The Almighty Via

In writing, sources are everything. As early as grade school, we’re told to list our sources at the end of book reports. In journalism school, you’re taught how to find, cultivate and protect sources.

Many writers on the Internet aren’t great at listing their sources, though.

The Internet has far more material than any school or public library. You can find anything online. There is simply too much content out there to process it all.

Hence, the via link was born.

In short, the via link is a simple way to show your readers how you found the content you are sharing with them. The idea is to thank the resource you used to find the content you are sharing. As a bonus, it’s a nice way to toss some traffic at other people’s sites.

For example, if Joe Publisher links to something that I didn’t come across myself, and then I link to it after I read it on his site, he should earn the via link, in a perfect world.

Of course, it is more complicated than that. What if Joe and I link to the same thing (on the same day) but found it independently? If I link before he does, I can’t assume that he found it via 512 Pixels. Therefore, I have no ground to email and ask for one to be included on his post.

Likewise, if Joe Publisher posts before me, but I found the content on my own, I don’t think I owe him a link, either.

(This is even more convoluted on sites with multiple writers, who may not have the same set of criteria for using a via link.[1] And then you have the writers who only via their buddies, or their thanks a generic reader for “sending it in.” Oh, and little sites have a lot more to gain from a via, so they usually are more fair with them, in my opinion.)

Here are the guidelines I follow when it comes to the via link:

  • If I am sent a link by someone to something that I did not discover on my own, I will use a via link to point to whomever submitted the content to me.
  • If I am the second or third site I follow to post a story, I use a via link. Once everyone is posting about something, I consider it to be “common knowledge,” and usually do not put a via link on my post.
  • When I link to something found on a major site (that most of my readers probably visit anyway), I do not include a via link. I consider widely-read sites sources — even when they link to each other. In this case, the site is obviously included in the main body copy of the post.

I don’t think every website should have a big set of endnotes with each article, but if you link to content that is obscure or on a site that is not commonly seen by your audience, I think a via link is appropriate.

In short, I see the via link as a way to note the origin of content I post (the source), and the conduit via which I found it.

If you write on the web, what are your criteria for a via link?

  1. TV networks, for the record, also suck at attribution.  ↩