Instead of being dollars or euros or kroner, links seem a lot more like the major prison currency, cigarettes, in the hands of a heavy smoker who cares more about smoking than about any other prison commodity. First of all, you can do something with them; as an afterthought, you also use them to get more PageRank if you like. —Nick Montfort —Linky Lucre (Grand Text Auto)
Nick’s reading of Jill Walker’s paper Links and Power comes up with some interesting observations. I’ve often thought of blogroll-hunting as a kind of game (one which I keep telling myself I shouldn’t play so often). My goal is not so much to encourage people to link to my blog, but rather to find — as soon as possible — the links that other people post. For instance, Eric Mayer was poking through lists of weblogs and recognized my name from the interactive fiction community; I found his blog entry a few hours after he posted it. This kind of link-hunting keeps my online research muscles limbered up, and it’s something I can do in a twenty-minute time window (while waiting for the kids to go to sleep or when a student doesn’t show up for an office visit).
While my link-collecting activity is, from one perspective, no more meaningful than manipuliting blobs of light in the shape of spaceships or warriors on a video screen, or passively watching blobs of light reproducing the motions of professional atheletes thousands of miles away, my particular collection of links represents my memory (how many times have you blogged something just so you’d remember it?), and the aggregation proceeds according to a set of criteria that I may not always articulate (Mike Arnzen has noted a recent explosion of blogs relating to games, but that seemed perfectly natural to me since I’ve just bumped a few game-related projects higher in my priority list). I’m not sure whether eating dots in a maze or watching professional athletes creates anything of even the slightest value to others; but, as Nick points out, “Google likes blogs – but people like blogs, too! Google likes blogs for all the right reasons.”
I remember a short story about a future society in which people are screened for intelligence in a sort of maze where they live their whole lives and try to attach meaning to the events that occur within the maze. One such event involves the collection of metal discs that occasionally appear on the walls. People pry these disks off, making their fingernails bloody (though one wonders why they wouldn’t just use one of their discs to pry off the other disks…). These discs serve no purpose other than being collected; I forget what the other meaningless activities are, but robot caretakers encourage the humans in all their activities but one. There is one room that humans are told to avoid; the protagonist, whose name I rember is Jon, ignores the warnings and enters the room, which I think contains nothing more than a big question mark. (I wish I could find that story again. I must have read it in the 80s.)
Anyway, the collection of links on a web page is not as meaningless as the collection of ornamental metal discs, since I use other people’s links to find information, people who share my interests, and, yes I admit it, sources of good links.