I’m on record as being something of a grump and a curmudgeon about the value of internet links — I think they’re valuable even when they’re trivial, and I get pissed when people smash them needlessly and in job lots. Apparently this idea of “links as valuable structure” is incomprehensible to plenty of smart people; that seems to be why I got such a negative reaction to my “vandals” post, and also to be why I got treated as a troll during the great Xeni Deletes Violet Blue kerfluffle. In that latter case, my expressed disappointment at the wholesale smashing of links was apparently just not believed by the Boing Boing moderator — and since it was assumed that I was raising arguments I didn’t believe in, the natural explanation was that I was trolling and/or taking sides in the bizarre personal fight that was going on behind the scenes.

My point, then and now, was dismay that the folks at Boing Boing would smash a bunch of links despite having a better-than-average comprehension of their value. (My error seems to have been in assuming too much commonality of viewpoint among the Boing Boing principals, but that’s ancient history now.) Anyway, here’s an excerpt from a recent speech Cory gave that expounds on this “links as valuable structure” concept:

You and me and anyone who’s ever made a link between two web pages helped to create an underlying structure to the Internet – a citational structure that Google and other search engines come along and hoover up, and then analyse to see who links to which pages, which pages are most linked-to and therefore thought to be most authoritative, where those pages link to and how they’ve had their authority conferred on them. This sounds familiar to anyone who’s an academic – it’s more or less how citations work if you’re trying for a better job at the university, and of course Google was founded by a couple of PHD candidates; when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

What this means is that the old approach to organising knowledge which is embodied by the early Google competitors like Yahoo, who initially… You may remember that Yahoo used to stand for Yet Another Heirarchical… I think Obstreperous Oracle… Officious Oracle. Yet Another Heirarchical Officious Oracle, and the idea was that Yahoo would pay giant boiler rooms full of bored people to look at every page on the Internet and sort them into their proper single category (or multiple categories) in the One True Taxonomy of All Human Knowledge, and this was outstripped by the web’s growth so quickly that it just kind of fell behind a became a kind of sick joke until Google came along and figured out how to enlist every person on the Internet who ever makes a link between two web-pages to collaborate on teaching it what the underlying structure of the Internet is. You literally couldn’t pay enough money to organise the Internet – you can only do it for free – you can only do it by allowing people to make these links.

So, this the kind of post-web. This is the web of cheap collaboration, and its given us a billion Youtube videos, blog posts, Flickr photos and every imaginable piece of what we now call ‘user-generated content’, and most of them are shit! And this is fantastic, because it used to be that if something was likely to turn out to be shit, you couldn’t do it, and if you did do it, you certainly couldn’t do it in a way that would be reachable by other people.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The proposition is that the internet is a precious temple of information, built with links of (mostly) shit. If you smash the links, you damage the temple; whereupon saying “but I was just cleaning up shit!” won’t save you from my acid wrath. Especially when you should know better.

If you could care less about links and temples and the internet, you should still read Cory’s speech anyway; he also talks about Paris Hilton’s pussy. (True! Although he’s kind of a wimp and says “genitals” instead of “pussy”.)