As an occasional reader of Slashdot I recently noticed some links on their pages in red-on-black and blinking. This is a little bit I threw in my Firefox userChrome.css to expose any hyperlink which has been tagged with rel=”nofollow”.
If you somehow haven’t heard of nofollow, this is how it works: You add it in to your blogging software so that it tags any links contributed by your users with rel=”nofollow”, and then when Google or other search engines see this relationship, they don’t follow that particular link. The reason this came about was the comment spam which has plagued blogs for a while now. It aims to stop comment spam by denying spammers higher ranking in search engines such as Google.
What they don’t tell you is that it also penalizes legitimate commenters and the links to completely valid sites that they post to your blog. I may have just discovered the cure for cancer, but if I post it to my blog, and someone links with nofollow, Google isn’t going to find it. And even if it does find it by other means, the PageRank it gives it will be so small as to effectively hide it behind 32,000 completely irrelevant sites.
Nofollow is therefore one of those “feel good” measures that throws out the baby with the bath water. And now, inexplicably, slashdot has implemented it, with not a word to its users. I can’t begin to guess why /. would implement this, as it isn’t really being hit with this type of spam. Instead, it’s being hit by unique-to-slashdot comments by, for instance, the Gay Nigger Association of America and other various trolls. Nofollow isn’t going to stop them. So why has /. implemented it?
My only guess is that they are trying to protect bloggers from comment spammers who scan /. looking for links to more blogs to spam. That’s nice of you guys, but I’d rather have the PageRank. I can stop comment spammers quite well enough on my own, thank you.
Nofollow is ill-thought-out and, if implemented widely, will destroy blogging as we know it by breaking down the interconnections between bloggers. Even as a stopgap solution to comment spam, it fails, because comment spammers are in no way obliged to honor it. They can continue spamming and scrape your site for links anyway. We need a solution to comment spam, but in so doing, we must not break down the relationships between bloggers which have driven blogging into widespread popularity, lest we risk destroying blogging altogether.