Self Referential Assholes.

There’s an unwritten rule that I adhere to on this blog that only a few people actually know about but something that you should all be aware of. For the most part any article where I’m trying to express facts and not opinions you’ll find links scattered to various corners of the web which support my points with evidence and original research. If you come across an article that’s rather link poor (which this article is shaping up to be) then it’s more than likely that it’s an opinion piece or original research. Which either way you’re going to have to take on face value since I’m just some random person on the Internet, but then again so are all the people that I link to.

For a long time I avoided internally linking back to my own posts as I thought it looked kind of arrogant to reference myself as a point of information. However since I’m rocketing towards a total of 300 posts on this blog I’m finding that there are many times when I’ve said something before and taking another paragraph to explain a concept I’ve covered in much more detail feels like I’m not doing the subject justice and I’ll provide a link back to that post. It also helps that doing so provides a healthy bit of search engine optimization for the article in question, although it doesn’t seem to matter that much since my most popular articles so far have been about the iPad and the Internet filter.

If you frequent other blogs you’ll notice that this rule seems to apply to most of them and even some popular news sites are beginning to cite references to sites other than their own. I’m a big fan of it as I’ve spent many hours of fascinated clicking through links on articles that interest me to get that deep understanding that the writer is trying to impart on me. This is coming from someone who, up until he found the wonders of RSS, didn’t read more than a couple sites a day and now spends hours consuming vast amounts of media.

There are of course assholes out there who use this rule as a means to look like they’re being authoritative when in fact they’re really just after the SEO juice that this internal linking provides, for example this Tech Crunch article I came across this morning (with links to prove my point):

Bloglines, the troubled RSS feed reader, has been down for the past 24 hours. The outage has even created buzz on Twitter (which goes to show some people still use it). When you visit Bloglines, the site has a message up that says it is down temporarily and will be “back shortly.” But with the site’s tumultuous history, you have to wonder how much longer Bloglines has before IAC will finally put it out of its misery.Bought by IAC in February 2005 for around $10 million, the site has been in jeopardy ever since the launch of Google Reader long ago, compounded by the shift from RSS to realtime news streams.

Applying my rule that a seemingly authoritative post would contain a healthy amount of links you’d think that this article was pretty up there in terms of supporting information. Couple that with the fact that Tech Crunch is a pretty big site you’d be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t just an opinion piece. If you hover over all those links you’ll notice that nearly all of them link back to articles on Tech Crunch as well and if you actually follow those links what you’ll find is an ever inward spiralling cascade of self referential links which are supposed to be supporting arguments to the points they make. They are in essence backing up their opinion with opinions they’ve expressed in the past.

Now I’ve usually got no problem with that but when people are making claims to things, like for instance the death of RSS (really?), I’d like to see some links to some actual real evidence. Clicking through all their links revealed that someone there obviously has an agenda to push as they’ve been bashing Bloglines for quite a while yet if you look at the traffic of the site it doesn’t look like its going anywhere soon and realistically, if anything, the site’s traffic is growing. So much for that site going into the “deadpool” and the “death of RSS’.

Maybe it’s the skeptic in me but when I see this kind of bullshit on the Internet I just can’t help but get enraged. It’s so easy to make sweeping allegations but it’s so much harder to back them up. I know I’ve done it before on this blog and I’m so glad when someone calls me on it because frankly no one should be allowed to get away with it. So if you see anyone trying to make a point and all they reference to is their own material think twice about what they’re saying before you believe it. Because if all they have to go on is themselves then it all comes down to how much you trust that person.

And really, how much can you trust someone on the other side of an Internet connection?

5 Comments

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  1. I tend to link to my old posts as a shorthand way of making a point I’ve made before, or if there is an update/shift from my previous positions. Given my blog is focused on a regular set of topics, I think this helps the reader. Still I sometimes worry about over-doing it.

    What really annoys me is with journal papers where people link to 4-5 of their past papers without any clear reason why its being invoked. And if you are only using a link/reference to cover a highly controversial point, you should never link to your own work.

    Then again, some don’t even like to promote their stuff on facebook/twitter, but my reading of history is that the most successful are all self-promoters, it just needs a little bit of style to not aggrieve too many around them.

  2. Exactly Andrew, there are times when it is required and useful and I don’t fault people for that. As you rightly point out it’s when people make unsubstantiated claims or controversial statements that they should either provide proof or reference other sources with a similar viewpoint. I guess I just can’t stand those who believe themselves an absolute authority on a subject when they can’t provide anything further than their word.

    That sounds like an awesomely interesting project, I might just have to put that on the TODO list 😉

  3. (moved from facebook) A confession, I am a self referencing arsehole. The reasons to self reference far outweight the reasons not to. I’m currently having a wordpress plugin writen which negates the need, but until then you need to continually deep link to your old content to keep it in the search engines. The larger the blog, the greater the problem. Tech crunch needs to self reference just to keep old content indexed. Ofcourse I do it for technical reason, some people are just wankers about it.

  4. Agreed and as my last post is a good testament to there are times when its appropriate to link to your own work, both for technical reasons and to save yourself the trouble of explaining something over and over again. What I detest is those who link to themselves as single sources of truth as really, no one can lay claim to that fact unless they’ve published research through appropriate channels. The Internet isn’t really a hotbed of peer-reviewed research however 😉

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