New WordPress Links Feature May Expose Your Blog To Trolls Even After You Opt Out



Screenshot of my link about 9/11 on a gardening blog; April 30, 2008.

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WordPress recently released a feature called “Possibly Related Links”, which automatically generates links that appear at the end of each WP post. The links are random and are determined by the tags and/or categories you’ve chosen.

However, not all of these links are appropriate and the only way to prevent WordPress from putting these links on your post is to remove the feature altogether, or “opt out”. But many WP bloggers don’t know the links are optional let also how to get rid of them because the only announcement came on the WordPress.com splash page under the headline of “Possibly an Announcement”.

And now even those of us who opted out straight away are finding our links on other blogs. On April 29, for example, someone published a cute post on shopping for gardening attire. One of the “random links” was to a poem, another to someone writing about their time on the ocean.

The third link, however, was to a post I had written September 12, 2007, about how my brother survived the 911 attack, and how our mother spent that day waiting to find out if her youngest son were dead or alive.

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The only connection between the original post: “Cute, funny and somehow irreverent at the same time. Right outside the Blundstone Boot Shop in Kitsilano.”

And mine: “When the third plane hit the Pentagon my mother was standing up, screaming at the television, screaming for my little brother to get the fuck out of there.” Is the category “Canada”. A link generator searching for common posts and finding a connection that vague seems inept.

I opted out of the system from the beginning (and since being made aware she could also do so, so has the blogger with my link on her site). I chose not to participate for several reasons. For one, I believed the feature would bring trolls to their victims, and I found an example on “The Frame Problem” of someone writing against the Cult of Sci3ntology then having a direct link to Sci3ntology’s WordPress site placed on his post.

Then there was the complete lack of control. We were told the only control the blogger has over the feature was to opt out.

But most bloggers didn’t even know they had opted into the feature. Nine bloggers, for example, left comments on my blog yesterday saying they had no idea where this feature came from, or how to get rid of it. Dozens more ended up in the WP Forum asking the same questions.

Creating an automated link network may seem innocent, but the problem starts with the link on your page and readers thinking you endorse the link. The problem ends with your link on Sci3ntology’s page and your blog being noticed by them.

Again, the only solution offered is the same thing I’ve told people commenting on my site: if you don’t like it, opt out.

Well, I opted out. I chose to “Hide related links on this blog” and now the story of my little brother surviving 9/11 is spam on someone else’s travel blog, because as long as people don’t understand where these links are coming from or that they have a choice to turn them off, or that the choice is fairly given to them, the feature is spam.

Since the release of the link feature WordPress and Sphere, the company who created the feature, have left messages in the Forum saying, basically, it’s a work in progress. And, according to WordPress, there are now also plans to introduce a “Tips” feature to our Dashboard as a way of improving communications.

But this kind of communications failure isn’t unique to WordPress. It’s a common problem among most, if not all, New Media companies. It’s actually a legacy problem from one of the worst characteristics of Old Media companies.

Companies whose primary service is to offer people an opportunity to create content, like Blogger or WordPress or TypePad/Vox, often treat the people who create the content they sell ads on as if we were immediately replaceable, or an afterthought to the company.

Facebook’s recent plans for tracking users, YouTube’s ability to erase content without warning, Google creating and refusing to fix the splogger and blog scraper problem, and this situation with WordPress are all examples of how badly communications between Users/Content Creators and the people building the framework have been since the beginning.

WordPress only creates the infrastructure for our content, it makes the paper and the ink, we supply the ideas and the soul, which makes us bloggers the main part of the process. Which makes it important for WordPress, and the others, to communicate changes to us.

But currently these company’s are stuck in the “love it or leave it” mentality. There’s always another platform, they’ll warn, for your content. If you don’t like our newspaper, there are twelve other ones right there for your letters to the editor. Newspapers used to believe their readers were not part of the process. Reader feedback was ignored. But now with declining readership, newspapers and magazines are making the same ‘mea culpa’ New Media will eventually have to make.

Blogging companies are different from Brick & Mortar ones in that their product is created by their audience. So not only must the company’s have an outwardly focused communications strategy to investors, they must have an inwards-based one as well. So far they’ve all failed miserably.

For these companies to take us for granted is always a dangerous thing. When asked why he doesn’t charge people to use his website, for example, the founder of Craig’s List once said “because the next day everyone would create their own Steve or Mary List…”. He didn’t mean it as a threat, just a fact of New Media.

