The Problem With Linked List Style Posts

From Marco Arment:

The most ethically and professionally sound practice when you have little value to add to the source story is the linked-list approach.

Perhaps the linked-list approach1 is the most ethical and professional, but it is far from the most efficient or logical. At least it isn’t from this reader’s standpoint. Let’s take Marco’s post and discuss it in the context of his own tool, Instapaper.

I follow the RSS feed for, when a post like this shows up and I don’t have time to read it regardless of how short it may be, I do what I normally do: save it to Instapaper. The problem: it doesn’t save Marco’s post, it saves the post he is linking to. This is true if I try to send it from Reeder for iPhone or if I use the “Send to” feature in Google Reader. So when I come back to it hours (if not a day or more) later, I don’t always know what drove me to the random post that shows up in my Instapaper queue and I completely miss what I signed up for in the first place: Marco’s context.

I don’t mind linked-list approach for quoting an article or pointing to it, but the minute you add context, a linked-list post becomes the wrong tool for the job. There’s no doubt that a half-assed “Source” or “Via” doesn’t cut it, but there either has to be a better way or developers like Marco need to adapt tools like Instapaper to do a better job handling the linked-list style. I know the kind of traffic a linked-list post can drive, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it first hand, but the experience on the reader’s end is confusing at best and detrimental at worst.

I agree with Marco’s assertion that:

If you’re truly providing value, you should have the confidence to send your audience away, knowing that they’ll come back to you.

Link generously, link obviously, link at the start, link at the finish, but give the reader an experience that makes sense. Even though linked-list may be the best way to drive traffic to the source of your post, I think we can all agree that a permalink at the bottom of the post is just as inelegant a solution for those looking to hear your thoughts (especially for those of us who are heavy users of RSS). If you do your job well, design your site correctly and your intentions are good, a reader should want to read the source, just as I hope you’ll now go read Marco’s post.

Instapaper Read Later bookmarklet works. It will pull the page you are on, not the source.Update: I was incorrect as to how

  1. For those who don’t know, a linked-list post is one where the primary URL points to the source material. On most blogs, when you click the headline you are taken to the page of the full post, with linked-list posts you bypass this page and go directly to the original source.  

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