... and I don't mean that in a good way. If you recently visited one of my mashable sites, you might have noticed that the list of social networking sites I have in that left bottom sidebar has grown shorter. There's a good reason for that.
I've started posting to my StumbleUpon blog. If you haven't used Stumbleupon, then I'll start by saying that any brief description fails to explain it. It's a site for sharing links and reviewing the sites linked to. That doesn't sound like much, does it? But it is. One installs the toolbar, clicks on the Stumbleupon icon (next to which is the word "stumble"), and is instantly transported (yes, there's the cliche you were waiting for) to a random site that fits into one of the areas of interest one has listed in one's profile. A lot of these are really good sites, places you'd never hear of, and a lot of them are really creative and different (yes, more cliches, wow do I stink). The sites are natural conversation pieces, and where one finds conversation pieces, one tends to find some sort of conversation, and that's one place where community begins - something which Stumbleupon encourages, providing options to review other member's blogs and to link to them by becoming their fans. There are a few twits, but they seem ignorable enough, and so far at least, the crowd seems friendly and if I've known them too briefly to comment on how bright they are, at least they have generally good taste, and that, at the very least, is something. (Third cliche. I'm on a roll - and there's the forth).
What, then, is the problem? As I started posting reviews, I would sometimes have cause to link the review that I was writing to relevant outside source material, sometimes commentary on one of my sites, sometimes not - and noticed that the system was inserting these tags into my links:
That tag tells the search engine spiders to ignore the link. Some bloggers have been putting that tag to use in the comments section for their blogs in an attempt to dissuade spammers from posting comment spam, by removing the search engine boost the homepage link attached to their comments would give to their sites. This, of course, is futile, as it ignores the reality that nothing seems to dissuade spammers, who've been submitting comment spam to moderated guestbooks for years, even guestbooks with clearly posted notices that "all comments are screened before they appear", meaning that nobody other than the soon to be annoyed site owner will ever see the spam. The spammers hit, anyway; spamming is not economically rational behavior in practice. These same bloggers ignore the fact that they are harming somebody, and I'm not talking about the spammers. How about those who do take the time to think out and post legitimate comments to their blogs and are now, for no good reason, being denied the benefit of those links? Is that really fair to them? That little boost is what gets a lot of new sites and new blogs going. But we're in the middle of a fad, and reason is going to have little impact on the Groupthink.
Stumbleupon seems to have followed suit, which is a little bothersome, but not quite what I'm complaining about. This morning, out of idle curiosity I checked the code for the page on my Stumbleupon site on which I get my one and only linkback to my homepage (I use my mashable site for that), and found that link, too, had the rel=nofollow tag. Stumbleupon's management had been playing me and many other users as well, by offering a linkback that wasn't really a linkback at all.
As I explained in my not altogether unfavorable review of Stumbleupon, posted on their own site, the problem with that goes well beyond the fact that my other sites are seeing no significant benefit from their association with my Stumbleupon site, while my Stumbleupon site has certainly been boosted in the search engines by the fact that those other sites link to it. Having to relocate my pages after the plug pulling incident at Internet Trash I mention over on my main page and then having to regain the visibility that I had lost gained me a little practical experience dealing with issues of search engine optimization. One of the lessons I learned the hard way involved the severe drawbacks of having some of my pages link to some of my other pages, where the links are not reciprocated; creating "terminal pages" as I call them. I found that the terminal pages would soar in the listings, staying high for a long time, at the expense of the nonterminal pages, which would plummet; as if the spiders, on finding their way to the terminal pages, would get stranded there and forget where they had been previously. I soon started making a special point of not designing my sites that way. Now I find that while I wasn't looking, Stumbleupon slipped in a little code that had the effect of causing me to do just that.
I came back with a measured punitive response. I have enjoyed using Stumbleupon, seeing some real value in that site, so I'm not going to shun it or urge others to do so, but I'm also not going to be a sucker and continue reciprocating what I was never really being given. Blogger allows its users a lot of freedom in the design of their blogs and the writing of their posts, and one of the freedoms it gives is the freedom to tailor make one's links. If you unrender this site and take a look at my links, you'll find that every link I have to Stumbleupon has that same rel=nofollow tag that I was so displeased to find Stumbleupon putting to such sneaky and really almost unheard-of use. The linkback to the user's homepage is sacred. A provider should not touch that, ever, because aside from the inherent sleaziness of seeking to gain a consideration that one is sneakily refusing to reciprocate, one has the fact that the gain in visibility for one's sites in general is the only way one is repaid the time and work one puts into posting to these sites. For them to fail to respect this, especially in the way they did, then, is unethical and for me to overlook this particular breach of ethics would be foolish. Where I could not reciprocate with rel=nofollow tags of my own, I removed the link to Stumbleupon altogether, and resolved never to link to that site again from Tribe or anywhere else where one can not edit the HTML used for the establishment of external links.
