This is is part II of a three-part series about the internet. On Monday I published part I called Understanding Blog "Content" On The Internet. Part III will come on Friday — Dave
I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member
— Groucho Marx
It goes without saying that links between websites are what make the internet a network. However, the internet is not highly interconnected in ways we might expect because such a "web" of interconnections does not suit human purposes, as I will explain below.
Before I can explain linking behavior, I need a typology of "content-based" websites to guide the discussion. (This typology does not include social media, private business sites, shopping sites, etc.) Here it is—
- mainstream media (MSM) websites
- sensational content mills (SCMs, as described in part I of this series)
- organizational websites (non-profits, think tanks, etc.)
- blogs, including but not limited to the following types—
- MSM blogs
- organizational blogs
- financial/economics blogs
- political/environmental blogs
- topic-specific blogs (e.g. science, local issues, cooking, pets, etc.)
- "alternative" blogs (see the discussion below)
- eclectic blogs (covering a variety of subjects)
I'll use this typology for my purposes today, even if it appears incomplete or the categorization is arguable.
Now we are in a position to state some general linking rules which apply to this typology. As always, bear in mind that these are general rules, so there will always be some exceptions in the apparently diverse internet zoo.
MSM websites link only to themselves or sister organizations (same ownership). Organizational websites follow the same practice. This is called intra-site linking, as opposed to using outbound links to other sources with a different domain name and different ownership.
Sensational content mills also contain mostly intra-site links to any juicy story which might attract many pageviews and generate revenues. Such stories either come from their underpaid internal staff, or from "approved" outside sources. If the latter, these stories are always made to look as though they originated from the SCM in question (for example, look at The Business Insider). Those stories may or may not contain links to the original "stolen" content. The Huffington Post gives you lots of content from outside sources—for example, here, people beg to be reprinted there—or generates their own material internally. In either case, that content usually links sparsely to sources which are not called The Huffington Post. Some content mills listed in Part I, such as the "classy" magazines The Atlantic and The New Yorker, do put links to outside sources in their daily blog posts, and generate most of their material internally.
The general rule for SCMs states that intra-site links in stories are strongly preferred to outbound links which might take the visitor away from the website.
Otherwise, linking to outside sources is restricted to blogs of all types as defined above. Only blogs have "blogrolls" (recommended outside sources).
Over time, this is how the network structure of "content-based" websites came down to us. Moreover, I would say the internet is now mature, so I don't think we can expect this structure to change much in the future.
These rules may appear to be arbitrary, but they are not. As always, revenue is the main driver of these linking rules, and the reason is obvious if you think about it. Outside of blogs, organizations do not want you wandering all over the place on the web; they want your attention at all times because your pageviews ultimately make money for them, or so the theory goes. Bloomberg does not want you to leave their website, and neither does CNN Money. Sensational content mills do the same thing of course, even though they have "stolen" most of the stories they publish, aka. content aggregation. If you look at the New York Times, you will only very rarely find links to outside sources in their news stories (their bread & butter). By contrast, you will find links to outside sources in Times blogs like the Green Blog or Dealbook.
Now I will discuss the "alternative" websites/blogs which I mentioned in the typology above. These are sites with which many of my readers are familiar. Examples include Of Two Minds (Charles Hugh Smith) and The Archdruid Report (John Michael Greer). The biggest player in this space is Chris Martenson (now Peak Prosperity). You will find a list of his "3E" recommended sites on the homepage (energy, economy, environment). A marketing genius, Martenson is gobbling up contributors for Peak Prosperity from many of those "3E" sites, and many other "alternative" voices as well. In this way, he "owns" their contributions (the pageviews those contributors attract).
Note well that DOTE is not among those "3E" links that Chris Martenson cites. DOTE is perhaps the only alternative "alternative" blog which covers a wide range of subjects (including those "3Es"). However, DOTE is by default a member of the "alternative" blog space, and will never break out of this ghetto. For the vast majority of people who constitute the mainstream, I am guilty by association because of the types of things I discuss (e.g. mass extinctions, destruction of marine ecosystems). Clearly, I don't like the status quo, nor do I have a vested interest in maintaining it. Importantly, you should note that I thoroughly document everything I write on DOTE with outbound links to other content sources. I often quote those sources.
Unfortunately, many of the "alternative" websites exhibit the same revenue-driven linking behavior I described above with respect to MSM or SCM websites, to wit—
- There are few (if any) links to outside sources, even when the topics under discussion demand some kind of documentation. For example, Jim Kunstler's website is a veritable "black hole" in the sense that, once you enter there, you can hardly follow an outbound link to another content source. You can follow links to materials (video, audio) which promote Jim's writings. And you will find mostly the same thing on Smith's blog, Greer's blog or Martenson's website. There will be occasional exceptions, as I noted above, but these only serve to prove the rule.
- When outside sources are cited, they tend to support the point of view being presented, which creates what I call a closed world. Sources with different views are rarely linked to. The point of view presented is thus confirmed and reinforced by restricting access to conflicting information. On DOTE, I do my best to present an open world. I always link to (and quote) the sources whose wrongheaded views conflict with my own
Many "alternative" websites are "self-centered" because they want grab and hold your attention in order to generate revenue in one of two ways—
- subscriptions — Martenson uses this revenue model, so he puts content in front of and behind a pay wall. Stuff in front is meant to get you to subscribe so you can read the stuff behind the wall.
- book/DVD sales, speaker fees — Greer, Smith and Kunstler are "selling their book" as the phrase goes. The Automatic Earth is selling DVDs. It's a good bet that all these people accept speaking fees.
So once again, we see that linking behavior on the internet is directly related to the quest for the Almighty Dollar, even on the "alternative" web sites.
Now, before you get all huffy about these observations because you like the people I've mentioned, let me say that I think these people have every right to make a living. Moreover, these "alternative" people are sometimes more right than wrong about the stuff they talk about, so it is not objectionable in that way, except for the disturbing fact that humans generally need to stick to a consistent story to keep a game going, even if that story flies in the face of the facts and their reasonable interpretation. In this way, the quest for dollars inevitably gives rise to spin, which necessarily distorts Reality. The amount of distortion (bias, slant) is always a matter of degree.
I am talking about the nature of objectivity here, and why it is so difficult to attain.
That said, Charles Hugh Smith is obviously not the only one "talking his book", nor is Chris Martenson the only one who uses a subscriber revenue model. This behavior is pervasive on the internet, and is directly reflected in the way links are used on the websites in question, which is what I have explained today. Website and blog owners seek to corral you in. They want a captive audience for the reasons cited.
It behooves you to understand the world you live in, and the internet is obviously a big part of that world. I suspect that I have presented a little more truth than some people will be able to bear today. I will finish up this series of posts about the internet on Friday.