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Link Doping Threatens Blogosphere

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Many of you reading this are no doubt quite aware of The Truth Laid Bear and the “ecosystem” it uses to rank weblogs. Essentially, the greater the number of links leading to a particular blog, the higher said blog appears in the ecosystem. Now, this method of ranking is not all that different from the one Google employs when determining which websites appear at the top of a given search result page, nor is it necessarily a bad way to organize what can only be described as an incredibly unwieldy and disjointed body of information. Certainly, the number of people linking to a given website seems like a pretty good indicator of the site’s influence and popularity, so a high ranking in N. Z. Bear’s not-so-little directory has understandably become one of the most prized recognitions in the blogosphere.

Blogrolling, like the Truth Laid Bear, has rapidly grown in popularity, in large part because it is a really good idea. Obviously, a blogroll can facilitate the organization of links a person would like to highlight on his or her website. Understandably, a neat arrangement of favorite links effortlessly programmed into a blog’s HTML appeals to the amateur webmaster who would rather spend his or her time scouring various web resources for interesting information than meticulously tweaking one’s blog template. So blogrolling has justly earned its popularity.

I mention these two cornerstones of the blogosphere because they figure prominantly in what I feel has become a big problem amongst bloggers. For lack of a better term, and since no one has coined a phrase for the practice, to the best of my knowledge, I will refer to gratuitous link exchanging as “link doping” and “traffic doping” throughout this essay (if I dare call this an “essay). I encourage any readers I may have to use these phrases too, since I think they adequately describe the practice.

In any case, link doping seems to emerge out of the very natural tendency bloggers have to want people to read their writing. Obviously, if you choose to publish writing on the internet, you are hoping that someone reads what you have to say. This tendency becomes a problem when people realize it can be exploited for profit. There are several firms, for instance, that offer to increase the number of hits your blog receives if you agree to visit other blogs. Consider BlogClicker’s enthusiastic pitch:

You’ve taken the time and effort to put your blog online and we’re here to help you get people to read it…It’s simple. You view other member blogs and in return, those members will view your blog. For every 2 blogs you view, someone will see yours! We also offer upgraded memberships and credit packages which give you up to a 1:1.5 view ratio or 1 view per purchased credit!

The spiel continues:

Standard membership with a 2:1 view ratio is absolutely FREE. In addition, you’ll also have chances to earn bonus views while viewing blogs which means your ratio gets even better! Plus there is monthly contests which offer you the change to win even more traffic and cash prizes too!

Now, the obvious advantage of this sort of program is that some people will discover a blog or two they really enjoy reading and that blog will then have a new, possibly loyal reader. That’s all fine and good, but the downside to the practice is that hit counters will give an inaccurate account of a site’s popularity, presuming that a significant chunk of the traffic generated by participation in BlogClicking amounts to little more than a person clicking your blog with the sole intent of adding that click to the credit he or she earns towards generating traffic to his or her blog. As a result, someone whose website seems to be generating a spike in traffic may get the false impression that the quality of his or her writing alone accounts for the upswing in apparent popularity (even in the absence of feedback such as comments or tag board messages). I cite this as a problem because, in many ways, blog writing is a trial by fire for aspiring writers. Theoretically, the content of a person’s blog will evolve as he or she responds to reader feedback, thus producing a better product. (Now, before I continue, I would like to acknowledge that this really matters only if you are specifically writing for a broad, anonymous audience or for an undefined demographic; if you write for yourself or a few friends, for instance, traffic feedback isn’t as important). With the proliferation of empty click-throughs, this valuable gauge of one’s ability to reach his or her reader is largely enfeebled. Still, this practice is relatively benign, if not moderately worthwhile for some purposes.

Link doping, however, exploits the desire to be read in a much more destructive way. Whereas the empty clicks provided by the aforementioned program simply give inflated reads on traffic counters and occasionally increase genuine readership without really harming other bloggers, link doping actually does unfairly harm other bloggers.

Before I move on, I would like to emphasize the fact that link doping essentially uses the generally positive conventions of blogrolling and webringing/community-building to grossly exaggerate the significance or quality of a given blog.

