Link attribution

Did link attributions raise the blogosphere in 1998?

When Jorn Barger discovered Chris Gulker’s “whole list of other weblogs”[1] on 5 Jan 1998, he returned from his exploration with a handful of URLs that he listed on Robot Wisdom Weblog as “cribbed links”[1] without further attribution. By the middle of February, Barger instituted a system of link attribution on his site that arguably founded the blogosphere[2] by converting Gulker’s list of sites into a functional, cross-linking network.[3]

This page compiles archival source texts on link attribution. Ordered chronologically, it aims to reconstruct the discussion of link attribution in the nascent blogosphere.

Some expired link targets in the source texts have been adjusted.

Suggestions for further additions from the year 2000 or prior will be gladly considered.


Barger: this URL was cribbed

16 Feb 1998

[DP] will mean this URL was cribbed from the ‘Digital Prairie’ weblog. See the ‘more logs’ shorttake, above, for the key. [4]

Bogart: I’ll credit it

24 Apr 1998

I’m adding another regular stop to my surfing adventures: YMMV, or Your Mileage May Vary by Brett Glass and Isobel Nichols. It’s another link-and-comment site, and I find that many of his tastes in links are similar to mine (though where he gets the time to do so much linking & writing I can’t imagine). When I get a link from his site I’ll credit it (but will endeavor to have my own thing to say about it, of course). Same from here on out with links I get from Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom WebLog.

If I saw something first, though, no dice. 😉

I’ll keep a spot at the bottom of the main page as a key to links from other sources. [5]

Wallace: Cross-pollination

28 Jul 1998

I’ve been careful not to steal too many links from Jorn. If anything, I’ll follow a few links and bookmark something related.

Still, I think a credited link can do good. It’s cross-pollination, and I figure the things that are most interesting to me ought to be shared.[6]

Barger: Good etiquette

31 Jul 1998

Some design suggestions:

  • Continual updates make more sense than periodic publication.
  • The main page adds new links at the top
  • Archives can maintain this format, broken into reasonable-sized chunks
  • (Sorting archives by category is another option)
  • Link-text should be a summary (not a teaser/pun)
  • Pullquotes can be very effective
  • When linking to a multipage or heavy-bandwidth article, include a warning
  • Simply showing the URL is a convenient way of giving a lot of info about the source, date, etc
  • Crediting links borrowed from other weblogs is good etiquette [7]

Barrett: It’s not even necessary to credit a popular link

26 Jan 1999

Most weblog owners are aware of each other and make it a point to credit the source of a particularly amusing or useful link. I often find it’s not even necessary to credit a popular link, especially if I see it turn up on other weblogs and web sites. It’s also not necessary to credit a link to a news article from a major news source, as most weblog owners use many of the same news sources for their usual links. [8]

Barger: I call that plagiarism

26 Jan 1999

Boycott: I’m deleting Arts & Letters Daily from my daily rounds, because its editor, Denis Dutton, acknowledges he’s been taking freely from my links for months, but has somehow never found the time to give me the slightest public mention. (I first requested this courtesy on 19 October.) I call that plagiarism.[9]

Krahn: Make an effort to acknowledge sources

29 Jan 1999

I agree with Jorn. Folks should at least make an effort to acknowledge sources . . . Yeah, sometimes one can forget (I know I do sometimes) or feel they’ve spied something a bunch of places so attribution isn’t necessary. Listing sources can be awkward, too. But it’s not as if ALD couldn’t at least link to Jorn once! (Geez, they’ve got room for ads all over their page and the new scitech page, why not links to some of their sources? Or to a page listing sources/credits?). Oh, well. [10]

