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Nofollow No Good?

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In Google’s embarrassing mistake, which I thought was going to be about Google Web Accelerator, Dylan calls nofollow a failure.

Since its enthusiastic adoption a year and a half ago, by Google, Six Apart, WordPress, and of course the eminent Dave Winer, I think we can all agree that nofollow has done nothing. Comment spam? Thicker than ever. It’s had absolutely no effect on the volume of spam. That’s probably because comment spammers don’t give a crap, because the marginal cost of spamming is so low.

But it’s worse than that, he claims.

Worse, nofollow has another, more pernicious effect, which is that it reduces the value of legitimate comments. Here’s how:

Why should I bother entering a comment on your blog, after all? Well, I might comment because you’re my friend. But I might also want some tiny little reward for participating in a discussion, contributing to the content on your site, and generally enhancing the value of the conversational Web. That reward? PageRank, baby. But if your blog uses the nofollow tag, you’ve just eliminated that tiny little bit of reciprocity. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather just comment on my own blog. And maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll link back to you.

I’ve seen that first hand. The “psychology of linking” did change in a fairly obvious way after nofollow started. Unfortunately, that was a downside that none of saw coming back when we announced our support. I’m not sure any of us expected people to ration their links as if they were somehow in limited supply. But it happened anyway.

Introducing even a fairly subtle and indirect “economic” model into a system always changes behavior. I know that I forget (or at least underestimate) that more often than I should.

Look. Linking is part of what makes the web work. If you’re actually concerned about every link you make being counted in some global database of site endorsements, you’re probably over-thinking just a bit. Life’s too short for that, ya know? Link and be linked to. Let the search engines sort it out.

Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy’s blog: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog.

Nofollow No Good?
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