Parable of the nofollow

Part 1: Webpage and the Umans

In a time not so long ago, and not so far off existed a country called Theweb. It was a well populated place, popluated with upstanding citizens who called themselves Webpage, and lived together in harmony.

Each Webpage knew some other web pages in Theweb, and though well of them. You could ask a Webpage if they knew another Webpage, and they always replied truthfully.

Next to Theweb existed another country called Realworld. Its citizens, called Umans started to trade with Theweb, and Webpages. When Umans wanted any information, they traded with Webpage which had the information. This trade of information for time worked well, but for one problem.

For Umans finding the Webpage they wanted to Trade with was hard, as there were too many Webpages. Asking each page, if they had the information the Uman seeked, or knew a Webpage who did, was difficult for the Umans.

Meanwhile some Umans had created a Deus ex machina to solve this problem. Called the G.O.Gle, it had knowledge of each Webpage from Theweb. Umans could ask the G.O.Gle, which Webpage had the information they seeked, and the G.O.Gle found the correct answers.

Yet the G.O.Gle needed to find which Webpage was more important. For this it devised as system, where it asked each Webpage about the other Webpages they knew about. The Webpage which was known by many Webpages was deemed to be important, and the G.O.Gle asked more Umans to trade with that Webpage.

This system seemed to work well, with trade between Umans and Webpages flowing freely. Yet when trade starts, can corruption be far behind? Unlike Theweb, Realworld had evil citizens as well. Called S.P.Ammers, they wanted to divert the trade to the Webpages they wanted. S.P.Ammers could hypnotise a Webpage into telling the G.O.Gle about pages they did not know about.

This baffled the G.O.Gle. Earlier each Webpage told about the other Webpages it knew about truthfully. So using popularity of the Webpage, it could find which Webpage was important. Now it could not be sure if the Webpage was telling the truth, or it has been hypnotized by any S.P.Ammer. The G.O.Gle was stumped, its results started getting flawed, the trade between Webpage and Umans was disrupted.

Part 2: Revenge of the G.O.Gle

After trying to find a solution to this problem for a long time, the G.O.Gle had a brainwave. “Why not solve this problem at the source. Let the Webpages deal with this problem.” So G.O.Gle, who now had a huge say in the trade, asked Webpages to deal with other Webpages in a different way. Earlier, when asked if a Webpage knew another Webpage, they could have said “Yes, I know her” or “No, I do not know her”. Now when a Webpage knew another Webpage, but was not sure if it was work of S.P.Ammer, it could also say “Yes, I know her. NOFOLLOW.”.

Everyone was amazed by the great wisdom shown by the great wisdom shown by the G.O.Gle, and praised this solution.

Part 3: Collateral damage

A few years had passed, and the work of S.P.Ammers was still relentless. They were still busy hypnotizing Webpage, to suit the trade to their liking. What everyone seemed to have forgotten in the affair of the Nofollow, was that there were other methods of trade apart from going via G.O.Gle. And for S.P.Ammers hypnotizing the Webpages did not take any work. Given enough volumes, they could still mould the Trade to their liking.

And also by now Webpages had become very wary of other Webpages. If they were not absolutely sure about the other Webpage, they were telling, “Yes, I know her. NOFOLLOW.”.

The whole Theweb was build on the premise of one Webpage knowing many other Webpages. They even had a name for this relationship, Hyperlinks.

Influencial citizens like Ms. W.I.Kipedia, refused to know any one. Even if she knew a Webpage, and being such an upstanding citizen, she knew all the nice people, she told “Yes, I know her. NOFOLLOW.”.

For the G.O.Gle also this proved to be can of worms. The basic information using which they were able to find which Webpages were important was skewed, and so the results with G.O.Gle were skewed as well.

Part 4: The Good news

Unfortunately there is no good news. The few years have passed, and S.P.Ammers have been winning. More people are falling back behind the wall of blanket Nofollow, without regards for whether this will deter spammers. There is less data avaialable for the G.O.Gle to find important Webpages, which maens that unimportant ages are considered important. Trade between Theweb, and Realworld is happening, but spammers can turn the flow of trade to their will.

Moral of this Parable

There is no parable without morals, is there? Nofollow, of course, have not been as successful as first promised. Sites with clean link sources like Wikipedia label all external links as nofollow. This means that useful webpages, which Wikipedia links to(and hence are important and useful), are ranked lower than a page which a spammer creates, and which are linked from a link farm.

So what is the solution? As argued in The Tragedy of the Commons, some social problems have no purely technical solution. This problem falls in one of those problems. A much better solution is to use something like Akismet API to check if a link looks like spam, and let user handle the few false negative which happen.

Thank you for reading the Agiliq blog. This article was written by piyush on Apr 22, 2008 in search .

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