Tuesday Mar 06, 2007

Is NoFollow Misnamed or Not?

Conventional wisdom is that the rel="nofollow" mechanism is misnamed. As the current version of the NoFollow Wikipedia article says:

rel="nofollow" actually tells a search engine "Don't score this link" rather than "Don't follow this link." This differs from the meaning of nofollow as used within a robots meta tag, which does tell a search engine: "Do not follow any of the hyperlinks in the body of this document."

But... Recently Matt Cutts (a Google specialist in SEO issues) has contradicted that. Specifically, a forum participant asked:

...does nofollow really prevent Google from crawling a page?
And Matt responded:
...if a page would have been found anyway via other links, it doesn't prevent crawling of that page. But I believe that if the only link to a page is a nofollow link, Google won't follow that link to the destination page.

So he's saying that rel="nofollow" really does mean "don't follow" (at least to Google), and that the conventional wisdom (and Wikipedia article) are wrong?

Is that right? It'd be nice to have a definitive answer, given the "I believe" opening in Matt's statement.

Friday Feb 16, 2007

Word of the Day: Backronym

Once again, Wikipedia has taught me what I didn't even know there was to know. While looking into the history of Wikis, I learned that the term is sometimes treated as a backronym for: "what I know is". The only problem was, one thing I didn't know was the meaning of "backronym".

Fortunately, that was also just a click away:

A backronym or bacronym is a type of acronym that begins as an ordinary word, and is later interpreted as an acronym.

Ah. That makes sense.

The article is also filled with some interesting tidbits about specific backronyms. For example: do you think that DVD stands for "Digital Video Disc"? It officially stands for nothing. Some of the creators did want it to mean "Digital Video Disc", but apparently they never gained consensus. And later when it became commonly used for purposes other than video, some of the creators decided it should stand for "Digital Versatile Disc" (but again, apparently never gained consensus to make it official).

And if you're really looking to give yourself a headache, you can even feed "acronym" into an online acronym-finding service and get several results (which, if popularized, would presumably turn "acronym" itself into a backronym).

Monday Jan 22, 2007

Wikipedia Decides Its Outgoing Links Can't Be Trusted?

I find this sad. By adding the rel="nofollow" attribute to the outgoing links in all articles, the Wikipedia seems to be wavering in its trust of volunteers. Yes, link spam is a problem. And with its combination of high visibility and open authoring, the Wikipedia is a prime target. But why not deal with this problem the same way it deals with other inaccurate and abusive content? Count on the volunteer base to detect and correct issues quickly (and give the administrators tools to lock certain articles which are repeated targets).

Until yesterday, that's exactly how the English-language Wikipedia dealt with link spam. But now the project has thrown up a white flag and said that its volunteers and tools aren't adequate to police the situation. Instead, the equivalent of martial law has been declared and everyone suffers.

The Wikipedia is the closest thing we have to a collective and collaborative voice in describing our world. When an external URL is referenced in a Wikipedia article, it must pass the editorial "litmus test" of all Wikipedians watching that article (who will presumably have high interest and expertise in the subject). With the blanket inclusion of the nofollow attribute on these links, search engines such as Google will no longer use these links as part of their determination of which URLs are most important. So we end up with slightly poorer search results and one less way to register our "votes" for improving them. Sad.

On the bright side, the original announcement does note that "better heuristic and manual flagging tools for URLs would of course be super." Presumably, this means that when such tools are made available, the blanket application of nofollow will be removed. Let's hope that happens. Soon.

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