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July 30, 2012, 1:30 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

The Verge is giving extra credit (and links) to primary sources

The tech site has always been good about providing a persistent structure for source credit. Now it’s linking out more prominently, too.

When technology site The Verge site launched last fall, Josh wrote a broadly laudatory review on the site’s design and infrastructure. We had one quibble, though, about how The Verge gave credit to other sites when it aggregated/curated/summarized/rewrote (your pick) their stories. Rather than link to the source in the body text of the story, The Verge would move that link to a small “Source” box at the bottom of the story, where it seemed likely fewer people would click on it. It didn’t seem sporting. (Many of The Verge’s editorial staffers previously worked at Engadget, which had a very similar link policy.)

Verge managing editor Nilay Patel defending the practice in the comments:

I will defend our decision to break out vias and sources, though — we think it’s incredibly important to consistently and canonically show people where our stories come from, where are primary sources are, and how they fit together. A reader who comes to a post on The Verge can immediately trace our steps and check our work against the primary source, since we put that information in the same place every time. It might not be the “standard” across the web, but we think it’s much cleaner and clearer for people.

To which Josh replied:

Re: source credits, I agree with you it’s a good idea to be consistent in how you show where you’re getting your stories from. My complaint would be that that admirable consistency is no reason to avoid also linking to the source story in the actual text of the post, which, let’s be honest, is much more valuable real estate than a 22px-high box the eye jumps right over.

The debate went on in the comments, and others have made the same complaint since. Here’s a back-and-forth on Twitter among tech writers Jim Dalrymple, Jason Snell, Dwight Silverman, and John Gruber:

Well, we noticed a change in The Verge’s behavior lately. Links to sources were showing up more frequently in the body of stories, along with in the “Source” and “Via” tags at story bottom. I emailed Patel to see if this was a shift:

Yep, we’ve changed our policy and now link to primary sources inline as a matter of practice. We still think having a canonical source / via field is critically important to understanding a story’s context, though, so we do both.

He said that the new policy isn’t that new, that “it’s actually been months. We changed it pretty soon after launch…I will note that the complaints have not stopped, of course. But when do they ever?” (A random spot check of posts from two months ago today — May 30 — finds a few cases with in-story credit links, but plenty where there still were none.)

The debate over linking habits is about both the desire for credit and the desire for pageviews: More prominent links equal more clickthroughs and more traffic. For some, that traffic is the currency of exchange in a world of aggregation, the implicit deal that hyperlinks enable. Here’s more from Patel on the thinking behind the change:

The decision was itself easy: we always want to be as clear as possible about sourcing and vias with readers as possible — that’s why we’re one of the few publications that always exposes all primary sources and vias at the bottom of every news post. We also train our writers to aggressively seek primary sources and do not accept coverage based on a chain of via links. And when I say we train our writers, I mean it — our training process is rigorous, lengthy, and notoriously intense.

Because finding and crediting primary sources is such a core part of our editorial process, the argument over where the link was placed always seemed silly to us — more about people wanting traffic than about attribution. The attribution was always right there, next to a bright orange box that said SOURCE in all-capital letters. So adding inline links was a very minor step for us, and we took it without any great debate.

It should be noted that, while The Verge’s editorial policy might be criticized in the tech-blogging world, it’s always been ahead of outlets born outside online media. (See, for instance, Mark Coddington’s study of the linking habits of news sites, which found that 91 percent of news sites’ links were internal links to their own content. That number was 18 percent for independent blogs.

POSTED     July 30, 2012, 1:30 p.m.
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