Should There Be a Red Flag Link?

redflags.jpgLinks are the lifeblood of the web. You can almost think of a link as a light shining on a page, illuminating territory that might otherwise be hidden in a cloud of information overload. As Ray Cha has explained, “Google ranks pages by the number of links other sites point to a page.” So whenever someone writing online links to a page, they increase its prominence relative to other pages.

But what if you want to comment on something you disagree with? Or find utterly inane? If you link to it, you just increase its salience. If the site tracks back to you, you might be able to alert readers to your critique. But if it doesn’t, you just end up promoting the site even as you try to fight or mock it. Cha notes that there are some proposals to change this situation:

There have been suggestions to create a newer kind of syntax and link taxonomy which would add to the current binary options of link or no link. The simplest system would be to have three choices, positive link, negative link and no link. This system would actually be very easy for users. All you need to do is add a tag to the link.

This led me to think about the red and yellow flags on Westlaw that come up when a case is no longer good authority, or has been contradicted. I often think about the tension between accuracy and usefulness in signals like these. Part of me wants more gradations of meaning–I have definitely seen some “yellow flagged” cases that were far more questionable than other “yellow flagged” ones. But if we went to some “rainbow scheme” of vitality of authority, the system would likely get unwieldly. Even discussion forums that permit negative or positive rep points (or karma) tend to keep things very simple.

However “tiered linking” might emerge, it’s important to note how vital search engines will be to the process. Even if a platform like Blogger or MoveableType puts in multiple flavors of links, they’ll do little to alter web discourse if search engines don’t recognize them. Given the “chicken and egg” problem here, it’s likely that tiered linking is going to remain the province of limited and proprietary databases for the time being.

Photo Credit: Jen Waller.

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