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Wikipedia "hiding" links from search engines

By Paul McNamara on Mon, 01/22/07 - 1:03pm.

Wikipedia is always in the middle of some brouhaha or another. This time blogger gums are a-flappin' over the online encyclopedia's decision to tag all links on its site "nofollow," which will render those links invisible to Google and its search-engine brethren.

Whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or just an unavoidable thing depends on who's doing the talking.

Wikipedia says it's unavoidable because of the mischief caused on its site by spammers and search-engine optimization schemers.

Nick Carr is among those saying that decision is a bad thing:

Wikipedia is adopting the policy to reduce spammers' incentives to add spam links to the encyclopedia. I wonder, though, if it could also have the effect of reinforcing Wikipedia's hegemony over search results. The sources cited in Wikipedia, many of which are original sources, will no longer get credit for their appearance there, which should cause at least a little downward pressure in their own search rankings (hence providing a little more upward pressure, relatively speaking, for Wikipedia's articles). Although the no-follow move is certainly understandable from a spam-fighting perspective, it turns Wikipedia into something of a black hole on the Net. It sucks up vast quantities of link energy but never releases any.

So, too, does search engine expert Philipp Lenssen, who wishes Wikipedia had found another way:

What happens as a consequence, in my opinion, is that Wikipedia gets valuable backlinks from all over the web, in huge quantity, and of huge importance – normal links, not "nofollow" links; this is what makes Wikipedia rank so well – but as of now, they're not giving any of this back. The problem of Wikipedia link spam is real, but the solution to this spam problem may introduce an even bigger problem: Wikipedia has become a website that takes from the communities but doesn't give back, skewing web etiquette as well as tools that work on this etiquette (like search engines, which analyze the web's link structure). That's why I find Wikipedia's move very disappointing.

And among those voting for "good thing" is Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz:

It may seem odd coming from someone who practices link building and whose clients require the service, but I'm glad to see that Wikipedia has shifted back to nofollow on all outbound links. ... As usual, the "SEO" brush is applied as a moniker to mean "those who spam for links." I don't expect this language or reputation to change, but it's always sad to see. What will be interesting to watch is how it really affects Wikipedia's spam problem. From my perspective, there may be slightly less of an incentive for spammers to hit Wikipedia pages in the short term, but no less value to serious marketers seeking to boost traffic and authority by creating relevant Wikipedia links. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that Wikipedia doesn't revert back and switch back to live links in the future. Since anyone can add them, Wikipedia is practically the definition of where nofollow should be instituted.

My seat-of-the-pants view of the issue finds Wikipedia's case the most compelling here. After all, its primary mission is to provide a reliably usable online encyclopedia, not to ensure an enduring balance of benefits between link givers and receivers. If someone has a better idea for solving Wikipedia's spam problem, then by all means let's hear it.

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