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Linking for Dollars
Feb 23, 1998 :: Michael Sippey

Ah, let us all mourn the passage of the prosaic HREF attribute...that little innovation that sparked the revolution that begat the World-Wide Web as we know it today. For the link is dead.

Long live the link.

According to the gospel of way new journalism, the link was supposed to liberate the reader, enabling them to explore the back story to their heart's content. At the same time, it was to liberate the writer from providing said back story.

But that way new dream never did come true, did it. Instead, we're still reading paragraph after paragraph of text, all in a row. Alas, we're not flying around hypertextual space consuming tidbits of knowledge from servers around the globe; instead, we're clicking through to the next Reuters news story on My Yahoo.

Some say that large-scale linkage never happened because we never wanted to read fragmented global infonuggets. That we would rather read the Web like we read print -- one sentence at a time. We don't instantly put down the dead tree version of The New York Times to fetch a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the real world, they say, why should we do it online.

They're all wrong. Publishers haven't been linking because there hasn't been any money in it.

For a brief, delicious moment, imagine you're an editor at C|Net. You're charged with delivering yellow-striped content about the digital revolution to the masses. You have at your disposal a wide array of tools and technologies: ASCII, HTML, GIFs, JPEGs, Real Audio, Flash, what have you. You use these tools on a daily basis to deliver a brand-building C|Net experience to your readers.

But you probably don't use the HREF attribute very often, unless it's to link somewhere where you can guarantee another sliver of revenue. You're a provider of valuable traffic...why would you want to link anywhere but to another site within the C|Net family, or one of its paying sponsors? Because while your readers may actually find value in a link to another site's product review or point of view on a particular piece of technology, a link to a sponsor (via a banner ad) or a commerce partner (via a "buy this" teaser) will earn you cold hard cash. And God knows you need that.

Now, switch roles and imagine you're a niche publisher. You have a site of personal narrative, say, or a self-published column. Why shouldn't you link for dollars, too? After all, you could surreptitiously turn your site into a commerce machine, thanks to companies like Link Exchange and associates programs from Amazon, CDNow and EToys.

It's this linking for dollars which will drive the micropayment industry. Consumers won't be able to deal with thousands of purchase decisions ("Is this site worth three cents? Nope, no porn."), and the credit card companies will figure out some way to un-sell it to them. But on a business to business basis, micropayments will be the perfect mechanism for publishers to pay for the true currency of the web: eyeballs.

The link is dead. Long live the link.



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