Beware of the hyperlink

Jan 07, 2016 · 4 min read

Recently I saw a worrying comment on Facebook: I don't usually click links. I only follow images and comments, links I brush aside. Uh oh, I thought. That's no good.

Beware of the hyperlink -- Mervi Emilia

Hossein Derakhshan, Iran's blogfather, wrote how he feels that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are breaking the web. These services, amongst others, are trying to keep people on their sites and apps, without letting them out. Ever. Instagram doesn't even allow links on posts and Facebook has been encouraging its users to post things natively, within Facebook. As the latest twist Twitter is working on long Tweets, extremely long Tweets that will show only the beginning, unless you expand it. This has been possible before too, with third party services or writing stuff to your own blog (or something) and linking there from a Tweet. Nothing new there. Except that this update will make Twitter more closed system, encouraging posting everything within the service, rather than using the other opportunities the web providing. By the way, have you noticed how websites are slower to load with in-app browsers, than with the regular browsers of your device?

These services are killing the hyperlink. In the words of Hossein Derakhshan:

"The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralisation – all the links, lines and hierarchies – and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks."

Iran's blogfather: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are killing the web

Hyperlink (you might know it as a "link") has lost its value as a direct reference to data. It has became something else. Derakhshan points out that links have turned into objects, amongst images and pieces of text, rather than those references.

However there's more to this. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr and others are diminishing the value of a hyperlink, there's a little more to it. Lots of people, I've noticed, are afraid of clicking links. They are afraid of scammers, spammers, hackers, trolls. They are afraid their accounts get compromised if they click the wrong link. And then they are afraid of accidentally giving their (contact and other) information to scammers, or just getting fooled. Getting fooled includes clicking a click-bait and noticing the content wasn't "worth a click" or accidentally becoming a "victim" of advertisement. Yes, people are afraid of clicking ads. Not only because ads can lead to harmful sites, but mainly because if you click an ad, they will win. A smart person, the thinking goes, doesn't submit to advertisement. Such stupid thinking, but familiar to myself too.

Hyperlink therefore has been devalued by the services, which are designed to keep the users around longer, plus by people who are scared to click the links. Not to mention those who feel clicking links is taking too much of their precious time.

And why does it matter? Well, thus far the web has been somewhat democratic place. Anyone who has had access, has been able to make their own site, even sometimes for free, and be their own publisher, editor and content creator. You might think these services, including, but not limited to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are giving you that place for being your own publisher, editor and content creator. In a sense they are, until you remember they have a right to restrict your expression. They, in the end of the day, are the publisher, not you. You are given certain freedoms, as long as you submit to the terms and conform. Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest have zero tolerance for nudity (to the extent where photos of women breastfeeding have been banned). Instagram even tried to censor hashtags, resulting to censoring words like wet. Those dirty minds. Twitter has so far been more tolerant about stuff, at least I have been able to swear as much as I want.

It makes me wonder if this is a good way to go for the services. How long are advertisers willing to pay for ads which are not clicked and thus are not converting? How long will walling work, as it restricts the companies bringing the money to the services from gaining anything other than meaningless likes in return?

For some reason there are those, like that person who made the comment about never clicking links, see Facebook (and those other services) as a safe haven, whereas the rest of the web is the wilderness. Sure, these services appear as such, with their restrictions and stopping the nudity, unless you don't feel immediately safe around corporate world. Every like you make on Facebook, every RT on Twitter, every photo on Instagram and so forth, is building a profile of you. A profile, which then is sold to advertisers. It is not any safer in those services than everywhere else around the web. They just provide the nice little walls to make you think you are safe. There's this false sense of control. The web, with its wild and unpredictable hyperlinks, appears harder to control. You never know.

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