William Blaze has a post up on Abstract Dynamics titled Amplification and Stratification, tracing the linkflow in blog space in which he analyzes how a link to Linton Freeman’s article, “Visualizing Social Networks” in the Journal of Social Structure, was passed from weblog to weblog until it had reached quite a few eyeballs. He cites it as an example of blog-enabled amplification but points out that some things were lost in the process. As a result, credit to the original publisher of the article, to the source of the link, and to the blogger who originally dug it up didn’t propagate widely along with the link itself. (Go read the post.) I agree with Blaze that this is an instance of a general problem, and this connects to recent discussions of fairness in weblogs. For instance, as he points out, within the “political economy of linking” there can be incentives not to point to one’s sources. While there’s a general norm of bloggers linking to sources, the practice is not universal and few chains of credit go all the way, with the unfortunate consequence that promising sources can remain obscure for longer than they would otherwise. Unlike chains of oral gossip, however, blogs are on the public record, and this is another area where blog crawlers can perhaps help a little bit. For instance, the Technorati page for the link in question enables us to trace it back to William’s post (but unfortunately no further). A few questions spring out from this. It is generally accepted that giving credit for creation is important; is it the same for “link discovery credit?” Will (should) the practice of linking to sources of links come to be taken very seriously by bloggers, out of a shared concern to keep things fair and transparent, in a similar manner to standards of citation in academia? Should one link to the immediate source or make an effort to trace links back to the original source? (Is it always clear which is “the” original source?) [Addendum, by Clay: It’s worth noting that the Freeman link appeared on many-to-many after I found it on del.icio.us, not on a blog as Blaze surmises. More on this here.]

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