Dangerous Links: Why & How Google Wants to Abolish Hypertext

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Are links unnatural or even dangerous like some SEO experts repeat after Google? The Web is built upon so called hypertext. Why is it hyper? It’s not because of all the hypes we witness on the Internet. The hyper-aspect stems from hyperlinks.

Before the Internet you could only publish and read in a linear way. As a reader you would start at page 1 and read on. Of course you could read the end of the book right at the start. I did in school when we had to tell the teacher how a book we had to read ended. You could even read page 50, then page 1 and then again page 100.

In the print era most people would start at the beginning and finish reading at the end.

Newspaper readers would read just the few articles they liked, skip the ads and look up the weather report right away. Some people would even read more than one newspaper or book at a time, read this one a bit and then the other one.

When hypertext arrived, that is text containing links to other texts linear reading became a thing of the past.

On the WWW you can open up a wormwhole-like hyper-channel from inside a text and land on another text in real time despite it being an a different server at the other end of the world. The really revolutionary thing about the Internet is not the “series of tubes” it consists of according to a popular anecdote. It’s not that you can view cute cat images or receive tons of spam in your inbox.

The most important aspect of the Web is the hyperlink.

In reality the Web is just part of the Internet, I use the phrases interchangeably here for the sake of simplification. For example email is not part of the Web, it uses the Internet though. The Web is defined by hypertext. Without hypertext aka links there is no Web. There is just a collection of documents that aren’t connected.

The nature of the Web is free and egalitarian. In theory everybody can publish and link to others. Of course the early Web was still a bit difficult to publish on. I tried in 1997 for the first time. It was easy in a way (I handcoded my first webpage in Windows Notepad). I was a student in college sitting on a dead slow clumsy computer. I could publish to the whole world with just a few keystrokes. That was an amazing feeling. I was really about equality and opportunity. My university allowed me and other students to publish for free on their webspace.

A few years later Google appeared and decided that equality is inherently a bad thing for their business model.

So they created PageRank. It’s name stems from Larry Page (not the Web “page” like you might think). So Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided that some sites and links are more equal than others. While the technology behind each link is the same one link is more valuable than the other. They created a meritocracy based on the number and authority of links. A link from the NYT would count more than one from my free DIY college page.

While Google became the dominant search engine for analyzing hypertext instead of simply counting words like the older search engines many people noticed that links are a currency by themselves.

Then the big link trade began and it still takes place. Now that links are not created equal anymore you can also trade or buy them. Some link are worth more than others. Some links would be sold from thousands of dollars even.

Still links are pretty egalitarian to this day. Anybody can still link to anybody else. Links can be automated and there is even some level of anonymity when you link to someone or someone links to you. There is no name or image attached to a link. In the early days of the Internet most governments and conservative pundits were scaring people that the Web is mostly about guides on how to build bombs, child molesters and Nazi propaganda.

There were many attempts to make links illegal. For example in Germany you assume responsibility the minute you link out to a site, you can even get sued when somewhere on that site you link to illegal material appears. So people are scared of linking out. Many use bizarre disclaimers that are meant to protect them in case they link to something of questionable legal status but those won’t help in most cases. You’ll have to fight in court despite of them.

Google now tries a similar strategy:  for years the common Google speak was to call links they don’t like “dodgy links”. In recent years they dubbed those link “unnatural”. The next step is already on the way: it seems links are now dangerous. Of course not all links, just some links, those over-optimized ones, the ones just built for SEO reasons. Guess what average people will remember after reading such an articles? Exactly: “dangerous links”. They want be able to really remember which links exactly are dangerous. They will get even more cautious when linking out or even allowing incoming links.

For years many newspapers sites have been ridiculed by Web-savvy webmaster for forbidding linking to their sites in their TOS.

Already most people get link removal request from all sorts of webmasters and their Indian outsourcing SEO service providers. Now that links can be dangerous this situation will worsen. Don’t fret though! Google has already the solution. They are building their own secure proprietary Web for us. It’s called Google+, Google+1 Google authorship etc. They might come up with a new name. What they want is what their competition from Microsoft, Apple and Facebook already has: a closed walled garden type of ecosystem they control and wherein they can trap users.

Google already tries to force you on YouTube to use your real name. Each time I want to comment they ask the same question again. I can’t say no, then they ask again without giving me a clear choice of saying no. Only reloading the page will help. On Google+ most people use real names or nicknames you can easily identify which aren’t anonymous.

Links, aka hyperlinks aka hypertext are dangerous? Why? It’s because no single company can control them.

That’s why Google wants to replace them with proprietary metrics and connections. The first step in doing so is convincing people that free and neutral link are dangerous for them. Once they stop using them the “better” Google alternative will solve the problem. The strategy is so apparent I wonder why nobody is talking about it. Prepare for the forced Google+ activity and “AuthorRank” dystopia. Google will protect us from dangerous links by creating their own Web.

* Creative Commons image by Andrew Barclay.