Wikipedia and nofollow

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

That bastard Google warp-around nofollow rears its ugly little head again, this time with Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales, chief Pedian has issued a proclamation that Wikipedia outgoing links will now be labeled with ‘nofollow’, as a measure to prevent link spam. seems to think this is a good thing:

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.

Philipp Jenson is far less sanguine, writing:

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.

Nick Carr agrees writing:

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.

Seth Finkelstein notices something else: WIKIPEDIA IS NOT AN ANARCHY! THERE IS SOMEBODY IN CHARGE!

The rel=”nofollow” is a web extension I despise, and nothing in the time it was first released–primarily because of weblog comment spam–has caused me to change my mind. As soon as we saw it, we knew the potential existed for misuse and people have lived down to my expectations since: using it to ‘punish’ web sites or people by withholding search engine ranking.

Even when we feel justified in its use, so as to withhold link juice to a ‘bad’ site (such as the one recently Google bombed that had misleading facts about Martin Luther King) we’re breaking the web, as we know it. There should be no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to an item showing up on a search list: if one site is talked about and linked more than another, regardless of the crap it contains, it’s a more topically relevant site. Not authoritative, not ‘good’, not ‘bad’, not definitive: topically relevant.

(Of course, if it is higher ranked because of Google bombing of its own, that’s a different story, but that’s not always the case.)

To return to the issue of Wikipedia and search engine ranking, personally I think one solution to this conundrum would be to remove Wikipedia from the search results. Two reasons for this:

First, Wikipedia is ubiquitous. If you’ve been on the web for even a few months, you know about it and chances are when you searching on a topic, you know to go directly to Wikipedia to see what it has. If you’ve been on the web long enough, you also know that you have to be skeptical of the data found, because you can’t trust the veracity of the material found on Wikipedia. I imagine that schools also provide their own, “Thou shalt not quote Wikipedia”, for budding young essayists.

Reason one leads to reason number two: for those folks new to this search thing, ending up on Wikipedia could give them the impression that they’ve ended up with a top-down authority driven site, and they may put more trust into the data than they should. After all, if they’re not that familiar with search engines, they certainly aren’t familiar with a wiki.

Instead of in-page search result entries, Google, Yahoo, MSN, any search engine should just provide a sidebar link to the relevant Wikipedia entry, with a note and a disclaimer about Wikipedia being a user-driven data source, and how one should not accept that this site has the definitive answer on any topic. Perhaps a link to a “What is Wikipedia?” FAQ would be a good idea.

Once sidebarred, don’t include Wikipedia in any search mechanism, period. Don’t ‘read’ its pages for links; and discard any links to its pages.

Wikipedia is now one of those rare sources on the web that has a golden door. In other words, it doesn’t need an entry point through a search engine for people to ‘discover’ it. If anything, its appearance in search engine results is a distraction. It would be like Google linking to Yahoo’s search result of a term, or Yahoo linking to Google’s: yeah, we all know they’re there but show me something new or different.

More importantly, Wikipedia needs to have “Search Engine General’s” warning sticker attached to it before a person clicks that link. If it continues to dominate search results, we may eventually get to the point where all knowledge flows from one source, and everyone, including the Wikipedia folks, know that this is bad.

This also solves the problem about Wikipedia being a Black hole, as well as the giving and taking of page rank: just remove it completely from the equation, and the issue is moot.

I think Wikipedia is the first non-search engine internet source to truly not need search engines to be discovered. As such, a little sidebar entry for the newbies, properly annotated with a quiet little “there be dragons here” warning, would eliminate the spam problem, while not adding to a heightened sense of distrust of Wikipedia actions.

One other thing worth noting is is’s note about a link in Wikipedia enhancing one’s authority: again, putting a relevant link to Wikipedia into the search engine sidebars, with a link to a “What is Wikipedia?” FAQ page, as well as the dragon warning will help to ‘lighten’ some of the authority attached to having a link in the Wikipedia. Regardless, I defer to Philipp’s assertion that Wikipedia is self-healing: if a link really isn’t all that authoritative, it will be expunged.

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