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by Jay Fienberg

More on passive aggressive linking with nofollow

posted: Jan 19, 2005 3:17:00 PM

Following on my last post, Comment spam rules / I pity the fools!, I notice that Robert Scoble and Tim Bray are already suggesting uses for rel="nofollow" links that have nothing to do with comment spam. These uses are not simply saying:

"I'm not making this link as a real connection between my site and this other",

but are saying something more like:

"I'm making this link as a real connection between my site and this other, but the connection is expressing something negative about the other site".

I imagine the difference between these two intentions, expressed only as "nofollow" will be mostly disadvantageous to making search engines better. In other words, it's good that search engines show results that express that latter—there is a real, important, connection (a "follow") being made in the latter example.

I guess search engines can use rel="nofollow" as a hint from which to infer one of those two meanings (and others that will come to be), but that seems to me to suggest that we might as well have some more explicit values to use in rel tags, e.g., noconnection, hate, love, vague, etc.

Of course, I assume Google really doesn't need these: Google's strengths are in the way it utilizes the human language in and around the link text and title. So, if you make a link like this:

<a href="" title="bad crappy service">Example makes the worst products ever</a>

Google is going to be able to make way more use of that then a "nofollow" without the more narrative text.

I'm way into link semantics (which is why I'm bothering to write about this), and think it is a good thing to be able to express lots of intentions and/or nuances in the act of linking, with options for both less or more meaning than Google (and Technorati and link aggregators in general) currently see in links.

But, I think the "nofollow" concept is moving the link semantic into the wrong domain, i.e., it's addition requires that we take our intentions and express them in terms of the concept of turning off a computer switch, rather than express them in terms of our direct human-intentions, i.e., human language terms like: look, this is good; look, this is bad; we love them; we hate them, etc.

Of course, a computer adding "nofollow" automatically (e.g., to a comment spam) is more naturally compatible with the computer switch concept. But, I think this then devalues links altogether on the web, because they are then even less reflective of human intentions and attention: is it a merely mechanical or human-intentional indication of "nofollow", and why? We'll never know (and links will become less indicative of any kind of human perception of "rank").

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Comment by: Christopher Baus ·
posted: Jan 20, 2005 8:14:02 PM

Interesting post. I think we are headed down a bad street here. It will be intersesting to see how this actually play out. Just because something is negative doesn't mean it isn't relavant.

Something could be negative AND relavent.

Comment by: gothic industrial music band ·
posted: Jan 26, 2005 11:09:30 PM

I wonder how many people will actually employ the "no follow"?

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