The most blatant display of wanton link doping is The Alliance of Free Blogs, a nerdy joke that has unfortunately spawned a number of imitators ranging from genuine “blog communities” which allow blog readers to find blogs with similar political, philosophical, or religious orientations to the one he or she reads to idiotically haphazard collections of people who merely want to rank higher on The Truth Laid Bear’s ecosystem. The Truth Laid Bear, unfortunately, propigates this practice by providing webspace for such communities.

The Alliance of Free Blogs essentially amounts to the flogging of the vestigial detritus left long after the desiccated horse of a joke had begun stinking up the internet. According to an essay on The Alliance of Free Blogs’ website entitled “The Blog War – An Introduction for the Uninitiated”:

Here’s the back story on the Blog War, without the inside jokes.

Blogging is a hobby of pure ego, whose purpose is to 1) see your words in print, and 2) have other people read them. Currently, one blogger, Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) gets far more page views and links than any other, and deservedly so. Glen updates MANY times per day, and his links are usually well worth clicking. However, he normally offers very little of his own commentary. Sometimes just a cursory “indeed” or “hmmm”.

Because he has so many readers, if he links to your site you get a LOT of hits, which is very gratifying. His links are highly prized by bloggers.

Frank J., of IMAO, is an up-and-coming blogger who occasionally mocks Glenn as a way to gain attention. His first method was making up outrageous lies: Glenn puts puppies in blenders and drinks them; Glenn murders hobos for fun; Glenn worships Satan; Glenn is a communist spy who does the robot dance; Glenn punched Frank J.

Later, Frank attempted to get Google to bring up Glenn’s site if the terms “liberal assclown” were entered. Results were mixed.

His latest attempt was to “declare war” on Glenn and asking bloggers to choose sides. Frank’s side is the Blogging Alliance, Glenn’s supporters are the Axis of Evil Naughty. It’s all in good fun, and much entertaining mockery and gratuitous linkage will ensue as a result.

Enjoy the spectacle.

Sadly, there is quite a bit of truth in this. For many people, blogging really is “a hobby of pure ego,” as those folks hoodwinked into joining the “Blog Wars” will surely attest to if you ask them.

Now the problem with this sort of thing is that some very talented bloggers with interesting things to say and lexicons versatile enough to ensure that what is said is fun to read can suffer from the bloated rankings of blogs on the Alliance’s (or a similar organization’s) blogroll. As a result of the “gratuitous linkage” and the huge role links play in ranking blogs on the highly influential Truth Laid Bear, many crappy websites clutter the upper echelons of the ecosystem and appear in search engines while many weblogs deserving that level of attention languish unread because no one can find them.

Essentially these websites, like some steroid-abusing athletes, have earned their success less through hard work and quality than by taking shortcuts. As a result, baseball fans and blog readers grow to distrust an entire sport or medium.

What so many people forget about the blog is that it is really little more than a website. The fact that people regard blogging as a fad has erroneously caused the public to use a sort of nomenclature when regarding blogging that gives the distinct impression that a weblog is a new thing on the web, which is untrue. Even when most people couldn’t figure out how to use HTML to make a webpage’s background white instead of the generic grey that used to be so common on the internet, a few folks were blogging by updating their HTML every so often. (It used to be called “updating a web page,” remember?) A few of those sites grew into popular stops on the web because the people behind them were creative and hard-working. Now that blogging software has made it as easy to blog as to use a word processor, many people are just throwing their ragged hats into the ring, even when they have relatively little to say. The problem is when someone says “hey, give me your hats and I’ll make a big pile over here so no one will notice the hats everywhere else. Then everyone will like your hats!” Now talent and dedication must pit itself against petty attention-seeking, and its becoming increasingly more difficult for some very good bloggers to climb ladders like that of the Truth Laid Bear’s ecosystem, and this sad fact threatens to ruin yet another subcultural practice with revolutionary potential. Eventually some really good blogs are going to fade away because, sooner or later, you’re going to realize that in the ecosystem some very talented nice guys almost always finish last.

So, my suggestion to the world is to give link doping the stigma it deserves. Even when the lure of greater traffic or more links lures you to the point of joining an empty alliance (there will always be some very good niche communities; I am not speaking about those), remember that link doping pretty much sucks. And no one wants to suck.

