Tim Bray ponders the pros and cons of linking to Wikipedia:
In a recent ongoing piece, I mentioned the "Canada Line", a huge construction project currently disrupting Vancouver. Motivated in part by the 2010 Winter Olympics, it's a subway/elevated train connecting the city core, the airport, and everything on the path between them, including a big strip of central Vancouver and Richmond, the suburb with the airport. (It's called the "Canada Line" because the biggest chunk of funding is from the Federal, as opposed to provincial or city government). Since I'm writing for the Net, I wanted to link to it. I did a quick search for its Web site, which also turned up a pretty good Wikipedia entry on the subject. The question is, which to link to? The answer isn't obvious.
[Excellent discussion of the notion that even Wikipedia links are 'fragile' – i.e. vulnerable to decay in the long-term – snipped.]
If we really care about links being useful in the long term (and we should), maybe we need to abandon the notion that a single pointer is the right way to make one that matters. If I want to link to Accenture or Bob Dylan or Chartres Cathedral, I can think of three plausible ways: via the "official" sites, the Wikipedia entries, and Google searches for the names. [More generally, I should say: direct links, online reference-resource links, and search-based links. I'll come back to that. […]
I've thought about this issue a fair bit lately, though not so much with reference to Wikipedia links as with regards to links to the Internet Movie Database.
I almost never link to a film's official site, unless it's because I'm pointing to a trailer that's only viewable at that site.1 With TV shows, even though many of those I'm interested in are serviced by active fan communities, I tend to link to the IMDB entry rather than a fan site, and again I rarely link to an official site for a TV show. I do this on the assumption that the IMDB (which I've been using since it was called the 'Cardiff Internet Movie Database'2) is the richest, most stable source of information and links about any particular film or show. If the IMDB went away, or committed suicide by turning into a subscriber-only site, I'd have a serious problem remaking all the TV and film-related links on this site, but I don't see a good alternative right now. I've toyed with the idea of making that sort of link a Google search, so that you'd be pointed to whatever the collective wisdom of web users thought was the most useful site about a particular film or show, but somehow it doesn't feel right to point you to a bunch of search results. I suppose I could always follow the example of finance-related web sites, and follow each link with something like [Official site] [Google] [IMDB] with appropriate links for the title in question, but that seems awfully inelegant. The sooner the likes of Tim Bray and some of the clever people commenting on his post engineer some sort of robust, browser-independent standard for offering multiple destinations from a single link the better.
In the meantime, does anyone reading this have any strong feelings on the subject of my habit of linking to the IMDB (or to Wikipedia)? Would you rather I link to the most directly relevant site and risk the link breaking when a studio doesn't maintain a domain, or are you happy with my sending you to a site that may be one step removed from the best source of information on the subject I'm talking about and may force you to click a second time to get to where you really want to go? How would you feel about my linking to a Google search query so you can pick the site you want to go to for yourself, guided by the blessed PageRank?
1 Another factor is that the domain name purist in me has always disliked the idea of studios buying up domains incorporating a film's title when they have perfectly good domains of their own to hang a site off. I think they'd do much better to have sites for films in the form www.universal.com/insertmovietitlehere rather than hogging www.insertmovietitlehere.com or www.insertmovietitleherethemovie.com.3
2 Yes, that was a Wikipedia link. Did you see what I did there?
3 The last option is the most palatable if studios simply must have a free-standing domain name for their film, but it's very much still a bad option. I know the marketers would argue that they're marketing a film not a studio so they don't want to force potential viewers to remember which studio is making their film, but I can't imagine that many casual filmgoers memorise URLs on posters or ads anyway: surely much of the time they use Google or the IMDB to find an official site anyway?