On Linkage.

Yet another tract by a never-going-to-be-a-CE about how you should all behave.

This writeup is an attempt to start a debate about the salt and pepper of e2, the humble hardlink(1). Linking is one of e2's killer apps, of which we are rightly proud. The interaction of hardlinks with softlinks, and the culture of only linking internally, means that links on e2 are unique, and should be treated as such. But, looking around I would suggest we may use them rather heavily, so I wanted to bring it up for discussion. In this writeup I'm going to concentrate on prose, because poetry and fiction each have their own linking-cultures (any poets, please write a response).

"Rule of cooking no 1. If you usually cook with a particular seasoning, over time you may use it in increasing amounts..." : Auduster, just now.

A quick look down new writeups suggests that e2 has a comprehensive error checking procedure when it comes to grammar, spelling and nonsense. But, a look at the blue-space on many of these shows that the majority tend to contain information-free links, useless blue-space is not just common, but endemic... More than this, the e2 link with its blue underline is unusually intrusive compared to the more common blue highlight and so should be used with greater care. So in both function and aesthetics, the e2 link needs work. First I'll spell out the purposes of links as I see them.

Aims of a hardlink on e2:
  • To direct the reader to something of interest.
  • To contain pipelinked information (e2's dynamic version of footnotes).
  • To reinforce softlinks by offering a permanent-route.
  • To link to a node where something of interest may eventually be.

And it's the last one of those that I think has been a problem. Looking back at old nodes, and it's clear that overlinking used to be very common. Old 1999-2002 era writeups are absolutely swimming in dead-links, to the point that some are almost unreadable. I'd suggest (please tell me if I'm wrong) that back then people were aiming to link to writeups they anticipated being created, and fitting with the encyclopaedia model they linked in advance. I think it's now fair to assume these writeups will not be created, and that this open-linking reduces the readability of any work submitted now.

Taking that era's different culture in mind, a discussion in the catbox suggested that the Brian Eno writeup hint may be pushing some newer users into overlinking, and Oolong has taken a look at it. Until today it was set to suggest 1 link per 256 characters, Oolong has doubled this to 512. Rootbeer277 has suggested it should be aiming for 1 link per paragraph. With this toned down, we can at least decrease the pressure on new-users to plaster their writeups in blue-space as still seems quite common.

So, here's my own angle on it. The dead-link should be treated as noise, like any other form of writeup-error. I'd go as far as suggesting that unless there is something you want to direct the reader to, don't link. Personally, I stick to these rules of thumb:

  • Only link to any node once in each writeup.
  • Linking for emphasis is never productive.
  • A smaller number of links increases the potency of those present.
  • Pipelinking comes down to personal choice, but footnote style pipelinks without valid destinations should be kept to a minimum.

So guys, what do you think?

(1)A quick disclaimer: I have started debate about this before, but may have been a bit of an arse about the whole thing and the community responded emphatically.