Show Us Your Fishing Hole

March 5th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

For some reason, a Slashdot editor bemoaning blogger “plagiarizing” strikes me as a hair goofy. Slashdot isn’t a blog according to most of the current crop of self-appointed blog experts, but it’s not a wild act of generosity to include it in the same branch of the web publishing family tree. One thing it definitely has in common with the “link blog” leaf of that branch is its almost completely derivative nature. It has a few reader-contributed reviews, yes, but not much in the way of reportage even though its editors frequently use the phrase “we reported on this earlier” to mean “we once linked to a story about this same subject.” It’s fair to say that the real creative spark on that site is the software that drives it, and perhaps the efforts of trolls to disrupt it. Beside the point.

The article he was citing is at WIRED, and it discusses how a team at HP, analyzing the flow of information and links around the blogging world, discovered that there’s good reason to believe about 70 percent of bloggers fail to mention where they found a link. One manifestation of this seems to be more prominent blogs cherrypicking interesting links from their lesser-known confreres without citing them as the source.

At the risk of making Ed gnaw his tongue in half with anguish, this issue reminds me of a distinction Eric Raymond made during his “papers” phase between hacker culture and warez-d00d culture: Hackers (in the good sense of the word) tend to share source and methodology, crackers don’t. It’s a question, I guess, of different kinds of payoff. A skilled programmer writing open source code receives approbation for both his skill and his generosity, while a skilled cracker prefers his payoff in a lump sum comprised entirely of acknowledgement that his skillz are the maddest. The warez dude will eventually undermine his aura of elite competency if he acknowledges outside help or helps others figure out how to do what he does.

It’s not hard to imagine that these two personality types have homes in other areas of endeavor, even if it’s something as trivial as aggregating links. Some people prefer to teach you how to fish, others prefer to sell you a box of fishsticks. Sadly, the latter are acting like the Web is a small pond with a limited supply of fish they need to hold some sort of monopoly on. That makes their attempt to throw up a “Fishstix for Free or an Amazon Tip” booth look pretty laughable when we pan out and realize it’s bobbing in the middle of a near-bottomless sea teeming with fish.

One thing I’ve consistently admired about Doc Searls is his near-compulsive transparency in terms of where he gets his links from. He always seems to toss in a “via” qualifier of some sort, which makes him a connector as opposed to a terminal end. BoingBoing is similarly generous and has source attribution wired into its design. These two sites are much better go-to reads for just this reason: Perhaps 25% of their links are of real interest, but they provide a way to sharpen my reading list by tracking down their sources, who might provide a slightly sweeter ratio of interesting/non-interesting stuff.

From my perspective, if a generalist blogger wants my return traffic, it’ll happen when his/her blog shows itself to be a nexus as opposed to a dead end. There’s nothing magical about finding a good link. The value add is helping me find more like it.

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