See, I would welcome a rise in the ecosystem for my website. However, my blog is an extension of a fanzine I started in high school and I value it too much to hawk it on the blogroll of someone who has never actually read my writing. Likewise, I don’t want to give the impression that I endorse something I do not. Links used to be a pretty nice way of showing that you really liked someone’s work; now, thanks to link doping, a link means a lot less. Like a 30 home run season. Now, if someone actually reads my writing and enjoys it, then I would love it if they would link to my website. That would mean something.

[Note: I use hyperbole and stereotypes here as a tongue-in-cheek way of making a point.] It’s like the so-called “Minnesota Nice,” the tendency many Midwesterners have towards being nice to everyone. I want my smile to mean something when I flash a grin to a friend or an acquaintance. I want my greeting to be genuine, to show the person I greet that they mean something to me. Minnesota Nice pretty much proscribes that you never express indifference to an acquaintance; you greet everyone the same way. This is basically dishonesty in my opinion. If someone doesn’t want to say hello to me, I don’t want them to. Let them reserve their friendly greetings for the people they truly care about. That way loved ones can feel loved and actually know that they are a priority in someone’s life. New Jersey’s pretty cool in that regard. If you hate someone, you flip them off. In Minnesota, you hug them. If you love someone in Jersey you hug them just like you do in Minnesota. Where do you think a hug means more? The same goes with links. Link to me if you love me and if I love someone, I’ll link to them. Endorsements have to mean something again, don’t you think?

End link doping now!

Originally published at Sobriquet Magazine.

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  • george

    May i insert my link here? XD XD XD XD

  • Great article! I believe that TTLB’s recent overhaul may have been designed to curtail link doping, but it resulted in a lot of gnashing of teeth as sites (at least initially) found themselves devolved into much more obscure life forms than before.

    I and others have also had some frustrations with Technorati, which seems/seemed to be a victim of its own success in terms of keeping up with the status of a blog in terms of incoming links etc. I’m speaking here especially of the smaller blogs, where every link counts.

    But I believe both sites have now instituted a practice wherein only recent links count, though I could be wrong. In any case, great piece.

  • Interesting – tell us more about this host and Sitemeter pings

  • This is an excellent article. The honesty or sincerity of the blogging medium, our only resource in the face of the failing mainstream media, is threatened by this practice. Link-doping, and the Truth Laid Bear, degrade the Blogosphere in the same way that ratings-driven programming degrades the broadcast media. We’ve participated in only two coalitions, both for reasons we deeply believed in–the fight to save Terri Schiavo and the effort to support Oriana Fallaci. Other than specific and compelling causes, we do not aspire to be allied, homespun, part of a carnival or cotillion, etc.

    Sam, I think terms like payola should be reserved for two other practices. First, the artificial enhancement of traffic (e.g. BlogClicker) which drives up the adsense payout for useless traffic and dishonestly robs the advertisers. Second, the multiple pinging algorithms used by one or two webhosts to inflate the SiteMeter statistics for their clients. Based on a remote statistical analysis, I am sure that at least one popular webhost is triple-pinging SiteMeter for each visit.

  • To point out a small bit of blogsophere trivia, if you wanted to actually SAY instalanch, or malkinlanche, or whateverlanche it would be insta-launch, like a rocket..which is where your traffic goes.

    Something many of the really heavy hitters have on their side is public exposure. Glenn has been on T.V. several times. Markos Zunigas (Daily KOS), Michelle Malkin and others get massive readership simply because they’re blogging jounalists with their face on the news. Something better than a blogger-lanche is a media-lanche. Probably the best lanche I can remember though comes in the shape of the Canadalanche garnered by Captains Quarters. He had just about every Canadian on earth coming to his site because he was the sole source of what was going on in their politics. Everyone remember that? If I remember right he was netting around a million hits a day for a bit.

  • Spacemonkey,

    I am chuckling now even as I double-bolt my door… 🙂

  • Erik,
    Relax, no one’s out to get you,

    that you know of.

  • Harvey-

    That makes sense now. I was thinking that perhaps something a bit more nefarious was in the works 🙂

  • For those who didn’t get the “IMAOlanched” reference, a [name of blog]lanche is “blogging slang referring to a massive, out-of-the-ordinary spike in site traffic, almost always generated by a link from one of the major blogs on the web.

    The name [Instalanche] comes from Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit blog, a site with enough lemon-scented cleaning power to jack a Sitemeter into low-earth orbit via a single link.”

