March 03, 2005

The Value of a Link

Thank goodness someone is thinking about this. I mean.. what is the value of a link? The Federal Election Commission thinks a link, if it directs the readership of a blog to a campaign website, might be worth the amount that gets donated to that campaign due to the link.

I can see why this issue comes up.. in analog terms. People who make in-kind contributions have to be listed by the campaigns as donors. Unless they don't coordinate their activities with the campaign. Though they still might have to declare their activities with the FEC. However, to bloggers, a link is free and often not just a referal but rather a pointer to a source or to background information.

Valuing campaign contributions as it were, from digital sources who link this way may also not get the true value of the link. The FEC is proposing to apply rules of analog campaign activity to the internet. So bloggers, linkers... are they press... are they contributors of in-kind linking or words... or are they expressing opinion? What is their status and is it based on what they do, or say, or based on self-identification? I'd say it's as varied as blogs are: blogs are a tool, remember? It's like asking what is the status of this piece of paper? Is it a letter, a newspaper, a shopping list, a diary? The status depends on how it's used but there are many possibilities and otherwise it's just a flexible tool for communication.

Of course, there are multiple meanings for links. A link can be an endorsement, a referral, a pointer to background information, a literary expression and a joke, all at the same time. And more. Some readers may view the link in singular ways.. but some will see all the meanings and the point is... regulating that is going to be, practically speaking, very difficult. Because linking is a form of speech. And blogging is a kind of expression. And the status of the blog sending the link also has something to do with the value, and therefore, every link, depending on the text, the linker, the linkee, and the types of linking occurring, shifts the value of a link.

Nonetheless, the FEC is hot on the trail of the value of a link according to Declan McCullagh at c|Net:

I think this is a bad road to go down.. but if the FEC is going to do it, they need to call in some folks who understand and live in the blogosphere, rather than coming at the problem from the outside looking in, to figure out what it really means when bloggers write, link or otherwise interact with campaigns.

My favorite quote is this: "..because there's no standard for being a blogger, anyone can claim to be one...." Oh for the love of self identification and transparency. You can only really claim to be one if you actually write one. How about instead: "..because there's no standard for being a blogger, anyone can write one...". It just feels a lot more representative of what actually happens.. because it's based on doing, not claiming.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 3, 2005 10:14 AM | TrackBack

"...anyone can claim to be one..." I'd go with that wording, because I think that a lot of new "blogs" coming online are fake. Is Wonkette a blogger? Or is she a paid employee of a media conglomerate, someone whose snarky style is just a Nick-Denton brand? How about the many business "bloggers" getting paid to promote their companies in reverse chronological order? Not to mention the fake SEO blogs now plaguing free sites like blogspot...

Not that I could define for you what makes a real blog...

Posted by: Betsy Devine at March 16, 2005 08:50 AM