The Inflationary Pressures of Links

Over the years people have asked me why I maintain yafla.com(after a Slashdotting a few years ago, a reader wrote to askif yafla.com stood for “Yet Another F’n Lame Ass.com?”. I gotquite a kick out of that, and I considered replacingYet Another FiveLetter Acronym in my mind withthis more cynical variant). While it is a legitimate company that Ido work under, basically I’m by design a one man crew and haveno lack of work, so I don’t actively solicit for business.Nonetheless I’ve always wanted to maintain a credible internetpresence just in case I think up something that would be .COMbrilliant.

To serve this desire, one of my goals with yafla.com was tomaintain it at a middling ranking, publishing enough interestinginformation that people would link to it and visit, and when I dopost something interesting about a non-mainstream topic, it atleast has a chance in heck of appearing somewhere near the front ofthe links returned by search engines (given that people whoactually care are most likely to get here via a searchengine. People coming from blog-of-the-day or discussion links aremuch more likely to be fly-bys who pad the hit-count but don’tactually value from the content. I get no pleasure from emptyhits).

Of course there’s also the personal credibility angle: Alongwith published print articles, I also post informational tools orpapers on yafla.com to maintain some karma in the industry, andalso as a goal – a destination – that drives me to investigatetopics that otherwise I might not so thoroughly consider. I’veplaced Google Adsense ads on a couple of papers as a test, but theyyield a pittance: I could “make” far more than the Google ads yieldby getting a regular coffee instead of a large in the morning.

One thing I have noticed, however, is that the number of hitscoming from search engines like Google has been rapidlydeclining over the past couple of years, basically charting as aninverse of the number of blogs filling the medium. It seems that asmore and more blogs are coming online, all of thempromiscuously cross-linking and trackbacking, the value ofgetting a couple hundred links for a neat domain tool, or a dozenlinks from highly specialized sites concerning a specific topic,has declined to the point of being irrelevant.

With the new inflationary pressures, it seems that nothing lessthan thousands of blog swarming links will really get you searchengine credibility. This is doubled by the fact that most (orall) of the major search engines are terriblydumb, in that a million generalist blog linkings to a guyfor his xbox game tips will yield him top results for SQLqueries the day he posts his first Hello World SELECTstatement. To my knowledge there is no search engine that separateslinks out into areas of expertise (Google pseudo-does this byanalyzing the context of each link, but it is terribly deficient),eliminating this useless global ranking for all searches. Manyblogs are earning credibility by association (due to demonstratableweaknesses in algorithms like Pagerank), such as the huge rise ofblogs.msdn.com entries for virtually every search term (even wherethe individual blog itself has few or no direct links from theoutside world, but has credibility by being linked within the wholeof blogs.msdn.com. This is weakness I wrote about several years agoon this very site, though in that iteration it was GeoCitiesaccounts that were disproportionately being ranked).

The question I am pondering, then, is whether the only way onecan remain internet credible (in search engine terms) is tointegrate heavily within the blogging community, quid-pro-quoingendless links and trackbacks, ingratiating oneself with otherbloggers, posting meaningless comments about every posting everyother blogger makes (which they will of course do in turn). It’s asort of super-pyramid scheme, but with no bottom level.