On Soft Links.

Something I've noticed is that many nodes are sparsely softlinked, if at all. This is the case, as you might expect, with lots of old nodes. But newly created nodes can also suffer the same problem.

Every website has hyperlinks like our hard links. They aren't anything special. What makes E2 great is the self-organising nature of the linking process; the soft links. These are formed when you move from one node to another, and demonstrate associations between nodes that readers may think of, even if writers don't see it.

However, it's not enough to create a writeup and hope that soft links appear. It's your job, as the creator of a new node, to ensure that it's linked to relevant and interesting other nodes.

You should know this already. It is explained best in E2 FAQ: integrate your writeups and most vividly in Link and Link. But for whatever reason, many noders don't softlink their nodes enough. Often, I get the impression that people don't enjoy softlinking.

So here's:

arieh' s handy-dandy guide to softlinking

First of all, you don't need to create a soft link for every hard link you have. That advice is a relic from the old days of E2, when you'd have very few hard links because the writeups were shorter. However, you should certainly have softlinked the key concepts.

Secondly, make sure you are in the full node view for softlinking. It doesn't work properly if you're in the single-writeup view. If the top of the page has "all of your writeup, no other writeups in this node" at the top, you're in the wrong view. Click through the link before softlinking, and remember that if you edit your writeup, you'll be taken back to the single writeup view.

Now, follow the important hard links in your writeups, the ones related to concepts and things relevant to it. Open them in new windows - you may need to right-click on the links to get this option. Open many at a time. The link is created by the time the header of the page has loaded, so as soon as 'writeup@Everything2.com' appears in the top bar of your browser, you can close off that window. This is a good time to fix any hard links that don't go anywhere.

What's wrong with only following the hard links? Well, you want people to read your writeup in the future. Often, words that you hardlink to are common, and already have strong softlinks. Say you're writing up a computer game. Well, you may want to link it to computer and game, but those links are only one-way; while your writeup will show a link to computer and game, those writeups won't show a link back to yours. If your writeup is long, it could be easy to fill it with one-way soft links.

So next, I'd have a pop at related concepts. Pick a keyword related to your writeup, something you've probably already linked to. Pop it into the search box and tick 'ignore exact'. You'll probably be presented with a "Findings:" page with lots of writeups on topics related to yours. Some of them will only be loosely related, but it doesn't matter. Start opening a few in new windows, and close them off when done. Then repeat the process with other keywords. Often, writeups found this way will show your soft link at their end too.

If there are one or two soft links that you think are most important, you can strengthen them by following them a couple of times. This will move them further up the soft link block, to nearer the top.

Here's some miscellaneous soft link advice (just advice, mind. Not site policy):

  • Pile them on. Anything less than about 24 looks sparse. Don't worry about over-softlinking
  • That said, consider stopping at 40, so your readers and future writers can add softlinks too.
  • Link to at least one poetry/prose for a factual writeup, and at least four factuals for a creative piece
  • Link to at least two nodes with a title of more than two words.
  • Link to one - but no more than one - random node that you like.

For those who are scared of softlinking, don't be. I used to only submit writeups to old nodes to avoid softlinking. Now I quite enjoy it. Have a go, you can't go wrong.

For all those who already know all this and spend ages softlinking your writeups, find a writeup lacking in the link department - maybe one of your own old ones, or just a random piece from a fled user. Craftily integrate it, like a prodigal son, back into the fold of E2. Look at your handiwork, and be proud.