A frequent correspondent recently complained that my linking to Wikipedia articles about organizations rather than the home pages of organizations is detrimental to the usability of this site, probably spurred by my linking to a stub article about Webjay.
I do so for roughly two reasons. First, I consider a Wikipedia link more usable than a link to an organization home page. An organization article will link directly to an organization home page, if the latter exists. The reverse is almost never true (though doing so is a great idea). An organization article at Wikipedia is more likely to be objective, succinct, and informational than an organizational home page (not to mention there is no chance of encountering Flash, window resizing, or other annoying distractions — less charitably, attempts to control my browser — at Wikipedia). When I hear about something new these days, I nearly always check for a Wikipedia article before looking for an actual website. Finally, I have more confidence that the content of a Wikipedia article will be relevant to the content of my post many years from now.
Webjay (link to webjay.org) is actually a good example of these usability issues. Perhaps I have an unusually strong preference for words, but I think its still very brief Wikipedia article should allow one to understand exactly what Webjay is in under a minute.1 If I were visiting the Webjay site for the first time, I’d need to click around awhile to figure the service out — and Webjay’s interface is very to the point, unlike many other sites. Years from now I’d expect webjay.org to be a yet another link farm site — or since the Yahoo! acquisition, to redirect to some Yahoo! property — or the property of whatever entities own Yahoo! in the future. (Smart browser integration with the Internet Archive‘s Wayback Machine could mitigate this problem.)
Anyway, I predict that in the forseeable future your browser will be able to convert a Wikipedia article link into a home page link if that is your preference, aided by Semantic Mediawiki annotations or similar.
The second reason I link to Wikipedia preferentially2 is that Wikipedia article URLs conveniently serve as “tags, as specified by the
rel="tag" microformat. If Technorati and its competitors happen to index this blog this month, it will show up in their tag-based searches, the names of the various Wikipedia articles I’ve linked to serving to name tags. I’ve never been enthusiastic about the overall utility of author applied tags, but I figure linking to Wikipedia is not as bad as linking to a tagreggator.
Also, Wikipedia serves as a tag disambiguator. Some tagging service is going to use Wikipedia data to disambiguate, cluster, merge, and otherwise enhance tags. I think this is pretty low hanging fruit — I’d work on it if I had concentration to spare.
Update: Chris Masse responds (see bottom of page). Approximate answer to his question: 14,000 links to www.tradesports.com, 17 links to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradesports (guess where from). I’ll give Masse convention.
In the same post Masse claims that his own “following of Jakob Nielsen’s guidelines is responsible for the very high intergalactic popularity of my Internet presence.” How very humble of Masse to attribute the modest success of his site to mere guideline following rather than his own content and personality. Unfortunately I think there’s a missing counterfactual.
1 I would think that, having written most of the current Webjay article.
2 Actually my first link preference is for my past posts to this blog. I figure that if someone is bothering to read my ramblings, they may be interested in my past related ramblings — and I can use the memory aid.