In Defense of the Link Blog

Earlier this month I published Owning Their Words, an article I named for and wrote in response to Matt Gemmell’s then-recent essay titled Own your words. In that piece, Matt explained the reasons he continues to write and publish on his own website rather than using a more streamlined venue such as Medium or another, similar service potentially more conducive to greater traffic that his own setup. Doing my best not to spoil his conclusion, that motivation came down to owning every aspect of his words, from the creation process to the manner in which the browser rendered them for his readers. This had a particularly profound impact on me in bringing my long-standing discomfort with the traditional link blog format — whereby its adherents scour the work of other authors, extract the pertinent lines as a pull-quote, and post it on their own site — to a head; by the time I finished Matt’s article, I had resolved to abandon the format entirely.

I say that, yet my previous post sports a title colored in light green and carries beneath it the hallmark of a hyperlink, that tell-tale underline; below that link, I have appended a brief paragraph of commentary to the aforementioned endorsement of another’s prose in a move that, I’m sure, appears awfully hypocritical given my earlier disavowal of the link blog format. But in evaluating my hypocrisy, distinguishing between the structure prescribed by the link blog format and the philosophy driving the vast majority of those who employ it becomes of paramount importance.

To make myself abundantly clear, then, I am not a fan of the structure: as I explained in Owning Their Words, I believe to extract the most interesting part of another writer’s work and publish it to my site, and in doing so potentially removing any incentive for my readers to visit the original article while simultaneously taking that prose out of its intended venue, is to do both myself and the writer I have wronged a great disservice under the guide of showcasing their work. I am, however, very much a proponent of the philosophy that created the practice of the link blog in the first place; that is, the desire to showcase another’s work alongside your implicit — or explicit, as the case may be — stamp of approval. And so, several weeks ago, that is exactly what I began doing: rather than a pull-quote and a strained attempt at humorous witticisms à la John Gruber, or single-word commentary in a fashion popularized by Jim Dalrymple, I seek to meaningfully add to the larger narrative surrounding the topic in question with something new and insightful I have yet to see someone else bring to the table; unable to do that, I see no reason to needlessly call for my readers’ attention, and so I do not.

We have arrived at an incredibly nuanced distinction here, differentiating between the multiple implementations of the same philosophy in deeming one something so subjective as “successful” at its implicit goal while the other a “failure”. Like so many spaces touched by the various technological industries though, value lies in the nuanced implementation of an imperfect idea, and that is exactly what we have here: a marginally flawed philosophy that simultaneously sees itself implemented to great effect and to none at all. To categorically condemn this practice, then, as many already have and undoubtedly will once again when the cyclical nature of their thinking comes back around for another pass, is to lump both sides of the same coin, both the good and the bad, together and toss them out as worthless. A weathered penny still retains its value even if the skyward side has succumbed to oxidation and turned a sickly green — just turn it over and inspect the reverse side for validation of its inherent value, and you will find it.