Mitch Joel says “Linking Still Matters”
Posted by danspira
I agree with Mitch’s sentiments fully — it wasn’t so long ago that hypertext was a revolutionary idea, and it’s an idea that still has potency. Back in the days of HTML 1.0 (one of the reasons I like WordPress is because it uses <strong> and <em> instead of <b> and <i> but there still isn’t an easy way within WordPress to get a parenthetical remark like this to pop up when you hover or click on the text) or back in the even earlier days of HyperCard (I got a MacPlus because of a cool poster about HyperCard, involving a series of pattern-related images and the slogan “this is how your mind works” or something along those lines…anyone remember that?), a link was something magical.
Today, the magic of links has somewhat faded, and most hyperlinks function either as very simple, straightforward directional devices (“click here to read more”), as references to other websites (“today Google announced it made more money than yesterday”) or as footnotes to topics (“the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire“).
Also, as Mitch notes, today hypertext is frequently used as a cynical manipulation of Search Engine algorithms, instead of being there strictly for the user-experience benefit of human readers. I probably need to add a disclaimer here: I’ve done extensive SEO consulting for clients, with an eye towards natural language semantic parsing and document link structures, so my hands are certainly not entirely clean… though I like to think my work has nurtured relevance, helping my clients rise to the top of the spam-heap of irrelevant search results. Their competitors would probably disagree.
There are many other ways to use hypertext links, though, and you see these alternate uses often in the geekier areas of the web. These alternate uses usually involve a certain amount of humor, surprise or even an alternate/expanded perspective— in other words, the destination link functions as a commentary on the linked text. Another aspect of hypertext that savvy writers take advantage of is its effect of bolding the text, which changes the tone and flow of the text for the reader.
It’s almost like things get quieter when there are no links in the text.