Link Strategy

Links make possible the unique contextualization afforded by the online medium. Linking to external primary source material on the Web as well as internal contextualizing nodes can potentially enrich a reading of a text by offering additional layers of information for readers at varying levels of knowledge and interest in the subject. Regardless of where the links lead, readers are much more likely to view contextualizing material when it is easily and readily accessible by simply activating a link (Landow, 1989). The link is the main vehicle for movement within a web-based text. Clear navigation design is dependent upon the construction of an effective link strategy so that readers have informed options for moving through the text. Scholars tend to credit Landow’s “rhetoric of arrivals and departures” as the cornerstone for designing an effective link strategy. Landow (1989) determined that “the very existence of links conditions the reader to expect purposeful, important relationships between linked material” (p. 42). In an effective rhetoric of departure, the author sets clear expectations in the link text and surrounding context regarding what readers can expect to find when they click on the link. In an effective rhetoric of arrival, the writer satisfies those expectations with relevant content.

So important is the concept of linking within online texts that, for its early years Kairos developed a special position—“links editor” to oversee the incorporation and function of links within webtexts, as well as a set of guidelines—a “Links Policy”—for assessing link strategies within web-based texts. In his Logging On piece (1997), Nick Carbone supports the guiding principle of the policy, which is aligned with Kairos’s practice of granting freedom to authors: “The policy creates a consistent sensibility, a rhetoric—or rationale, if you prefer—of linking that can be followed from piece to piece, issue to issue, while at the same time allowing for both authors’ needs and an ever changing technology.” Some of the guidelines include:

The issue of stability in reference to external linked material highlights a unique problem encountered in the online environment. Particularly as texts age, the links to external source material may not remain active. In his study titled, “Hyperlink Obsolescence in Scholarly Online Journals,” James Ho (2005) provides several examples of the types of broken links readers may encounter: the link may lead nowhere (e.g., activating the link leads to a “404” or “object not found” error message); the link may lead to a subscriber log-in page, thereby limiting access to the material intended for view; or the link may lead to a homepage of a magazine or publisher rather than to a specific article. All of these possibilities are frustrating to readers who have begun to rely on a free and accessible connection to external web sources, and they appear to nullify the added value of this type of contextualization made possible by the webbed environment. Greg Siering concedes that dead links, particularly in archived texts, are a problem: “There is just no practical way to ensure all those links work forever” (Kairos FAQ 4.1). However, Siering encourages authors to include an “External Links” page which works like an annotated bibliography of links: “These pages list each outbound link within a hypertext and provide a brief description of the target site and the reason for the link.”

The language of the links policy emphasizes the importance of constructing links rhetorically. In “Linking Styles and Strategies,” Seiring described the theory underlying Kairos’ link policy: “Much of the cognitive structure and the epistemological underpinnings of a webbed document rely on how the hypertext tool of the link is used; how an author connects the nodes in a hypertext says much about how he or she expects a reader to accept, engage, or appropriate the text.” He continues by saying that attention to hypertext style is a crucial aspect of any hypertext writing because the style “influences how a reader can interact with a text.” Often touted as one of the most exciting aspects of hypertextual writing is the reader’s meaning-making power made possible through the availability of link options. Unfortunately, if writers fail to provide an effective rhetoric of departures and arrivals as part of their link strategy, the reader, Siering wrote, “is forced to make rather uninformed decisions when navigating a hypertext” and therefore risks becoming disoriented and unempowered. As means of enacting the links policy, Siering published a rubric for assessing the style in which the author connects nodes within a hypertext. The rubric includes questions such as: “If links are buried in the text, does the author typically link from individual words or entire phrases?” and “Can readers tell where the next node is going conceptually?”

As evidenced by some of the shared language in this rubric, Siering supported many of the ideas that hypertext critics espouse for the creation of an effective link strategy; therefore, it can be argued on the basis of Kairos editorial policy that standards for web-based scholarship include attention to these online conventions. Question 8 in Category B of the assessment tool is designed to evaluate the extent to which a webtext incorporates links and follows an effective link strategy according to the standards outlined above:

Question 8: Link strategy

a) Type of link contextualization (select all that apply)

b) Rhetoric of arrivals and departures

c) Link stability

d) Link reference