In the online economy we, the bloggers, provide most of the content free of charge, or we’re charged a fee to create it… videos, photos and text. The absolute very least the people we provide this service to owe us is a better communications strategy which actually makes our jobs easier, and makes us want to keep providing the content.

…and this is the last time I’m writing about WordPress on this site. I’m a reporter, but this is not a reporting blog. It’s my recovery blog. Bottom line, my post was not supposed to be chosen by this “random generator” and seeing it there was like being punched in the chest. The people behind WordPress are smart enough to be doing better.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have a 4-year old son, a newborn son, and I'm helping to raise my 8-year old step-son, I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal.
This entry was posted in Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Health, Politics, Punk, Technology, WordPress. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to New WordPress Links Feature May Expose Your Blog To Trolls Even After You Opt Out

  1. Brian says:

    And here again on this post there are three more links inserted into your post, including one in Chinese. WordPress, you have a problem here.

  2. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Brian, that was weird. I don’t think I have any category’s matching those, or their language… but this time it was probably my fault. In all the times this morning I checked the language they used on the Extras Page, so I could get it right in responding to a couple of emails, I think I accidentally turned the feature On.

    “Hide related links on this blog, which means this blog won’t show up on other’s blogs or get traffic that way…”

    Then “Update Extras”

    Why couldn’t they just put
    1. Links On
    2. Links Off?

    There’s an engineering quality to their expectations of us… it’s like they’re trapped in the same mentality as the people who design remote controls who just keep throwing on features without telling us what they mean…

    I just left this on the other post, I think it fairly sums up what’s been going on:

    “We were told we could opt out, so I did. But we weren’t told it could take days for our blogs to be removed from the system…
    “If we had been told in advance what was happening, we could’ve had the time to make our really personal posts totally “Private” so they wouldn’t be picked up by Sphere.”

  3. Brian says:

    Quite frankly your point about Google refusing to delete spam blogs and sites that steal and scrap content is right on. I consider what this link program is doing to be scraping. I don’t mind anyone linking to me if they find a post that is relevant, but to insert random and bogus links into my posts without me having any recourse is flat out wrong. I never thought WordPress would allow spam to be put on my blog.

    I’ve been reading the various threads and posts and every blogger who is upset is upset for personal reasons. Many blog about private posts, such as your’s about your brother, or issues dealing with sensitive subjects. The incoming links they are getting on their posts are exactly opposite and/or from trolls.

    But then again, this is a free platform so why complain? That’s New Media speak. ;)

  4. Gabriel... says:

    In 1994 a Canadian newspaper owner and publisher wrote, quite correctly, that all Journalists are “ignorant, lazy, opinionated, intellectually dishonest and inadequately supervised hacks”. I think the updated quip should include ‘bloggers’ and the word “lethargic”.

    Our material is stolen from us by Sploggers and Scrapers to make other people money while the people who could fix the problem do nothing, and our response is to create more material.

    Companies provide us a space to create content, with which they create revenue for themselves. In return, when we ask for reasonable communications strategies or some input into what features they offer, we’re told “this is a free platform, if you don’t like it there’s the delete button”… a lot of the time it’s by fellow bloggers.

    New media, old media, new world, old world… if you complain about your job there’s another twenty guys at the gate who will do it for a buck an hour cheaper. The more things change…

  5. raincoaster says:

    I must take this opportunity to point out that the Canadian newspaper owner to whom you refer is now a UK citizen and convicted felon. As well, he’s a former journalist, so he is naturally qualified to give an opinion, but it should be regarded as autobiography.

    An excellent post. I just got back from Wordcamp, which was great, and won’t get another post up today unless it’s of the cute comix or YouTube variety, but again I say I hope to do justice to the issue the way you have. I hope Automattic reads it.

  6. Nita says:

    Gabriel, came to tell you that this is a great post. You are a great reporter!

  7. Gabriel... says:

    Nita, I’ve been walking past my computer since you wrote that, trying to think of an adequate response… it means a great deal to me that you said that. Thanks.

  8. dw says:

    love planting in boots ‘n shoes … been doing it for years. even more fun — paint them funky colors first. give em a lil extra step in their ‘sole’, so to speak.

    hope you’re doing well.

    and of course, a lil tune, for steppin’. or stompin’. yanno. =) keep it real, mister.