I found myself even more curious than before - who else was doing this? I've recently established presences on a number of social networking sites with the intention of putting them all to use. Most are still sitting idle because I have a lot of sites and haven't had time to get to all of them, yet, but I wanted to make sure that I'd didn't miss an opportunity to claim my own name on these sites before somebody else did. I'd much rather be the user "joseph_dunphy" than the user "joseph_dunphy_69260" or something like that, as the latter is just ugly, and when one's name is as common as mine is, that becomes a real concern. I thus had a major incentive to establish myself quickly, which I did, but having done so, I then was faced with the question of what each of these sites would be for. I don't want my blog at Wordpress to be a clone of my journal at Blogger. I want each of my sites to have a purpose and a character of its own. This one, for example, which I finally gave a less generic name to last night ("Joseph Dunphy's Soapbox / Blog to Come" - what was that) has evolved into the place where I go when I feel like commenting on politics or the directions that American popular culture has been moving in (closely intertwined subjects, those) and choose to pretend that somebody other than me will care. As the site counter at Yahoo 360 (the previous location for this blog) racked some thousands of hits in its few months of existence at the old location before I switched over here, I guess somebody must, but ... yes I'm digressing, and there's another cliche.
I really need to get slapped. So, as I piece it together ... Multiply is where I'll post my photos of places of worship and write about any and all things Jewish, Imeem is where I'll post most of my short stories and pictures of the parts of Chicago that maybe aren't always considered the best places ... and I find out what Stumbleupon has done, I find that I'm wondering who else has put my trust to bad use. No sooner do I start unrendering site source code and looking, than I find a number of sites doing what Stumbleupon has done, and I am much disappointed by the list. I expected better. These are some I've found so far:
- Googlegroups. What was that about "not being evil", guys?
- Yelp. That hurt.
A few of the sites I'm involved with that had enough class to not do this include
- Blogger. Yes, It's a Google enterprise, just like Youtube and Googlegroups, but as is the case with Yahoo, Google's different divisions seem to function almost as if they were little companies in their own right, some good and some not so good. Blogger, so far, has seemed to me to be a very good one for the most part, and nothing that happened today undermined that view.
- Imeem. I am delighted for no particularly logical reason. Little experience there, yet, but something felt good about the place. I don't know why, so don't take that seriously just yet.
- Yahoogroups. One does get rel=nofollow in the group descriptions, but not in urls posted to the lists, at present.
- Tribe. Very limited formatting options, but an interesting looking collection of communities that puts out a lot of striking, original photography.
- Livespaces (MSN)
- Opensource Food
- Librarything. A mixed performance. They do insert rel=nofollow into the "also on" links, which is very much not cool given the fact that those are most of the outbound links, but they didn't seem to do this to the homepage link back to Mashable.
- eBay. No homepage link, but one can place outbound links on one's blog, which eBay doesn't seem to be tampering with at all.
- IGN. Haven't used it much and the homepage link is in a slightly out of the way location, but the code for the homepage link looked fine.
Break.com I wasn't able to put into a category, because the programmers have used some strange non-html Stylesheet coding that leaves me, so far, unable to find the code for my homepage link using my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the subject. I'll try to find out what the status of that is sometime in the next week or two, but if I remain confused at that time, I'll just assume the worst. In the case of those sites which I've determined aren't honestly reciprocating the links they've been getting from me, I've already removed feeds from those locations on my other sites, and as with Stumbleupon, inserted rel=nofollow into my remaining links to those places. I will still make some use of them, contributing a little content at each, but these are going to be very minor, secondary efforts, the sites on the second list definitely being a much higher priority.
I do take some pleasure in the fact that this time, the good guys outnumbered the bad guys. Most of the sites I was looking at, in this at least, did right by their users. I'll keep those Googlegroups in place, as they have been very reliable, experiencing little if any downtime and serving the essays I've posted to them at a good speed, and those little essays are still relevant for the blog posts to which they are attached. Certainly, they are a wonderful source of traffic, if Google's traffic counters are to be trusted - the Googlegroups / Dejanews archive is a popular resource and deservedly so, and probably a great many of my visitors did their searches there. However, what Googlegroups will be getting from me, henceforth, will be synopses, teasers, call them what you wish, with the actual essays they refer to being posted to some of the better behaved sites. The more one is willing to give, the more one should on one's way to getting; Googlegroups gets something out of my participation, it merely doesn't get everything, and this is fitting.
If in a very disappointing kind of way. At least, though, the hard decision of where to begin as I start to flesh out my new sites just became a lot easier.