Rethinking Links 51

Aggregating links to content by other authors has been a staple item on the web content diet for years. Unfortunately, it’s an area almost completely devoid of innovation. Links are returned like results from an intelligent search-engine: a title, a description, a recommendation — as if things couldn’t be done any other way.

In this post, I want to suggest a number of new and interesting ways links could be both aggregated and interacted with.

Learning from StumbleUpon

When using StumbleUpon users select broad areas of interest, click stumble, and are taken to a popular link in one of the areas they’ve selected. They trust that the link will present some kind of value because it’s been recommended by others who like the same things. Even if the recommendation misses the mark, the user can go explore somewhere else with another click of the stumble button.

It would be entirely possible to replicate this experience inside link content. Links would need to be presented without titles and descriptions, either grouped under broad interests or presented with only one thing in common: the author’s recommendation. Here is what your link content could look like:

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .

The dots could be replaced with numbers, keywords, little images or icons. Links could even be embedded inside a piece of ASCII artwork. With any of these methods each link is a surprise to the reader, and you’re asking people to put as much trust in you as they do a service like StumbleUpon. This could be quite an entertaining experience for the reader.

This route also allows authors to present more links in less time. The cluster above contains 20 links. A slightly larger cube might contain a hundred, or a thousand. You could even share your bookmarks, or every feed you subscribe to, in a small cube of links.

The image grid

Alternately, you could take a screenshot of the site you’re linking to and crop a 50 x 50 image from a distinctive page element, then use that icon to link to the site. You could create an image grid providing visual rather than verbal previews of the content. You would still be asking to readers to trust your recommendation, but the visual effect would be quite powerful. You could also place some descriptive text within the title tag of each image.

Quotes

You could also try extracting the most interesting or explanatory sentence or short paragraph from the content you’re linking to and present it as a quote. Link to the source in the usual attribution field. For example:

“Is this kind of minimalist home devoid of character and fun and life? Some might think so, but I get a strange satisfaction, a fulfillment, at looking around and seeing a home free of clutter. “
– Leo Babauta, A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home

Heirarchies and Conversations

Sometimes it’s interesting to track an idea as new people join in on the conversation. Recently, Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame did an interview at Daily Blog Tips where he stated that he found meta-blogging “incredibly boring”. He then went on to write a post stating the thirteen things he dislikes about the blogosphere, including meta-blogging.

Maki at Dosh Dosh took up the conversation with his own article lamenting the state of the meta-blogging field. Presented as a flowing conversation, the links might look like:

Jeff Atwood @ Daily Blog Tips: “It’s about the content, not the tool you use to write that content. I find meta-blogging — blogging about blogging — incredibly boring.” [Interview with Jeff Atwood from Coding Horror]

  • Jeff Atwood @ Coding Horror: “If you accept the premise that most of your readers are not bloggers, then it’s highly likely they won’t be amused, entertained, or informed by a continual stream of blog entries on the art of blogging. Even if they’re filled with extra bloggy goodness.” [Thirteen Blog Clichés]
    .
    • Maki @ Dosh Dosh: “I must confess that I am also not a fan of meta-blogging. I find some blogs about blogging to be rather dull, not because they are poorly written but rather because they are repetitive and do not add value.” [The Problem With Meta-Blogging]

The authors don’t necessarily have to be referring to each-other’s content, either, as long as they are discussing the same topic. Some articles will naturally respond to others by making counter-points, highlighting different facts, and so on, even if the authors are not directly referring to each other (or even aware of each other).

This kind of link format would be especially useful for presenting various ways a point of view has been argued.

Create a Tumblelog

The Tumblelog for this site is located at skelliewag.tumblr.com. As I’m browsing the web I can publish links at the Tumblelog at the click of a button in my toolbar. I can share content I think you guys might find interesting in a matter of seconds. You can subscribe to the Tumblelog’s RSS feed, too.

Zen Habits also manages its links this way. You might be interested in creating your own at Tumblr.

Over to you

I’m sure there are a number of other ways aggregated links could be presented and interacted with. I’ll have a think about it over the next few days, but I’m interested to hear your suggestions, and what you think of the ideas above.

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