Time for an untrusted content element?

In discussing an odd spam email to a W3C mailing list, Ian Hickson says:

I’m thinking that HTML should have an element that basically says “content within this section may contain links from external sources; just because they are here does not mean we are endorsing them” which Google could then use to block Google rank whoring. I know a bunch of people being affected by Web log spam would jump at that chance to use this element if it was put into a spec.

If anyone from Google thinks this is worth considering, let me know as soon as possible. WHAT WG is coming up with lots of HTML extensions, so now’s the time to discuss it.

That could very well be the most useful weblog entry I’ve ever seen, if anyone at Google’s actually interested. It could be problematic, letting pages appear to the average user to link to lots of other places while only linking to one other site in Googlebot’s eyes, but we already have that with annoying Javascripted links and tiresome redirectors.


Comment by Matt #
2004-08-24 23:58:40

That seems like a silly thing for an element, I could totally get behind VoteLinks though:


Comment by Mark #
2004-08-25 07:23:52

The problem with VoteLinks is that it allows you to vote against some other page, i.e. you can do harm to someone else by something you put on your own page. I’ve mentioned this problem to Kevin Marks and he seems unwilling to acknowledge it or fix it.

rel=”vote-for” –> increase PageRank (the default, this is what all links do now)
rel=”vote-abstain” –> ignore for PageRank (like a Javascript link that Google can’t follow, or a hypothetical link-level NOFOLLOW meta tag)
rel=”vote-against” –> decrease PageRank

It’s the last one that’s problematic. Currently there is no way to harm another page by something you put on your own page. The reason is obvious: it would be abused to bully competitors. You can help someone else (by linking to them), or you can ignore them (by not linking to them, or by linking with a Javascript pseudo-link, or by using a smart redirector like Blogger does), but you can’t harm anyone but yourself.

The only useful part of VoteLinks is vote-abstain, since vote-for is what Google does by default and vote-against is problematic. Given that, the analogy of ”voting” makes no sense, and it would be better just to have some sort of rel attribute (or other attribute) like NOFOLLOW. I don’t care if this is link-level, or an attribute that i could apply to other inline or block elements, or its own inline or block element, but I support the idea and would use it if I knew search engines would obey it.

However, it seems unlikely that Google would do this, since as far as they’re concerned they’ve already solved the problem. Just use Google’s redirector that doesn’t pass on PageRank, problem solved. I can’t imagine why they would want to promote a decentralized solution that took them out of the center of things. Since when does Google advocate million-dollar markup?

Comment by Jim Dabell #
2004-08-25 08:22:52

That’s a good point. The voting is bordering on a reputation system in the style of Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom. It’s an interesting idea with a hell of a lot of potential, but it needs to go through several iterations and people need to get a lot more experience in the problem space before something like Google depends on it.

I don’t care if this is link-level, or an attribute that i could apply to other inline or block elements, or its own inline or block element, but I support the idea and would use it if I knew search engines would obey it.

Perhaps it would be easier if people were already doing it? If a specification is written, and the various wiki and weblog engines have default templates that include this, it’ll be a simple yet effective improvement to ranking algorithms to take advantage of this preexisting information. Having a rel attribute/meta element is not harmful beyond the bandwidth consumed, so it’s fairly easy to make this change appear attractive to search engines.

Obviously, having a high-traffic site, you are concerned with bandwidth and would want to avoid any unnecessary markup, but would you include it if most wiki engines, weblog engines, etc included this information out of the box?

Comment by Jim Dabell #
2004-08-25 00:07:40

I suggested <a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”unendorsed”> and <meta name=”endorsement-default” content=”false”> to Ian Hickson, but he thought that it was impractical for both Google and authors. I don’t see any way of making it simpler than that though.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2004-08-25 00:23:06