I caught up on some blog reading this weekend, and I learned something incredible--many of my favorite bloggers know one weird trick to lose belly fat, get a cheap mortgage, and what states have the best pizza. Or, at least, they tacitly endorse these things by posting links for them at the end of their posts.
You might do this too, and not even give it a second thought. Heck, I've done it. In an era of content arbitrage, content discovery has become very much a modern problem. Posting related links at the bottom of an article is a fine way to increase engagement with your blog, but with so much content available, it can be difficult to keep track of all those stories and articles you could suggest.
So, many of us have outsourced the problem to companies like Disqus, Zemanta and Outbrain. They discover related content and automatically provide links at the bottom of your post, and there is no doubt that these things work. The problem, however, is what else they might be posting on your site. Now, I have no issue with these services---heck, I use Disqus myself, though I turned off ads/sponsored content. But everything on your site is content. Everything. And when your otherwise fine content is being associated with, at best, irrelevant stories and at worst, sponsored links for products you'd never recommend in a million years, I think your content starts to look like it's being housed in a failing mall--the one that used to be good, but no one goes to anymore.
Newspaper sites seem to do this a lot. I am continually shocked by what external links get recommended to me at the bottom of an otherwise fine piece of journalism. And I cannot imagine the author of the piece really wants me to follow up their article on the Affordable Care Act by reading "10 Child Stars and Where They Are Now" or goji berries or whatever.
To me, we are chefs. We all have the same ingredients--words--and we combine them to make something useful, entertaining or thought-provoking. Allowing automated discovery services to post links to things you'd never recommend at the bottom of your site would be like outsourcing the wine pairings on your tasting menu to your Uncle Herbert, who only drinks out of jugs.
So, for my part, I'm going to think about this a bit more. I don't have that much content that I need a machine to make these recommendations, and I don't make any money from those links anyway. Do you? If someone reads to the end of one of my posts, they are either masochistic or they actually like my content. So why would I squander that wonderful opportunity to guide your experience?
With that in mind, here are two other articles I have written along the same lines about Facebook. These, at the very least, are similarly curmudgeonly, so I hand picked them for you.