in order to disparage them. You can see why that failed, can't you?

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