As we all know, Ted Nelson meant hypertexts to have bidirectional links. But due to a laboratory accident in Switzerland, we ended up with this lame thing. Mechanisms such as Google link search and Technorati are just hacks, ways to leverage Moore's Law to ameliorate a fundamental flaw in our hypertext data architecture, crawling the Web faster and faster to aggregate all of our trackbacks.
Yesterday, David Sifry convinced me that's just wrong. What Nelson missed, with his focus on 'literary' architectures, is that networked hypertexts are inhabited by people. Links are not just citations. They are gestures in a social space, parts of conversations or other interactions. There's an inherent value in looking at the dynamics of the record as it is created.
Obviously I agree with the broad thrust of this or wouldn't be working at Technorati. However, I think the one-way nature of links was necessary for the Web to achieve what it did. The globally connected nature of the web as a small world network is built on a scale-free distribution of linkage. If all links are required to be two-way, this rapidly becomes unwieldy and cumbersome - imagine if the front page of Apple.com showed all the inbound links to it. The unidirectionality created the permission-free linking culture the web depends on, and reversing those links in a useful way is an interesting problem we're having fun solving - the hot products page is an example of this.
In fact, that page addresses another issue, if obliquely. Shelley asked how being a community member affects your writing:
[W]eblogging [is] different than Big Media, because it puts publishing in the hands of the people. I have to presume they think this is a good thing because webloggers can write what they want, and aren't censored. Unlike Big Media, we aren't accountable to an editor, or big companies, or important politicians.
But I guess we're accountable to each other, and that's the most dangerous censorship of all -- it's the censorship of the commons.
Indeed. I think this is a good thing. The fact that when blogging we are accountable for our writings and their public history acts, in general, in a good way - it makes us stop to think about our reactions before they 'end upon our permanent record'. Shelley's own campaign against comment spammers that violate community norms in this way is an example. David Weinberger in 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined' put it this way:
A human being raised in isolation would not be identifiably human in anything except DNA. Sociality grants a mute herd of brutes their souls and selves.
The example of what happens when anonymity is allowed in Amazon reviews, leading to all kinds of dubious behaviour was revealed in the NYT , and picked up by auctorial bloggers like Cory and Neil Gaiman. The bloggers' comments show up in context with the rest of their writings, so you can gather whether you are likely to agree with them generally too.
For example, when Lago attacks Vote Links for reinforcing hegemony I can see that he is the same person who threatened to offer Joi a reading list, but then didn't, so I can offer him one instead: