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A potentially unwitting homage to the link economy

In the culture of blogs, permalinks, trackbacks, and a now somewhat fading ethos of online publishing behavior, to link to something is/was to not only reference it but also to credit it. In linking, we build a new pathway to it, ascribe some authority to it in the eyes of Google and the world, expose it to our audience, and make an explicit recommendation. It’s often referred to as the Link Economy.

As an apparently unintentional outcome of the NYT’s new paywall scheme, linking to an NYT article now credits that article explicitly, not just implicitly. Since NYT articles visited directly beyond a certain allotment cost money to view, while articles visited via a link on Twitter or a blog are free to view, it’s like by linking to a Times piece an author is blazing a new, free trail and unlocking the payment structure around that page. While the larger paywall operation itself is clearly a shift away from the Link Economy, this one smaller aspect of it is an intriguing bit of deference to it.

“Here, I like this article on Napping In The NBA; go read it for free.”

Is this a consequence of the NYT trying to (a)charge for content while (b)preserving the ability of online writers to reference its material fully without having to send readers to a paywall nag screen? Or a deliberate approach to encourage more linking to NYT articles via Google-beloved blogs, Faces of book, and Twitter accounts, and thus bolster its standing in the organic SEO game and absorb any other troubles the new scheme might churn up?

(Update:) Or was this a step that was unavoidable so as not to lose the benefits of all of the links that already exist? I guess what I’m asking is where the Times stands philosophically on the Link Economy. It’s confusing in terms of what it’s implying or not implying (especially since The Times has itself frequently been accused of not doing a ton of linking out from stories to sources that are blogs.) The Search loophole is easier to reconcile, in that it seems like a business reality that they need to keep that pathway open to stay viable.

(Again, updated:) It has already been a difficult dance they have to dance because of this very loophole – bustingharmful linking via exploitation that they fear will cost them subscription revenue though it would in theory make them ad revenue and benefit them in Search, while still allowing smaller scale linking by individual one-offs, where they feel the tradeoff between subscription revenue lost and potential ad revenue and Search gains is favorable. I wonder where the middle ground in there where the gain and loss is a wash and they leave it alone. I also wonder if the fear of loss of potential subscription revenue by loopholes is justified. Are people who look for hacks to get around paywalls likely subscriber candidates anyway, in a system that’s built to have leaky bits? Or do they have to go after the extremes of this stuff just to avoid the system falling in on itself? It’s a strange, record company-like place for them to have decided to be.

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