File Under: Web Basics

You Can’t Create Community in a Box

In August Tim O’Reilly asked is linking to yourself the future of the web? He was referring to a trend to self-link rather than link out to an obvious external page that would be more appropriate. For example, rather than link to O’Reilly’s article above, I could have linked Scott’s coverage on Webmonkey. It’s debateable which is more useful, but it’s obvious to me that the user expects the original.

I noticed this same self-linking when I was researching the 8 Simple Tools for Better Bookmarking. Several of the sites, which aimed to generate discussion about the bookmarks, forced users to first visit a comment and meta-data page. For example, here’s an intermediate page on Twine:

Twine page about a bookmark

I got to this page from a web industry twine. I chose the story from a list of other links by clicking its headline. I expected the headline to go to the original article, not this overview page. I’m not denying that such a page has value. It provides a good summary and a place to discuss the article. But many users will want to read the original before reading or writing comments.

It takes an extra effort for me to click through to the intermediate page, then find the full link way down the page. Worse, it breaks my expectations.

Twine is not the only one with this issue. Social bookmarking site Clipmarks and developer site dzone link to an intermediate page. Diigo links to itself only from front page stories.

Each of these services may have a perfectly good reason for self-linking. If the purpose is to encourage users to participate in discussion, this is the wrong way to to it. Consider the popular communities of Digg and Reddit, where comments for each entry thrive despite not linking as obviously to the internal page.

Digg page links directly to article

The headline links to the article, as expected, but there’s always the “comments” link if the user has something to say, or wants to read the discussion. One reason Digg and Reddit have a community may be because they don’t stand in the way of users and the content that the community gathers around. Let your users out of your box. Tear down the walls and don’t force them into internal pages. You may just see better results.

[Disclosure: Reddit is owned by CondeNet, the parent company of Webmonkey and Wired.]

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