Why attribute sources of links?

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This is from an email exchange last November with Rudolf Ammann (a PhD student at University College London's Centre for Digital Humanities. He's going to be quoting it in a publication, so I figured I'd post it so it has a permalink.

Ammann's earlier article on the beginnings of the blogosphere was as good a short history as I've seen: Jorn Barger, the NewsPage Network, and the Emergence of the Weblog Community. (Scott Rosenberg's book-length one is surely worth a mention here too: Say Everything.)

(That article's appearance in the Proceedings of the 20th ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia probably marks my first appearance in an ACM publication. Milestones.)

Anyway. The topic is, the attribution of links as practiced in the early days (which nowadays means 1997-2000).

Date: Fri, 20 Nov 2009 17:09:28 -0500
From: Steve Bogart
To: Rudolf Ammann

RA: What were your thoughts when you picked up Barger's system of link attribution? What significance or promise did the system appear to hold at the time?

SB: It just seemed like a good solution to a problem I was encountering -- one of the natural problems of writing a weblog.

On the one hand, I didn't want to just avoid using any links other people saw first. For a little while that was in fact my instinct, because there were few enough sites to follow that it just felt like if one site had the link, everybody who was reading me would see it anyway, and I didn't want to be seen as just parroting other people. But it became a very limiting principle to try to adhere to; how many times would I realistically be the first person to mention something?

On the other hand, taking the opposite approach, I could just use any and all links I found without worrying where they came from, as though I found them all myself. I resisted this, because I seem to remember having the experience of seeing a link I had found make its way around other sites and thinking, "hey wait, you got that from me". So it would feel wrong to just do the same thing to other people.

In hindsight, it's obvious how to navigate between the extremes; just give credit when you got a link from someone else.

It was a bit of extra work to add attributions, but it was the best choice as far as balancing my peace of mind with not wanting to be limited in what I could write about. (Plus, eventually the 'via' shorthand evolved, which made it a little less cumbersome to do the crediting.)

RA: Did you by any chance, in adopting that system, comply with a request by Jorn who might have contacted you asking for attribution of a link he'd posted first?

SB: I don't believe so. I don't recall much correspondence between us. As explained above, it was a fitting solution to a dilemma I'd already been having.

RA: I'm asking partly because of the condition under which you would not credit a link: "If I saw something first, though, no dice. ;)" This sounds a little bit like a reply to a request. Did Jorn ever make such a request?

SB: No, that was just me being thorough / pre-emptive / trying to think through all the cases.

I don't believe anyone did ever approach me about adding a credit to them for a link, probably because I was fairly conscientious about doing it in the first place.

1 Comment

Thanks for posting this, Steve!

I recently delivered a paper on link attribution in the early blogosphere, which is linked towards the top of this conference programme -- it still needs work for the proceedings, though.

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