26.10.04

The tao of blogging

Earlier today, mr brown linked to someone's blog and hours later, upon request from the blog author, he deleted the links, so as not to worry her or induce her to lock her posts. What with John Scalzi's recent meditations on email etiquette, that got me thinking about hyperlinking etiquette.

A quick Google search points almost unanimously to Link.Openly's "Linking Custom and Etiquette", which in turn quotes Tim Berners-Lee's 1997 "Links and Law: Myths". Two of the myths highlighted by Berners-Lee seem to apply to this particular case, viz.:
  • Myth one: A normal link is an incitement to copy the linked document in a way which infringes copyright.
  • Myth three: Making a link to someone's publicly readable document is an infringement of privacy.

Okay, maybe not so much myth one per se, but the elaboration thereunto: "There is no reason to have to ask before making a link to another site, but by the same token, you are responsible for what you say about other people, and their sites, etc., on the web as anywhere" (also quoted in Link.Openly).

All of which boils down to: this is the web, people, and they don't call it the World Wide Web for nothing. Once you post something on a website --- no matter how funny it seemed at the time, or how good it made you feel to post it, or how much of a rush you were in that you had no time to spellcheck it properly --- it's out there, loose and most likely beyond your control. Sure, you can censor what you write, but if it's published and on the web proper, you'll never know who's eyeballed it nor can you control what reaction they'll have. You can't guarantee that Google won't index it, that your mom won't read it (or your boss, for that matter) or that it won't linger in cyberspace long after you've passed on. It's not like email, where there could arguably be a tacit confidentiality clause binding sender and recipient --- though even then, RFC 1855 recommends, "Never put in a [e]mail message anything you would not put on a postcard."

Hyperlinking could stand accused of pointing a reader's attention from one webpage to another, conceivably granting unwanted attention to a website that was contented with --- indeed, desired to maintain --- a low profile. And that could be problematic in the event that the hyperlink caused a massive bandwidth overload, or misrepresented information, or hijacked graphics.

But if the linked traffic didn't do any of the above, if the link didn't reveal any information that wasn't already available on the linked webpage, if in fact the link was more of the "Look, [username] said this on his/her blog" type of observation, then what wrong has the link done, in serving its intrinsic purpose? The "custom and practice" on the web, to which Link.Openly defers, is that web authors link to whatever they please, usually without asking first. The web would be a less vibrant, less useful tool if we had to keep checking all the time: I'd've had to obtain ten separate permissions before posting this entry, for instance; the most prolific hyperlinker I've come across, snarkout, would probably have to thin out most of his entries. And the web? Wouldn't be very world wide.

None of this is by way of taking the piss out of the blog author who requested to be delinked, nor of mr brown's accession to her request. mr brown can do whatever he likes on his website, which is after all the point of having a personal website --- just as I choose to ponder this point publicly, on a late, late Tuesday night, with only music from The O.C. and Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtracks to inspire me. (See Berners-Lee's point on personal responsibility above.)

The web's a funny place. A former student found my blog completely by accident when she was Googling a local restaurant. Other former students found my website (with wedding pictures!) before I even had a blog. Nothing is private, almost nothing in unlinkable. I know almost as many people who've shut down their blogs because they decided they didn't want strangers to read their musings, as I do bloggers who've kept them going through the most personal and intimate of trials. Everyone's got a different comfort level offline, but search engines and the average web user aren't that discerning. Don't want uninvited eyes to see it? Don't put it on the web (or use password protection). Live it, love it. Welcome to the Internet.


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