When I read this evocative piece by Tim O’ Reilly on Linking To Yourself, and began to understand just how widespread the “habit” had become, I began to wonder. Doesn’t it make you go blind, or something like that? It should.
I thought Peter Kirn’s comment summarised it elegantly:
1. Link externally when appropriate; don’t create a walled garden.
2. Identify internal links as such; provide an option.
3. Link to what’s useful to people
As David Weinberger said in Cluetrain, hyperlinks subvert hierarchies. Broadcast models and walled garden approaches are fundamentally hierarchical in construct, with controlled audiences meekly fed controlled content in controlled ways. It is natural for those who believe in such models to want to prevent the subversion, since it represents a loss of control.
It is also natural for all of us to see them for what they are.
Of course there are good reasons to link “to oneself”. In the comments, Tim gives the example of Wikipedia cross-references. One of the powers of the writable web is the ability to provide rich context quickly and cheaply, wherever that context is to be found. And sometimes the best context is found in something you may have written earlier. That makes sense. But linking to oneself to the exclusion of any other form of linking is just plain silly.
Some of the comments suggest that the reason a walled-gardener does this is because of the Google ranking. Now that makes me Confused. I have always assumed that self-linking is made valueless by PageRank. Live and learn.