Sep 092008

In the book, “The Hyperlinked Society,” which I read at Michel Bauwens’ urging, there is an article by Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times extolling that publication’s all-out push to integrate with the Web. To some degree they have done a good job, but one thing they do terribly badly is exactly their use of hyperlinks.

I do not know the mechanism, — it could be ten-year -old children of the webmaster, underpaid workers in India, or some completely automated process —  but the results are evident. In every online Times article you can find  a sprinkling of hyperlinks that, if you follow them, lead you completely astray, having nothing useful to do with the article in question.

Case in point: Clive Thompson has an interesting article in this week’s Magazine:“I’m so Totally, Digitally Close to You,” (though the web title is “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” —much worse). It is about the ways in which Facebook’s newsfeeds and services such as Twitter allow wide circles of friends and acquaintances to update you in tiny bites about their latest doings, such as making sandwiches, and about the effects of all this in increasing a sense of intimacy. One sentence reads: “Ambient intimacy becomes a way to ‘feel less alone,’ as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me.” The word “ambient” is used here as an adjective, indicating the enveloping quality of these new connections. But in the Times online, it is hyperlinked. To a definition? No. Rather to articles in the Times on a company called Ambient Corporation that is engaged in trying to make the electricity grid more responsive and green.

This is annoyingly stupid. Why would authors want to have attention turned away in this manner from what they are writing?  A simple solution would be to give each article’s author veto power over these argbitrary links. At present they are just a minefield readers should avoid. If the Times is patting itself on the back for this egregious and ongoing blunder, it shouldn’t.

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