Lyke: Tangled incestuous mess

1 Feb 1999

Via Cameron (I’ve got to start branching further and/or writing more original stuff before these assorted daily web log pages just become one big tangled incestuous mess), comes this report that companies like MathSoft, Zapata, and (cigar retailer) International Industries are seeing jumps in stock prices in the 30% gain because of announcing associate’s programs with Amazon. Who are the morons buying this stock? Want to see what one extremely successful web site makes from Amazon’s associate program (although all proceeds are donated to animal hospitals)? Check out Philip Greenspun’s Amazon logs at One week in November Amazon got 3550 hits, which resulted in 29 direct orders and 93 indirect orders, for a whopping total of $158.32 in referral fees.[11]

Graham: Many of my links are cribbed

28 Mar 1999

PONDERING: So, since I’ve been knee-deep in retooling The BradLands, I’ve begun to wonder if I still qualify as a weblog. [Here’s Cameron Barrett’s brain-dump on what a weblog is.] I haven’t had much time for quality surfing these past two or three months, so many of my links are cribbed from my fellow webloggers, as evidenced above. Then Dan Lyke starts navel-gazing about his exquisite Flutterby and obliquely chides my ilk for such incestuous linking-about. (Nothing personal, I’m sure.) No conclusions here yet, but if I can’t make more time in my sked for more culling of quality, focused links, I’m probably going to retire and leave the logging to the better qualified, then graduate exclusively to developing new writing and content for the site.

Barrett: It clutters up the flow of information

11 May 1999

I’d like to address an issue that has bothered me for some time. It’s about crediting a source online within a weblog. Out of a common courtesy, I (and many other weblog owners) usually give credit to a site where we first saw the article, story, quote, or tidbit we’re linking to. There are two different camps of this thinking. Those who think crediting initial sources is good, and those who don’t. Several weblogs have developed a system where a source is credited with an acronym, and then somewhere else there is a key that explains the acronym system to the reader who is interested enough to dig that deep. Robot Wisdom and Cardhouse are examples of weblogs that do this, with [cw] being the acronym for CamWorld at the latter. Other sites simply add a short credit like [via Flutterby] or [found at Obscure Store].

I like the idea of crediting an initial source, but wonder if it clutters up the flow of information a weblog is trying to deliver. As a weblog owner, I encourage the idea of crediting a source, as it informs each weblog’s audience about another potential source of information they might enjoy. Along this same vein of thought, it’s discomforting to see some weblogs (or headline aggregators) simply compile a list of links culled from a list of weblogs they frequent every day.

The “big idea” of the Internet is the power of distributed information. Where anyone can, with a little hard work, develop a web site that hundreds and thousands of people may want to read and/or participate in. Seeing that hard work being leveraged on another site without proper credit tends to get me down. And rightly so. The Internet is about personalized and customized communication. Weblogs have established a small island of rationality and stability among the sea of information that the Internet has thrown at everyone. Those of us who are honing our skills at filtering this information are creating the best weblogs. The better the signal-to-noise ratio, the better your site will be.[12]

Graham: Seen as perhaps unhealthy

16 Jun 1999

A sense of community: The first time I had a sense of the Internet as a place to convene a community was as a lurker and occasional poster on Usenet. As malicious and merely injudicious cross-posting unacceptably raised the newsgroup signal-to-noise ratio, I rediscovered that same feeling on a few, well-chosen e-mail lists, to which I contributed more often. I’ve skimmed back the number of lists I subscribe to, but I still have a sense of community on the Internet, and it’s largely a community I’ve created and nurtured myself. People who read The BradLands write to me to share links they think I might enjoy. Sometimes, things I mention in my weblog show up in other folks’ weblogs too, with credit to me for pointing the way. Cameron Barrett has created the best of both worlds with his CamList, a mailing list for readers of his weblog. My weblog is linked from several others, and theirs from mine. We are a community, of sorts, a small town sharing gossip and news, recreation and sport, laughter and tears, all for the commonweal. And, for the most part, we’re friendly to strangers.

It’s that last part that’s distressing to some folks who’ve taken a step back and looked at the relatively young practice of weblogging. The tendency of identical or similar links to show up in several different logs, and the frequency of reciprocal links among webloggers is seen as perhaps unhealthy, a form of incest that–we’re told–can lead to a flattened sameness among our pages.

