Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Question of Blogging Etiquette

Like any space, real or imagined, in which humans interact with each other, the blogosphere demands that its contributors follow a certain set of rules. For example, you're expected not to leave comments on strangers' blogs that merely say "Nice blog," followed by a URL leading back to your little piece of the web. Anybody with a clue in their head will see that you're shamelessly trying to plug your blog and will likely ignore you or, worse, delete your comment. I've banished such comments before. They're insulting.

Currently, I'm looking into whether a certain feature I currently have on Back of the Cereal Box may be violating an less understood rule about blogging. In short, I have an element down a ways on my sidebar on the right side of this page. Titled "Recent Links to Me," this feature posts a list of five URLs — the last five websites who have linked to me. I thought this was a fairly innocent experimentation with my blog template that would allow my readers to quickly see who was talking about me. But now I'm wondering if this feature could be viewed as being in bad taste.

As far as I know, the most widely acknowledged system for ranking the popularity of blogs is Technorati. I've been working with Technorati for more than a year in an effort to use it to my advantage. The popularity ranking is determined, as near as I can tell, by who links to you, with the power of those links being weighted by all those blogs' respective popularity.

(For example, a link from some guy who just started his blog yesterday wouldn't get me as much of a bump as a link from something like Boing Boing, unless I'm mistaken. For comparison's sake, my ranking currently sits just below 50. I share this level of popularity with an estimated 124,000 other blogs. A brand new blog would have a rank of zero, and would share that with an estimated two million other blogs. Engadget — the most popular blog in the blogosphere, as of today — has a Technorati ranking of 30,235, plus whatever small bump it will get when I publish this post and add one more link.)

Thus, having people link to you is a good thing. (Duh.) Reading online, however, has taught me that many bloggers perhaps rightfully think that these popularity-boosting links should happen organically. When you force it, it's in bad taste.

Now, regarding my "Recent Links to Me" list, by posting the URLs of people who have been linking me, I'm also linking to them. After all, a link is a link. So whenever anybody's site links to me, I automatically link back. Thus, not only does their action benefit me, but it instantaneously benefit them.

Could this constitute the type of link farming that people hate so much?

I didn't think it did, but when I did some quick searches to find other blogs that have this system I did, I actually found very few. This surprised me. It seemed like anybody with a blog would want to post who has been linking them, and if that system was automated, that was all the better. Right? Then why did Google searches for phrases like "recent link to me," "link to my blog," "links to this blog," "inbound links" and such turn up so few blogs? I found a handful. While I only searched a few Google pages in to any one search, I feel I looked enough to be able to ascertain whether their was an abundance of this kind of thing.

To give the best example I can, the blogs I found include the following:
At nOnoscience, the "recent links" feature is noted as being "powered by who link here." I googled that, and in line with apparent ESL nature of the search term, I found a few more blogs that were mostly not in English.
(And yes, I acknowledge that by posting these links I'm potentially getting myself six links right back and that they might, in the long run, affect the status of my Technorati ranking in a bad way. If worst comes to worst and I'm punished severely by the link police, I'll just remove the above links.)

I can't help but notice that these blogs aren't the high-profile types who I think would normally want to share with their readers who else might be reading them. Perhaps the truly successful blogs — that is, the ones who already get links and, thus, visitors, without having to particularly try — don't need to do this. I don't know. Maybe the more trafficked blogs are subject to greater scrutiny and therefore wouldn't want to risk being shamed for trying to get as many links as possible. Then again, maybe this practice is just fairly little known.

I'm not sure I can answer this one on my own. So, then, I pose this question to my readers: Is this little "Recent Links to Me" box in bad taste? Is this bad linking?


  1. There was something you were going to email me. Did that ever happen?

  2. You're talking about trackbacks, which have been around in one form or another since the earliest days of blogging. I don't think that displaying them is bad etiquette, but, as you observe, the link farmers will exploit them as another way to boost their own popularity artificially.

    A couple of years ago, Google et al developed the "nofollow" microformat, which is intended to suck the oxygen out of this kind of link farming activity. Nofollow provides a way for you to say -- despite a link appearing on your page -- that you don't vouch for what's on the other end of the link. Search engines thus won't count the link toward the target's popularity.

    This is generally regarded as a good thing to do in any situation where people can cause a link to appear on your page without your having vetted it first. If you can alter your template to make those links include 'rel="nofollow"' in the anchor, it's probably worth doing.

    Regardless, whether your ranking will suffer due to the presence of trackback links to spam sites is hard to judge, but it seems unlikely with only 5 such links. If you had thousands, that would be another matter altogether.