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Loosely Coupled weblog

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Shallow linking

It was ironic to follow a link about Friendster's social networking lapse and stumble upon IDG's deep linking policy today. It seems I'm behind the curve here; IDG introduced its policy last year, but today was the first time I've encountered it. In the CNET story, Friendster fires developer for blog, the penultimate paragraph refers to "a story on InfoWorld in August," and, not unreasonably, links to that story, even though it's a story on a competitor's title.

But if you click on the link in the CNET story, you don't reach the InfoWorld article. Instead, you land on a page displaying the following message:

"Welcome visitor!

"Thank you for your interest in technology information from International Data Group, the leader in the field. We are eager to serve your information needs.

"We regret that we can not satisfy this specific content request because it originates from a source that is not authorized to redistribute our material. Please access all of our rich store of technical knowledge directly by clicking on any of the following links:"

This is followed by a parade of logos and home page links (including a link to, which of course doesn't really coincide to my definition of being "eager to serve your information needs": after all, it wouldn't take too much effort to offer a follow-on link to the requested content while still making IDG's point.

The decision to bar links from certain sites was made last year by no less than IDG's CEO, Patrick Kenealy, who came to the conclusion that certain sites, most notably TechTarget, the publisher of (among other titles), were unfairly profiting from IDG's original content.

TechTarget falls foul of Kenealy's disapproval because, he claims, it is gathering registration data from users in return for providing links to third-party sites including IDG. He says that's unfair unless those sites share that registration data with IDG. CNET falls foul of a separate rule: by tracking clickthroughs on links to external sites, CNET is gathering information about user interests that it could sell on to advertisers. Kenealy believes IDG is entitled to share of those revenues. A third category is sites that charge subscription fees for providing a selection of links to other sites. Extending this principle, Kenealy also feels it's wrong for sites that carry advertising to link to IDG sites. In both cases, Kenealy believes IDG is entitled to a cut of those revenues. Here's how Kenealy summarized his stance for VNU title Technology Marketing in a short item entitled Quick Question last year:

"IDG has become concerned by 'deep linking for profit,' where money-making entities use our content to sell advertising, sell sales leads or build direct marketing lists. Here's our version 1.0 policy: Outsiders who use our content to gather registration data must share that data with us. Outsiders who use our content to sell advertising must share revenues with us. Outsiders who use interaction with our content to create sales leads for sale to third parties must share revenues with us. Outsiders who use our content must respect our privacy policies."

However justified this stance may be (and I have my doubts; see below), it seems counter-productive to me, since I clicked on a link that I was grateful to CNET for providing when I would've expected it not to link to a competitor. This only exacerbated the annoyance that I felt when I discovered that IDG had blocked my access to the information I wanted to view. The net effect is a dent to the esteem in which I have always held IDG's brand.

But the damage runs deeper than that, because my site links to InfoWorld items too (in particular the indispensable Jon Udell, whose article IT Myth 6: IT doesn't scale was the target of the link from the CNET article on Friendster). And yet Loosely Coupled collects subscribers, offers paid content, and carries advertising. I now discover that we have been in breach of InfoWorld's Terms and Conditions of Use which, in common with all IDG sites, stipulate that:

"You may not link to our site if you sell ads on your site or you charge a subscription fee to use or access your site. No deep linking directly to articles is permitted if you sell ads on your site or you charge a subscription fee to use or access your site."

I am surprised that this policy has not elicited more comment from the blogosphere, many of whom carry ads these days courtesy of Google Adsense and yet often also link to IDG content; perhaps no one takes it seriously. Anil Dash mentioned it last year when Kenealy first promulgated the policy, but apart from that I can find no significant references when I search Google for Kenealy "deep linking" (Google, by the way, sells advertising on pages that link to IDG content; I wonder how much Google pays for this 'privilege').

Now that I have discovered it, I am starting to regret the several thousand visitors that Loosely Coupled has sent to InfoWorld articles in the past year. It turns out all those links were in breach of InfoWorld's terms and conditions. We shall think twice about linking to IDG titles in the future, even though some of the best writing about the topics we follow can be found on InfoWorld's pages. But if IDG decided to start barring links from us, we would end up having to rename ourselves Brokenly Coupled and their title might just as well be called InfoWalled. This would not be in the best interests of either of our readerships.

UPDATE [Added September 8]: There have been several comments on this item, including one from CNET's John Roberts, who mentions its recently launched Extra service, which is the kind of service IDG couldn't possibly offer without going against the spirit (although not the letter) of its own terms and conditions.

posted by Phil Wainewright 11:15 PM (GMT) | comments | link

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