I haven’t seen anything approaching a day when all of the dozen or so weblogs I read daily have completely identical links. On the occasions when two or more of us point to the same stories, well, it’s because those are the big stories on the ‘net (or at least among geeks) that day. It’s no different than those occasions when channels 2, 4, 5, 8 and 11 all lead with the same feature on the evening news.

In fact, in the offline world, that sort of thing is much more common. Our weblogs, by contrast, are incredible in their manifold diversity.

Those who would dismiss weblogging as a pointless self-referrential exercise or, in vulgar parlance, a big ol’ Internet-based circle jerk, aren’t looking toward the future.

I am. Over the next few months, I’ll be narrowing the focus of The BradLands somewhat, limiting the topics that are regularly noted in the weblog to those that most interest me. (How limiting this is remains to be seen; I have quite catholic interests.) But, with time, The BradLands will evolve with an unique voice, a definite attitude, a clearer motivation.

Meanwhile, other folks will be starting weblogs of their own, defined by their own interests, published with their own voices. As more and more do so, the weblog movement will begin to realize its true power, a more widely distributed version of what the Open Directory and other collaborative web directories have promised but only minimally delivered.

Hundreds of individuals, sorting through the Internet, pointing to the links that they find interesting and that they believe would interest their friends and colleagues and a few bystanders besides.

Sure, two or four or more of us will point to the same “big story” from time to time, or even to the same “small story.” That’s OK. I have a different set of readers than Laurel does, and she attracts a different crowd than Cam, and Jorn has yet another audience. There’s some overlap, but there’s a whole lot of difference too, because we’re different people.

An old maxim states that editors separate the wheat from the chaff and then publish the chaff.

As the weblog movement matures, our sites will wrest editorial authority the few editors of today and divide it among the many. “They” can continue to publish the chaff; we’ll be there to point our hungry readers toward the wheat. Hopefully, we’ll have fun doing it and learn a lot along the way.

And that, my friends, is why I weblog. [13]

Barger: Give enough credit

Sep 1999

Should webloggers give credit for borrowed links?

They ought to give enough credit that readers can check out that source for themselves. [14]

Winer: Back-slapping is wasteful

19 Nov 1999

Now that I’m reading more weblogs thanks to Weblog Monitor, I see other sites giving Scripting News credit for links they pick up here. I appreciate the acknowledgment, but it isn’t necessary. I feel this kind of back-slapping is wasteful for the readers. No one owns a link to another site. If you feel gratitude, that’s great, there are other ways to express it. Don’t clutter up your site with link attributions, at least not for us.

One nice way to show appreciation is to link to the site in another section, perhaps on another day. Or to register your site with the Weblog Monitor so more people can see what you do. That’s called a win-win, and that’s what the web is about, IMHO. [15]

Gunderloy: Help my readers

20 Nov 1999

There’s been some discussion lately (notably on Scripting News, but elsewhere as well) on whether to attribute weblog entries that have been snarfed from other blogs. A couple of people have said essentially “don’t bother, it clutters the page and I don’t need the egoboo.” For me, this misses the point. If I find something on, say, Genehack that I think my readership (nebulous though that concept is) I attribute it, not so that John will feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but so that readers who like the item can go find out where it came from and see if there are more like it. So in my mind attribution is not a way to make bloggers feel good, but to help my readers better find what they’re looking for. It’s like including a list of other weblogs, but with more context about why one would go to a particular one. [16]

Winer: Different style of presentation

20 Nov 1999

Interesting. Your method and mine have the same net-effect, just a different style of presentation. Let a thousand flowers blossom. [17]

Millett: Polite to indicate your sources

25 Nov 1999

I agree with Mike. I think it’s important, especially in terms of fairness, to attribute and I do so on Medley (albeit in a smaller font, usually).

>readership (nebulous though that concept is) I attribute it, not so that
>John will feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but so that readers who like the
>item can go find out where it came from and see if there are more like it.

