Of Deep Linking and Stupid Corporations

Wired.com did a story recently about deep linking, which is the practice of one site linking to a story, article or resource inside of another site (as I just did with the link to Wired).

Such links bypass the site’s home page (and any advertising there) but are generally regarded by most web folks as a good thing — heck, the vast, vast majority of people visiting Nuketown arrive by way of such links. I’d be an idiot if I tried to prevent them — it would be the virtual equivalent of slitting my throat.

And yet, this is exactly what the Dallas News, a newspaper in Dallas, Texas, is trying to do. It has an written policy on its site demanding that those who link to it only link to its home page. And it’s in the middle of a pissing contest with BarkingDog.com over that local site’s propensity for linking to — horror of horrors — specific stories within the site. You know, the entire basis of the Web?

Now this has already been debated — and settled — in federal court when a judge rightly decided that “deep links” were effectively a faster way of accessing a site, and doesn’t infringe on anyone’s copyright.

The company argues that linking to a specific story presents the information out of context, meaning that people might not recognize the source of the material. Now call me crazy, but that sounds more like a navigational and branding problem for dallasnews.com than it does a copyright infringement. They also argue that they’re losing ad revenues ’cause people aren’t going by their home page. Never mind the page view they get from someone visiting the page in question (or the hundreds or thousands of page views if the links popular).

The entire debacle demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Web works, which doesn’t surprise me one bit. Newspapers were clueless and hidebound when I was an online editor in 1998, and it doesn’t look like the dinosaurs have managed to stagger even two steps forward since then (although a few look like they might capable of the whole dino-to-bird transformation, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Take the entire concept of deep linking. If I’m a writer, and I want to refer someone to information specifically about, say, the Klez e-mail worm, why the heck would I send them to the McAfee home page rather than the page dedicated to Klez on their site?

Sure, I could send them to the home page. They link to their story about the virus … today. But what about tomorrow? Or next week? Or next month? My link might still be timely to people looking for information on Klez, but by then McAfee will inevitably be highlighting some other worm on the home page, and my link will be far less effective.

Isn’t it better for everyone — my readers, McAfee’s prospective customers, McAfee itself — if I refer people to the information they need?

What really bugs me about all this is that the Dallas News is making a mountain out of a mole hill, and then attempting to destroy the mountain with a nuclear strike. Any half-competent web monkey could easily send any and all visitors to the site to the Dallas News home page, force them to log in, and then allow them to drill down to find a story. It would be annoying, cost them traffic, and eventually strangle the site in a web of bureaucratic code, but hey, that’s the price you pay.

It absolutely infuriates me that they’re freaking suing people because they’re too stupid to a) understand the Web, b) understand when someone is doing them a favor and c) figure out how to configure their site to promote their idiotic initiative. I can only hope that they implode under the staggering pressure of their own incompetence … but I’m not holding my breath.

Addendum (5/14/2002): One final note, now that I’ve had a few more days to think about it, and digest another story of another corporation threatening legal action over deep linking to a printer-friendly page, this time the once-friendly Rodale Press.

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