Friday, July 26, 2013

Spam links and the economics thereof

I can't remember the word for this, but I know I don't like it ...

You go to a more-or-less reputable news site, say for a mass-market but not-quite-tabloid newspaper, and read an article.  To the side of the article is a list of related articles.  Towards the bottom of the list, or maybe in a different section that looks pretty much identical to the first list, are links to a few more articles, with catchy headlines and/or pictures.

Except they're actually external links to infomercial-style ads, or fluffy articles with ads in every direction, or fluffy articles that want you to wade through an extra page of ad links before you can even see them.

Nothing illegal or immoral going on here, just annoying, and somehow more annoying because there's generally some hint on the original page -- fine print, an "elsewhere on the web" section header or such -- to let you know that these are not from the same source.  If you're looking.

It's a trade-off of reputation for revenue.  Roughly, the levels are
  • Top news sites (at least "top" in my estimation), just don't do this.
  • Many sites link to sites with somewhat more ads and somewhat less substantial articles, and make it clear that "that's them, not us, but try this if you're looking for mindless fun"
  • Some sites link to outright crap and make only a minimal "see, it says right here" effort to disclose it.
  • And then there is outright phishing, which is immoral, and often illegal.  Sort of an informational bait-and-switch.
The interesting territory is in the middle.  You can probably tell something about how a site is faring if it shifts one way or another on this scale.

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