Please Don't: Linkjack!

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While I have been reading content and voting for it on Reddit for a while now, I only recently began reading and moderating the comments on the site. If you surf the site enough, you will inevitably run into talk of 'linkjacking'. So what is this linkjacking and why is it so bad?

The first place you encounter linkjacking is in Reddit's Reddiquette:

Please Don'tLinkjack stories

In its very basic form, linkjacking is the act of taking content from another site, posting it to yours, and then submitting your site to a traffic driving source such as Digg, Netscape, Reddit, and so on. Assuming it goes unnoticed and your submission goes popular, you deprive the original content producer of the deserved traffic and redirect it to yourself. The main reason this sucks is not only the one-time traffic that the original content producer misses out on, but also the linkbacks, search engine rankings, as well as the long-tail traffic. A good example of a site that got caught up in a linkjacking fiasco is Stop Geek. The site published a list that was purportedly emailed to the author but was strikingly similar to a list found elsewhere. Stop Geek's version was initially published without any attribution, and inspite of several (1, 2, 3) different users pointing out that the site had plagiarized the content, it was still made popular.

While the evidence speaks for itself in the above-mentioned case, it's not always the case. The main problem with linkjacking is that it is not immediately determinable whether a person is linkjacking or not. For example, how much of the original content can you fairly quote and how much original insight must you have to add before your content can evade the much hated stamp of 'merely re-purposed (linkjacked) content'? Case in point: If I embed a YouTube video to my blog and then submit my own blog to a socially driven media site, is it linkjacking? While some may argue that you must write something about the video before your submission can be legitimized, others simply argue that if YouTube was afraid of their content being linkjacked, they wouldn't be distributing their embed code so freely.

One user has proposed a very elegant solution to the problem,

A technical solution: Have the Reddit engine allow certain claims to be made and voted on. One might be "Article is linkjacked" and allow the claimant to submit the original URL. Another might be "Article title is incorrect" and allow the user to submit an updated article title. I suspect that the latter would be useful to deal with the "loaded headline problem" where the initial submitter gets to submit a potentially misleading headline. It would also be handy to deal with spelling or grammatical errors in headlines.

Have a list of current claims (well, N of them, based on newness and upvotes, just like Reddit stories) displayed at the top of the comments. Use a profile-based scheme (the recommendations engine may be able to do this already, if it's fast enough) to determine current top title and whether or not the article is considered linkjacked for a given user.

What I ultimately realized is that linkjacking is not something particular to Reddit. It is just another name for what Netscape calls 'Middle-Manning', a problem that Netscape largely avoids by allowing Netscape Navigators and Anchors to manually redirect such submissions. From the Netscape FAQ:

Middleman Rule: Why was a link on one of my stories changed by a Netscape Anchor/Netscape Navigator?

In order to ensure that there are not multiple duplicates of the same story, it is important that Netscape community members always link to the original source of a story. Whenever the Netscape Anchor team spots a story that is not linked to the original source, we will change the link and leave a note in Anchor Commentary noting the change.

And while Digg, just like Reddit does not have a formal solution like this, linkjacked posts are usually buried as spam because the community thinks of them as splogs (or spam-blogs). The idea being that in most cases of 'plagiarize and re-post' the reposted content is also surrounded by an ad-farm to maximize the revenue from incoming traffic.

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