The commercialized web has turned links into distractions. Advertising links on news sites and Facebook pull your attention away from what’s brought you there. Related content links–in text or off to the side–scatter your attention around to create “click” revenue. In these contexts, links are obstacles to strong, effective reading and are best ignored.
But on personal sites, links are something else. At their least interesting, they point toward things the writer has noticed, wants to remember. They can also gather up, either within or across posts, a set of materials to be worked through and commented on at some point. At their best, links capture knowledge or express insight, developed in a piecemeal but ultimately coherent process of discovery and analysis.
Noticing things is, after all, the first step in close reading. Good readers mark things, and when they’re done, they look back and see what patterns have emerged. In paying attention to what they noticed, they discover the thing they need to think more about. Links serve a similar purpose on personal sites, and over time, their slow accumulation, organization, and development emerges as the real content of a blog or wiki. Links are what a blog knows.
Site designs that sacrifice or hide this emergent complexity for the sake of mobile access cast aside wheat and bake the chaff.