    Reference here:

  • I beg your pardon, duh. When you say “u just made things worse by sending me and others there cuz u been IMAOlanched,” I am a bit confused. Do you mean to tell me that Frank J. (he runs IMAO, right?) is doing something (related to an avalance?) to me? This sounds eerily like one of his filthy lies. You know, “Frank J. attacked me in a park” or something…

    Regardless, if IMAO is yodeling into Alpine peaks somewhere, hoping to innundate me with snow, all I can say is, I rea…

    [Snow plops on Erik from above before he finishes his statement].

    The End.

  • Mustang 23-

    Your points are well-taken.

    For the record, though, I was never talking about the pecuniary side of blogging, though that is an interesting aspect to consider.

    And Temple is right. Promotion can be tiresome.

    I just think that – and I should reiterate that this only applies to certain link-happy parties – when promotion becomes empty, you’re essentially wasting energy that could be put to better use, possibly diverting attention to other bloggers and websites.

    At the absolute worst, such activity propigates negative stereotypes of bloggers and blogging. More often than not, though, the effects are not nearly as severe.

    uao- thanks for adding some technical details to this thing.

    By the way, did anyone see the Blog Herald mention of this discussion? The headline was a bit off: “Link Doping debate places Blogcritics against Republican bloggers”.

    Flattered as I am by their adoption of “link doping,” I felt the need to clarify that A) I do not speak for Blogcritics, B) Many Blogcritcs are Republicans, C) Many Alliance members post at Blogcritics.

    I think their story is well-done, but I wanted to alert people of the misinformation. Please let me know if you find I neglect to correct something there.

  • duh

    I didn’t know about Truth Laid Bear so u just made things worse by sending me and others there cuz u been IMAOlanched.

  • If link whoreing thru an alliance is so important to getting ranked on the ecosystem than how come in less than a year Michelle Malkin has gone all the way to number 3 with out any alliance type activity.

    maybe it is because she is a good writer.

    one other thing, if someone’s life revolves around their ranking in the ecosystem they have issues. yes the ecosystem is cool, and NZ bear has made some great additions BTW, but it is just a silly ranking. nothing to get too wrapped up about. TTLB ranking has nothing to do with revenue, real sustainable readers does. Even if you are highly ranked, if your blog sucks people will not comeback to it. Therefore, no revenue for you.

    BTW: I joined the alliance because of the fun I was having reading alliance members blogs and figured that was the place for me. not because I want all those links. plus I heard Glenn Reynolds say something cool about me and I had to put it on my site to let every one know 😉

  • uao

    Er, uhm… You caught me, Temple.

    Selling wasn’t a loss of confidence in your blog; I needed to raise some cash fast, and you had a good, exhuberant run up there 😉

  • Yeah i noticed “someone” has my site up on blogshares. I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday – and I have no idea how it works.

    But you sold man. You sold. 🙂

    I think one of Erik’s main points is – as I sometimes feel – promotion is tiresome. It would be nice if people just “magically” found you. But it rarely happens that way.

    Massive amount of links which buries good writers is not a good thing, but it’s here. There are a 1,001 ways to deal with it. I prefer to go the pay for advertising route (but haven’t done that much and noen at all fo my personal site, my bi-partisan political site, my opensource intel site and my podcast directory site. Now I could have made those all links, but this promotion thing hurts my head. LOL.

  • And you with your “Blogcritic of the Day”.
    And your “Join Blogcritics” right beneath it.

    You’ll have to help me out here, are you the pot or the kettle? I have trouble telling.

  • uao

    Just some random thoughts to throw on the table; the article is an interesting one, and I take no sides here. Just thoughts:

    I knew nothing about the Alliance until I read this article, but I would like to address the traffic-exchanges first.

    There is nothing wrong with using a traffic exchange to promote your work. 50% of being a writer is promotion. So if a writer is using a blog for his or her medium, promoting it is important.

    If you use the exchange merely to make your hit count look big, then you’re being silly. You’re free to do it, but shrewd advertisers and other snoops know how to read your stat counter to know if your traffic is “good” or not.