There’s that, and there’s also the fact that I don’t feel comfortable claiming credit (however implicitly) for a good find, a good idea, or what-have-you, that’s not my own. To me, it’s just polite to indicate your sources, but then I do lean more towards the idea that if there are going to be weblog ethics, they should probably lean towards journalism’s ethics (or what used to serve as such.) That’s why I like to use pull quotes (less chance of misstating someone else’s argument, for one).

>So in my mind attribution is not a way to make bloggers feel good, but to
>help my readers better find what they’re looking for. It’s like including a

Exactly. And I also (used to) find Jorn’s attributions in his headlines list confusing (for reasons that someonen else brought up) — if I see “X Y Z (via W)” where “via W” is hyperlinked, I kind of expect to end up at W when I click there. I’ve learned that’s not the case at Robot Wisdom, and that’s fine, but it would be nice for a link to W to exist, too, rather than having to go hunt for it. *shrug*

To me, sites that don’t attribute well have a veneer of . . . I don’t know.. misleading egoism, I guess.[18]

Winer: Jorn’s barking about giving credit

16 Dec 1999

Interesting. The top four sites on the Scoop Index are Frontier sites. And the top one is so easy to work on that it’s done by a robot. I have absolutely no idea what this proves.

Robot Wisdom, which is not run by a robot, is way way down the list. Not sure what this proves either, except possibly that Jorn’s barking about giving credit for links has scared anyone off from linking to anything he’s already linked to.[19]

Graham: A means of scalability

6 Jan 2000

As for “inbreeding,” that’s been a fairly consistent observation/accusation of webloggers practically from day one of the movement, whenever that was. It’s a fairly limited analogy, though.

I prefer instead to think of links that appear in multiple logs as signal strengtheners, repeater stations, if you will. Every weblog author has a different audience; sometimes it varies quite considerably, both in the audience’s interests and certainly in volume. (For example, folks who read Wes Felter’s Hack the Planet for tech insights would probably find little to their taste at The BradLands; likewise my meager 100-200 daily visitors pales alongside the likes of Cameron Barrett’s CamWorld or Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom Weblog.)

Still, despite the fact we’ve admitted herein to reading and copping links from many of our peers, I’d wager the majority of our readerships are pretty unique.

So, if I nick a link from Windowseat and put in on The BradLands, then maybe Damien Barrett notices it, finds it interesting and sticks it on MrBarrett, where it’s found and subsequently linked by Dan Lyke at Flutterby — it’s a bit like passing a baton from runner to runner or a mail pouch from Pony Express rider to rider. At each stop along the way, we add our individual commentary and thereby carry more meaning and/or connotation to our own, particular audience.

Along the way, a de facto weighting/rating system comes into play. The more logs something is mentioned in, the more likely that it’s the hot story of the ‘net on a given day or week, or that it’s going to be the “new, new thing” when the unwired world notices it sometime hence. It’s a fairly crude “more links = more value” system, but it’s there nonetheless.

To take it a step further: by crediting a weblog where a borrowed link was originally found, we introduce a means of scalability to our expanding community. If readers consistently see links from another weblog in my own, they will perhaps think, “Hmm…maybe I’d better check out that other site. Probably a *lot* of stuff I’d be interested in over there.” They may even eventually stop visiting my site in favor of the other, since it’s author is more closely aligned with their set of interests, tastes, lifestyle, etc. than I, since I’ve only picked and chosen a limited subset of the other guy’s linksto feature.

Meanwhile, I’m picking up new readers from reciprocal links on *other* weblogs, and they told two friends, and they told two friends…and so on and so on.

Gradually, persistent and increasingly sophisticated readers of weblogs will come to find a limited (although malleable) set of weblogs that suit them and their tastes/interests comfortably. Some of them will start their own weblogs to fill a void, be it topical or geographic or whatever.

