reflections on the hyperlinked.society conference 06.14.2006, 7:48 AM
posted by ray cha
Last week, Dan and I attended the hyperlinked.society conference hosted at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication. An impressive collection of panelists and audience members gathered to discuss issues that are emerging as we place more value onto hyperlinks. Here are a few reflections on what was covered at the one day conference.
David Weinberger made a good framing statement when he noted that links are the architecture of the web. Through technologies, such as Google Page Rank, linking is not only a conduit to information, but it is also now a way of adding value to another site. People noted the tension between not wanting to link to a site they disagreed with (for example, an opposing political site) which would increase its value in ranking criteria and with the idea that linking to other ideas a fundamental purpose of the web. Currently, links are binary, on or off. Context for the link is given by textual descriptions given around the link. (For example, I like to read this blog.) Many suggestions were offered to give the link context, through color, icon or tags within the code of the link to show agreement or disagreement with the contents of the link. Jesse discusses overlapping issues in his recent post on the semantic wiki. Standards can be developed to achieve this, however we must be take care to anticipate the gaming of any new ways of linking. Otherwise, these new links will became another casualty of the web, as seen with through the misuse of meta tags. Meta tags were key words included in HTML code of pages to assist search engines on determining the contains of the site. However, massive misuse of these keywords rendered meta-tags useless, and Google was one of the first, if not the first, search engine to completely ignore meta-tags. Similar gaming is bound to occur with adding layers of meaning to links, and must be considered carefully in the creation of new web conventions, lest these links will join meta-tags as footnote in HTML reference books.
Another shift I observed, was an increase in citing real quantifiable data be it from both market and academic research on people's web use. As Saul Hansell pointed out, the data which is able to be collected is only a slice of reality, however these snapshots are still useful in gaining understand how people are using new media. The work of Lada Adamic (whose work we like to refer to in ifbook) on mapping the communication between political blogs will be increasingly important in understand online relationships. She also showed more recent work on representing how information flows and spreads through the blogosphere.
Some of the work by presented by mapmakers and cartographers showed examples of using data to describe voting patterns as well as cyberspace. Meaningful maps of cyberspace are particularly difficult to create because as Martin Dodge noted, we want to compress hundreds of thousands of dimensions into two or three dimensions. Maps are representations of data, at first they were purely geographic, but eventually things such as weather patterns and economic trends have been overlaid onto their geographic locations. In the context of hyperlinks, I look forward to using these digital maps as an interface to the data underlaying these representations. Beyond voting patterns (and privacy issues aside,) linking these maps to deeper information on related demographic and socio-economic data and trends seems like the logical next step.
I was also surprised at what was not mentioned or barely mentioned. Net neutrality and copyright were each only raised once, each time by an audience members' question. Ethan Zuckerman gave an interesting anecdote that the Global Voices project became an advocate for the Creative Commons license because they found it to be a powerful tool to support their effort to support bloggers in the developing world. Further, in the final panel of moderators, they mentioned that privacy, policy, tracking received less attention then expected. On that note, I'll close with two questions that lingered in my mind, as I left Philadelphia for home. I hope that they will be addressed in the near future, as the importance of hyperlinking grows in our lives.
1. How will we deal with link rot and their ephemeral nature of link?
Broken links and archiving links will become increasing important as the number of links along with our dependence on them grow in parallel.
2. Who owns our links?
As we put more and more of ourselves, our relationships and our links on commercial websites, it is important to reflect upon what are the implications when we are at the same time giving ownership of these links over to Yahoo via flickr and News Corp via my.space.
Tim Bulkeley on June 14, 2006 10:33 PM:
Of course, aside from the searching issues, some form of indicating the intent of links might be useful to humans!
For our hypertext biblical commentary series we intend to mark links as "explanations" or "justifications" (better names would be welcome!) depending on whether they lead the reader, to material to help beginners understand, or to more detail of the evidence and arguments on which a particular conclusion is based.
Since no standard exists, we'll use coding like [a href="link" title="explanation" class="explanation"] and then CSS (and the "title") to display the difference to the reader.
Jesse Wilbur on June 16, 2006 12:35 PM:
In response to the question of "who owns our links" I want to point out that there are two important aspects of ownership on the web: the ability to control access, and the ability to claim content. We are giving extraordinary control to outside forces by handing our content to hosting providers. (That's what myspace is, at heart: geocities for a new generation.)
But we are also gaining power through the power of transparency. We can tag, annotate, and collate links about ourselves with tools like ClaimID; we can track our own surfing habits with Root.net; we can manage what shows up in Google with a robots.txt file. Should we have to think about all this just to maintain ownership over our identities and our content? Yes, for the moment. But my sincere hope is that the near future will reveal better methods of aggregating control of our own stuff, with a higher level of security and assurance built in. We're still transitioning. In transitional periods it's good to ask questions like this, and try to imagine the future we want to create.