I wanted to share something which I think is lost on today’s web, the art of the hyperlink. The decision to link to something using the web should be more than just informational. There are the basic points of style such as collapsing the sentence and using the verb as the link to more information

You can find out more about the Roosevelt Island insane asylum by clicking this link here.


You can find out more about the Roosevelt Island insane asylum.

But using the link to make a point, tell an inside joke you don’t get until you click the link, is a lost art. The masters of the form were the crew behind the late-90s site, suck.com.

The site is no longer online but (now replaced by an embarrassingly childish domain squatter) but I managed to pull down this passage which describes their “tertiary link” policy and what made it so engaging.

HotWired had this crazy policy where they didn’t allow tertiary links, is what they called it. A tertiary link was when you linked to something that wasn’t explicitly referred to in the text. If I said, ‘Proctor & Gamble have a policy against suffocating infants,’ and I linked on ‘suffocating infants’ to the policy page on Proctor & Gamble, and it said, ‘All our products are tested for the risk of infant suffocation, and we have a strict policy,’ that’s a primary link. If I linked ‘suffocating infants’ to Dave Winer’s column, that would be a tertiary link. That was, by policy, not allowed at HotWired.” It was absurd, with a medium so new and unexplored, to establish such rules regarding what was and was not allowed. The lack of established rules was what made the web fun.

Shit makes great fertilizer, but it takes a farmer to turn it into a meal. With that thought in mind, we present Suck, an experiment in provocation, mordant deconstructionism, and buzz-saw journalism. Cathode-addled netsurfers flock to shallow waters—Suck is the dirty syringe, hidden in the sand. You wanted feedback? Cover your ears and watch your back … it wants you too. But Suck is more than a media prank. Much more. At Suck, we abide by the principle which dictates that somebody will always position himself or herself to systematically harvest anything of value in this world for the sake of money, power and/or ego-fulfillment. We aim to be that somebody.

In the absence of HotWired strictures, they turned “tertiary links” into signature stylistic components. “It’s important to understand that up until then, to the best of my knowledge, people had just used hyperlinks in a strictly informational sense, simply as online footnotes,” says Mark Dery, author of Escape Velocity. “With Suck, you wouldn’t get the joke until you punched through on the link. Then you found out that it set the keyword to which this new source was linked in an ironic light.” Writing for Suck, Steadman and Anuff were free to link “suffocating infants” to Dave Winer’s column, or “wet dream” or “negative energy”. “Whereas every other Web site conceived hypertext as a way of augmenting the reading experience,” wrote Steven Johnson in Interface Culture, “Suck saw it as an opportunity to withhold information, to keep the reader at bay.”

The Big Fish

Somewhat related: Here’s a suck.com column retrieved from the Wayback Machine where they linked to an earlier version of my Celebrity Sellouts site.