    However, if you use the exchanges to alert others to the existence of your work, and they actually take time to read it (you can find out by checking time spent and pages viewed stats on Stat Counter), you have done no whoring; you’ve found more readers. A certain percentage of them will revisit again without the exchange (thus making them “real” traffic). Here’s some (true) heresy: even spammy auto-surf exchanges will net you new faithful readers; they need something to read while auto-surfing through spam sites.

    Sitting around with nobody reading your blog after you’ve slaved on it (literally; not many bloggers get paid)makes no sense at all. Writers need readers; no harm in letting the world know you’re out there.

    As for link-whoring, I’ll concur that senseless linking is senseless, although a Blogroll link is also a publicity tool; reminding others you are out there, even if they don’t use the link.

    It should be remembered, however, that outgoing links are weighted, just as incoming links are. (a good, transparent illustration is the system Blogshares uses in link valuation -not the share prices themselves) If you have one link out of your site, it’s worth a lot; two links out drops each one’s value 50% and so forth. Incoming links add value; still too many links out dilutes the site’s overall weight and Google rank (I recall Eric Olsen alerting Blogcritics members to this when he asked us to link our posts back to Blogcritics to keep the ‘Google juice’ in the family, so to speak).

    So while the Alliance itself seems poised to benefit, I’m not sure the individual member sites will if the value of their links become too diluted.

    I think; I’m no expert.

    At any rate, I don’t think either threatens the Blogosphere. Too many bloggers investing all of their free time and not getting read is what threatens it. Some of my favorite blogs have died from this in the last few months.

    So hype has entered the Blogosphere; it was bound to, sooner or later. The dedicated and the devoted will find a way to survive, even thrive. But passivity probably isn’t the answer.

  • Gullyborg,


  • Bah! You’re just jealous that no one links to you.

    The alliance really isn’t that “artificial” because, for it to work, a lot of people have to be reading the same thing in order to know to link to each other.

  • As a member of the Alliance who does not blogroll the entire list, I can say that I haven’t been pressured or encouraged in any way to do so. It hasn’t even been mentioned to me, aside from a snippet in the FAQ.

    Furthermore, it’s not like we’re an ‘elite’ fraternity. If somebody feels they’re getting less credit because they aren’t in the Alliance, then they ought to just join the Alliance. It’s not like there’s a lot of requirements to do so.

    My blog has been around about 3 months, and had it not been for the Alliance, nobody would be reading our site at all.

  • Susie-

    Thank you for responding. True, my characterization of the Alliance may have been too generalized, but the fact of the matter is that you *do* encourage people to blogroll the entire cabal. Whether or not everyone does is not for me to say. You do still encourage the tendency. I could have highlighted certain carnivals or any number of other alliances, since many such organizations exist as you rightfully point out. I merely feel that the Alliance is the most visiable and, joke or no joke, possibly the most influential of these ventures. Just as you single out Instapundit, people are bound to single you out as well, for many of the same reasons. Regardless, I use your group as an example of a trend you do promote quite vociferously; the trend itself certainly exists beyond you. Whether someone finds link whoring/link doping ethical or not is entirely up to the individual. Eric Berlin, who posted above this, for instance, sees no problem where I see a pretty big problem. If you put yourself out there as conspicuously as the Alliance does, you certainly can’t expect not to be interpreted in the way I do. Still, it’s only my take and, as I have said to Harvey (who strikes me as a very nice fellow, by the way), I remain very interested in the Alliance’s response to the issue I try to raise.


    Now, if there’s 15,000 references…wow, I am behind the ball here, huh? Come to think of it, I may actually have seen the phrase at some point before, but probably filed it away with all the other words with that suffix so eloquently affixed to it!

    And yes, “hoodwinked” is tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think it’s a word anyone takes seriously anymore, is it? 🙂 And no, I don’t think you deceive anyone over at the Alliance. At least not as far as I can see.
    In any case, I am all for blog communities if they are built around the premise of alerting readers to worthy sites in a similar vein. I just worry that certain groups such as the Alliance encourage a particularly virilant strain of link whoring/link doping that threatens to add more roadblocks for bloggers who don’t think that “[b]logging is a hobby of pure ego.” For some folks, it is anything but a hobby. I mean, just because it does happen to be a hobby of mine, doesn’t mean that I would want to inflate my site’s popularity at the expense of someone else’s…but I think I said that before 🙂

    Take care, all.

  • Voluntary? I recieved a threatening letter from Harvey with a picture of Frank J. peeing on a cat. I joined the Alliance before I became the next victim.

    Or was I supposed to keep this quiet? Ooops. My bad.

    Never mind.

  • WHEE! I even had a typo in the title of my Alliance post, just to make myself look like a dork 🙂

    Erik – Google finds “link whoring” (with quotes) 15,500 times, so I’d say yes 🙂

    Susie speaks true – blogrolling the Alliance ISN’T a requirement of membership – it’s strictly voluntary. More like whoring at a Nevada cat-house than working the corners in Times Square for crack money 🙂

    Personally, the only exception *I* take to this post is the use of the term “hoodwinked” in reference to recruiting Alliance members. I’m not aware of any deception in the Alliance requirements.

    However, if there is something misleading, please let me know, and I’ll clean it up as best I can.

    On the other hand, you might’ve been doing a little tongue-in-cheek in that sentence, in which case I won’t hold it against you 🙂

  • As one of the earliest Alliance members, and the Alliance blog’s Hostess, I take exception to your characterization of us. Anyone who joins the Alliance is guaranteed one link, from Alliance HQ. Most of our members do NOT blogroll the entire membership roster, and any addition linkage they receive from doing “assignments” is no different than that from all the “Carnivals” that permeate the blogosphere. The Carnival of the Vanities, the Bonfire of the Vanities, the Carnival of Cats….examples of link-whoring all!

  • Harvey-

    Well, if “link whore” is the accepted term, I certainly won’t argue with you. Would this also imply that “link-whoring” would be the proper term to denote the practice I highlight?

    For the record, though, “link doping” doesn’t really sound very classy to me. I use it to negatively describe the practice, and I think “doping” implies something different than “whoring” does.

    Whatever. I do not wish to entrench myself in petty semantics. I stand by my point, regardless of the nomenclature used to describe a practice. My problem has always been with aspects of the practice, not the label of said practice.

  • Erik – the phrase isn’t Alliance-specific, it’s common terminology. A Google-search for “link whore” (without quotes) gives almost 800,000 hits. The #1 definition is:

    “noun. A blogger (qv) who will go to any lengths to get other bloggers to link to them (the term is usually intended to be humourous). Also: Link slut. Both terms are in fact gender non-specific.”

    And for the record, the Alliance Filthy Lie Assignment (like the Alliance itself) is intended as an exercise in childish humor, and was not meant to be taken as any sort of intelligent or thoughtful commentary on either Instapundit or your post.

    Victor – while I agree that “doping” sounds classier, “whoring” is already entrenched in the lexicon.

  • Eric,

    Fair enough. I simply cannot stand the idea that such empty inflation of the importance or popularity of one’s writing actually works. It’s really a huge flaw in the system. Maybe the should be a stat like the quality start stat in baseball?


    Well if you’ve been calling it link-whoring over at the alliance, that does rather make my point quite nicely. By the way, I am not defending Instapundit or attacking it. If Reynolds’ blogroll is random, it’s still his choice as to what he promotes. I am assuming he’s visited Dr. Frank’s website (perhaps he even likes MTX?), for instance.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much, I suppose, but link doping really does propigate negative stereotypes of bloggers and blogging.

    Take care, all.

  • Really good, interesting essay Erik — but you lose me about half-way through.

    Basically, you’re upset that some blogs get artificial traffic spikes via companies like BlogExplosion (I messed with that one for a week before realizing the concept was stupid) and that others are somehow disingenuously seeking links to their sites.

    While I can feel your pain in wishing that more people would find my own home website and magically worship its words and praise its deeds, I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the doping and such you allege above.

  • “Doping” is better; “whoring” is an overused word.

  • “I will refer to gratuitous link exchanging as “link doping” and “traffic doping””

    The popularly accepted term for such activity is “link whoring”.

  • “Linkola” would work if it weren’t for the “k” sound. Instead, it sounds like “Lin Cola,” which evokes very gross images of carbonated Linseed Oil. I think I’ll stick to link doping. But that’s just me…

  • sam

    Why not call it “LINK-OLA” as in “Payola”? It amounts to the same thing and is (in my completely unbiased opinion) catchier than “link doping”. What do you think?