  9. Btw: Was that said by Lord Black of Cell Block 28?

  10. Gabriel... says:

    t’was indeed Lord Black of Crossharbour, matey. And ne’er were truer words spoken.

  11. You know, I was so confused by this that I didn’t even know WTF was going on. This was for a couple of reasons. Okay, maybe for a few reasons but I’ll try to be coherent, here.

    On Garland, I have only ever had one feature in my “Extras” section–ever. Just the rollover (i.e. Snap Shots as they call them.) Perhaps it took a while for them to get around to sticking this absolutely stupid thing on my template. When they did this whole changeover business, I did look at my Extras page and nothing new so… *shrug* I figured that was all.

    I can not fathom why they did it, what it is all about…huh? So, are they trying to promote traffic to your blog? Why the hell would they care about giving bloggers traffic? Do our silly (well my silly) little ranting and ravings and the stats I receive somehow get tabulated into some huge “Stats Bank” of WP and then they say…”Ooooh…our bloggers are the best as they get bajillions of stats!”

    I just noticed it one day when I went in to make a comment and then there were all of these links with “Related Posts:” And of course none of them were related!!! It was all crapola.

    I totally freaked! It was like…get this off my blog!!!

    And in a way…it’s not like it may increase traffic to your blog…no, no, no! People would come to your blog, click on those links and give traffic to their blogs!

    I’ve had my fair share of Sploggers swinging by and picking up things. In a way, I’ve never felt too concerned as when I’ve gone to their sites, they are totally bogus and when you look at the actual posts, there are no “Comments” under them. And I haven’t seen many referrals from the Splogger sites. And…not all of them have had any form of advertising.

    I just don’t get them. I think they are weird and ridiculous. And in a lot of ways, I’ve found they pick up so many damn posts that mine seem to fall off the pages so fast anyway. They just get archived into whatever month. If someone actually finds them through Google and then comes to read? Well…I don’t know. Have a read, then?

    Also, they are excerpts and I have never seen an entire post copied and pasted. Everything has always been attributed to me. I think so? If not, no I have never seen my entire post anywhere. So, I guess it is a form or some kind of weird linkage but plagiarism? It’s usually some kind of…”found this really great post you should read…” kind of thing–and written by PA.

    So I still don’t know what the hell to say about the whole Splogger business. What I do know is that with placing Google advertising, unless you garner massive traffic, you don’t make squat. And by extension, lack of comments=little traffic? I don’t know, am I making a leap?

    One bizarre example though was when I wrote about the woman who couldn’t get on the plane because of her nipple piercings. I ended up on some tittie p0rn site*laughing* I found that through Technoratty but the actual link to my page doesn’t go through–hence it being called Technoratty, right kids? It just went to some main/home page. I didn’t even bother to go try and find myself–well, my post–PA herself wouldn’t be on a p0rn blog!

    Also another weird Technoratty is that I somehow showed up on a knitting blog. I know the post and I made reference to someone’s knitted hat. That blog was down for a while but is now back up. It is bizarre! Short posts, no comments (Splogger?) and broken links for instructional purposes for knitters?

    Also the archives go December 1969, March 2008 (welcome…this is your first post page!) April 2008 and May 2008. My post is not there on that blog. Now, I usually–no, I don’t think I have ever–found a Splogger linking to me through Technoratty. A Splogger would stay away from there?

    But back to the whole WP feature. Why? I do not see the purpose that it serves. Am I just stupid or something?

  12. Oh, and by the way…I just tried to get through the discussion/announcement business and my head almost started to explode. What does it mean if you check the box and it says they will remove you from other peoples’ blogs so you won’t get traffic from there.

    So does that mean if someone clicks on my comment here or on another WP blog or even from their blogroll…bye bye traffic count?

    If that is the case, this thing just seems even more absurd?!

    Again, is it me? Am I totally stupid here?

  13. Oh, and not to “infringe” upon your copyright (haha) but I’m tired, exhausted and this thing is starting to get on my nerves. I’m going to link to this post as MY post for the day.

    Some other WP users that read me and might be losing traffic, who have no clue or WT(bloody)F might be interested in this.

    Okay…PA is WAAAAYYYYY tired and verging on turning into Ms. Cranky Pants (which is pretty rare but considering her life these days…)

    Let me know about this dude…I am so confused.

  14. Pingback: Very Tired And Knickers In A Knot About WP « Patient Anonymous: Just Another Head Case

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