The Deep Linking Clampdown…Oh, the Humanity!

*****Editor’s update: Rand has pointed out that I misread the bit about NPR. See below for amendment. *****

Did you ever think that you’d need permission in order to deep link to a site? And for those of you who don’t know, deep linking is the practice of linking to a page on a site other than the home page. It’s what we’re basically supposed to do, to have the most relevant links for our readers.

Apparently this is wreaking absolute havoc with several online publications. The Dallas Morning News has claimed that this practice has contributed to their quick downward spiral into the bowels of hell by “violating copyrights, depriving them of ad dollars, redirecting traffic, and generally confusing Web surfers.” That’s freaking Texas for you. They should stick to trying to find better bands than Coldplay to appear on Austin City Limits. (Obviously I cannot link to their terms of service so that you sweet readers could check this out since I don’t want to have a ten gallon cowboy hat of whoop-arse unloaded on me…)

The paragraph about NPR disallowing deep linking has been removed. This was an error on my part, which was kindly pointed out by Rand. I was going to just strike it through so that everyone could point and laugh at me, but didn’t want to further my badmouthing of them, since it turns out that they actually changed their policy to ALLOW deep linking. Amazing how I get through life…

As someone who is highly concerned about the limitations continually being placed on freedom of speech, this type of thing seriously concerns me. Will I not be able to link to a relevant page on a web site because my doing so may confuse someone? I mean I understand that making threats or shouting bigoted remarks in a coffee house isn’t something that you really should be doing, but CONFUSING SOMEONE ON THE WEB? I confuse people on a daily basis, online and offline. Confusion is good for the soul. It’s also a good New Order song.

Many people don’t take freedom of speech as seriously as they should, especially Americans in their comfort zone. If our online freedoms continue to be restricted in truly ridiculous ways such as not being allowed to link to a page that is relevant to what you’re talking about, what’s next? Will you not be able to use certain big words because most people won’t immediately know their definition? Will you be prevented from having an orange background because lots of people don’t like the color orange? Will Lisa have to stop all the Viking cursing on this blog? Will chocolate companies forbid Judith to mention their truffles? Will Adam Ant sue me for saying that I’m off him after seeing him cry in the “Wonderful” video? We’re all heading straight for hell you know.

Free speech isn’t the only issue with this either. Think about this for a minute (yes, just a minute): will Google be allowed to list results other than the home page of a publication that has these policies? Those are links, right? If the home page isn’t relevant for a certain term, then they’re gonna get screwed aren’t they? If you have a large site and you rank for 10,000 long tailed phrases that are relevant to all of your pages, if Google gets skittish and thinks they might get sued for violating your terms of service, because we all know how they love the terms of service, they could technically pull all results for your pages and your number of ranking phrases falls to 10. Google is currently still showing the dreaded deep links (their site links) for Dallas Morning News, by the way…so are they violating the terms of service here? I can’t be bothered to actually READ their terms of service to find out, honestly. Maybe they haven’t changed them, or maybe Google’s money and power was enough to get them to sign the permission slip. (Editor’s note: parts of this were amended after an error on my part.)

By turning off deep linking, you can decrease the overall link popularity of your site, too. Isn’t this shooting yourself in the foot? What about pissing off the people who don’t want to go and search for a story from the home page? If your search functionality sucks a duck’s arse on the site, you’re going to be seriously irritating these people. And really, if this is mostly about money, why can’t these people properly monetize the entire site and not just their home page?

As you can see, this situation is as fraught with peril as a trip to buy toilet paper and milk right before it snows in the South. We tend to take freedom of speech quite lightly, which is unfortunate. When you think about the greater implications of the continued clampdown on our online freedom, maybe you’ll realize just how critical it is to stay on top of issues such as this one and we won’t have anyone sporting a “Kill Your Deep Links” t-shirt in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.

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