Click me! Or, linking to the source rather than the commentary

Click here from wikimedia commonsThere’s a disturbing trend I’m finding among links I’m following from twitter, and it is that instead of linking to the source of a piece of research or the source of a quote, or the source of a video or image, people are just linking to an article which cites the source.

I suspect the trend is a matter of sheer laziness. Or that people are trying to promote a blogger or article author rather than concerning themselves about the legitimacy of what is being discussed.  But the problem with linking to an intermediary site is that it is entirely possible that commentary has either misinterpreted or misrepresented original material.  While it’s more likely that casual browsers will skim an article more easily than they will an entire research report, or that they will read a summary rather than play a video, it’s also important not to contract perspectives just to commentaries.  It’s always worth checking the validity of what is said in an article by making that one click further into the cited resource.  And if it’s really worthy, it should speak for itself. The article is there to let you know the research exists.  Why not link directly to the research if it’s interesting enough to tweet/bookmark/discuss on a blog?

Of course in some cases, research is only available at a price, and in such circumstances it becomes necessary to link to a press release or commentary on research which is otherwise firewalled.  But on many, if not most occasions where articles refer to other sources, the source material is easily accessible.  All it takes is another click.

So I’m putting out a plea to all people who share links either on twitter, facebook or in blogs – please take that leap and click through to original sources.  And if there isn’t a link to a source, then may be rethink sharing the article you’ve accessed.  Unless it is saying something profound and new, all you’re doing is spamming us with undifferentiated commentary.

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