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DoNotLink: Mostly Useless

August 9th, 2015
tech  [html]
Generally when you talk about something on the internet it's polite to give people a link so they can tell what you're talking about. But what if you're talking about something you oppose? Sites do well by having people visit them, so how do you link to them without helping them?

Sometimes people use DoNotLink for this. You take your link to www.example.com, go to donotlink.com and paste it into their form. It generates a link like donotlink.com/I4, and you share that instead of your original link.

A link to a site leads to them getting more traffic in two ways:

  • People who see your link click on it.
  • Search engines interpret your link as an endorsement, and are more willing to show that link to searchers, who then click on it.

DoNotLink tries to help with the second of these: they keep search crawlers like GoogleBot from following the link. Except most places you might post a link (facebook, twitter, tumblr, reddit, blog comments) mark all links with rel=nofollow, which means any links you post already aren't boosting the site in search rankings. If you're posting on your own website then DoNotLink does help, but you could also just mark the link as rel=nofollow.

Some people use DoNotLink because they believe it takes the content from the original website and re-hosts it. The idea is then people could still read the link, but the site owners would no longer benefit. Now, DoNotLink doesn't actually do this, but imagine someone decided to make a site that did. Would that work?

Traffic can be helpful in many ways, but they break down into:

  • The site owner benefits from people seeing the site: the author likes to be read, the author wants to persuade you, the author wants you to buy stuff.
  • The site owner benefits from people seeing the ads on the site: along with the content comes ads, and they get paid per click or view.
If you're proxying sites, people still read it, so persuasion, exposure, selling, etc. aren't diminished. Removing the ads would be possible, and would let people read the content without providing income for the site; how about that? Unfortunately taking someone else's content, stripping off the ads, and hosting it yourself is pretty clearly illegal.

(The other question is how you would fund large-scale unlimited proxying. This is enough bandwidth that donations don't sound practical. You could replace the original ads with your own, but that's surely even more illegal.)

All this said, there's still a benefit to DoNotLink: making it clear you're not endorsing the thing you're linking to. When you post a link this normally implies support, and while you can disclaim that support with words DoNotLink can be more concise.

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