We’re not really in-breeding, we’re recruiting. And we’re growing a community by fits and starts along the way. Ain’t it grand? [20]

Dibbell: Cross-linking community

2 May 2000

A loosely collegial, cross-linking community of Web loggers has coalesced, trading advice, feedback, and support [21]

Clark: Unbearable incestuousness

12 Nov 2000

1. The unbearable incestuousness of blogging: “The other people who have blogs… read your blog, and if they like it they blog your blog on their own blog.”

  • The nominal purpose of Weblogs is to point out links of interest that you, the reader, would not have run across yourself. A variant, as amply documented in Rebecca “Not Mead” Blood’s famous Weblog history, is the diaristic or daily-journal Weblog.
  • But since so many leading Weblogs are written by folks in the Internet biz, their entire lives are online. You can write up what you did with your real-life friend yesterday, but you can’t link to that experience. You can link to what your online friend blogged yesterday. The annotated-list-of-links Weblog form, then, becomes one and the same with the diaristic form for Webloggers in the Internet demimonde: Links are diaries because life is the Web.
  • This practice, however, defeats the original purpose of link-based Weblogging (to find fresh new items online) and the purpose of the later daily-journal variation, which lets perfect strangers peer into the fascinating or mundane lives of others, which they could not possibly know about by different means. Counterblogging fails the test of novelty two ways: The links aren’t fresh (they’ve been traded back and forth like saliva in a kiss) and no new events from bloggers’ real lives are depicted. [22]


  1. ^ a b Barger, Jorn (1998-01-05). “Mon, Jan 5, 1998 (First Quarter)”. Robot Wisdom. 
  2. ^ Ammann, Rudolf (2009-11-05). “Blogosphere 1998: Analysis”. Tawawa. 
  3. ^ Ammann, Rudolf (2009-07). “Jorn Barger, the NewsPage network and the emergence of the weblog community”. 
  4. ^ Barger, Jorn (1998-02-16). “Mon, Feb 16, 1998”. Robot Wisdom Weblog. 
  5. ^ Bogart, Steve (1998-04-24). “Hefty Hefty!”. Steve Bogart’s News, Pointers & Commentary. 
  6. ^ Wallace, Michal (1998-07-28). “WEB: Weblogs”. Sabren. 
  7. ^ Barger, Jorn (1998). “weblogs.literate”. Robot Wisdom. 
  8. ^ Barrett, Cameron (1999-01-26). “Anatomy of a Weblog”. Camworld. 
  9. ^ Barger, Jorn (1999-01). “Robot Wisdom Weblog for January 1999 (waxing)”. Robot Wisdom. 
  10. ^ Krahn, Laurel (1999-01). “January 25 – 29, 1999”. Windowseat Weblog. 
  11. ^ Lyke, Dan (1999-01). “Via Cameron”. Flutterby. 
  12. ^ Barrett, Cameron (1999-05-11). “More About Weblogs”. Camworld. 
  13. ^ Graham, Brad (1999-06-16). “Why I Weblog”. The Bradlands. 
  14. ^ Barger, Jorn (1999-09). “Weblog resources FAQ”. Robot Wisdom. 
  15. ^ Winer, Dave (1999-11-19). “Friday, November 19, 1999”. Scripting News. 
  16. ^ Gunderloy, Mike (1999-11-20). “Attribution”. Weblogs eGroup. 
  17. ^ Winer, Dave (1999-11-20). “Attribution”. Weblogs eGroup. 
  18. ^ Millett, Lynette I. (1999-11-25). “Attribution”. Weblogs eGroup. 
  19. ^ Winer, Dave (1999-12-16). “Thursday, December 16, 1999”. Scripting News. 
  20. ^ Graham, Brad (2000-01-06). “Navel gazing”. Weblogs eGroup. 
  21. ^ Dibbell, Julian (2000-05-02). “Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Man”. Feed Magazine. 
  22. ^ Clark, Joe (2000-11-12). “Deconstructing ‘You’ve Got Blog'”. Fawny.