The deep paradox of the link

I’m nearing release of some 120 pages of social interaction design material, all of it around the action domains and social practices, as well as design of content and action systems for social software (social media, or web 2.0, web 3.0) sites. Along the way, I’ve come upon a strange logical paradox in the form of the hyperlink. Here’s how it goes. It seems to me now that we have no choice but to read social softgware as a form of autopoetic system….

The click is a yes, an affirmation, but is not an affirmation of what is represented in the links, given that links are explorative and that clicks are undifferentiated. The recursive logic by which we assess and interpret clicks means that we can only, at best, suppose that a click affirms what has been clicked.

Methodologically speaking, cessation of clicking would offer the surest sign that a link clicked has provided what the user seeks, but as we know such an interpretation would often provide us with a false positive. By extension, further clicking of links would seem to indicate that a link has not provided the user with his or her satisfaction, but that too would be to overburden observation and interpretation with a necessary and paradoxical bifurcation: that the clicking of any link might simultaneously represent its affirmation or rejection.

If we were to assume that action of clicking links affirms user intentions, then we would like to conclude that the user affirms the links clicked. However, the act of clicking is the means by which the user determines whether or not the links clicked are appropriate, and thus every act, or click, is ambiguous. Every click is ambiguous, and every link is ambivalent. This follows from the fundamental dual operation of the link: to serve as a means of navigation, or action (user’s selection of the link by clicking) and the representation of an actionable medium within the same form. The possibilities of action are collapsed into form (the link), and at the same time intention of actions is deduced from form (its content, or meaning, or the link).

The link is a kind of utterance already uttered (it’s shown as a picture or statement that is a clickable link); and yet in deducing user activity, we attribute the act of uttering it to the user who clicks it. Every impression measured is read as an expression of user action. Reading clickthroughs is tantamount to mapping a pedestrian’s destination from the footprints he leaves behind while wandering about, lost. Clicks record what they have produced, and produce their own recordings.

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