In the settings page, the following option resides:
That’s it in its default state. I’ve been thinking about it this morning and wondering whether that’s correct.
There are indeed good reasons for that option, at least from a historical perspective:
- It’s designed to reduce spam. By tagging links with nofollow, so the theory goes, there’s no incentive for spammers to target your site, as it doesn’t increase their pagerank.
That’s the only reason I can think of. In my opinion, this is a contributing factor that makes Google’s results not as “organic” as perhaps they ought to be. Google search results (at least the organic variety) tend to favour sites that have better SEO, which seems pretty self-serving. Bigger, more established sites will link to bigger, more established sites, creating a virtuous circle. And yet in recent months, many of the more interesting webpages I’ve read were linked from posts on Stack Exchange, or specialist forums. All of which had rel=“nofollow”. I now follow more links than Google. On sites that I run, I see (spikes from big sites aside) more traffic referrals via links with nofollow (I do not really employ any SEO on any of my sites though).
Here we are in the year 2013, and I wonder if this practice is even relevant. Spammers have largely moved on, preferring to use tactics such as “guest posting” boilerplate articles tangentially related (and of course, linking to) the site they are trying to boost the page rank. Is rel=“nofollow” now an example of elephant repellent?
Part of the problem of course, is that as someone running a website, why should I really care if other sites get page rank “credit”? Better to prevent one spam post than boost the search traffic of a site I have no vested interest in. If you have no opinion one way or another, the default setting for your CMS will win out. And thus, to my mind, search results lose relevance. The site owner wins in the short term, but the internet loses.
The reason I bring this up is because I honestly think Discourse has a chance to overturn this practice. Don’t punish smaller sites in lost search traffic, don’t support the system of sites that happened to be popular prior to 2005 continuing to be listed as most relevant. Build better tools and empower users to fight real actual spam, rather than just putting up a big wall. Make this option unchecked by default, and encourage better ways to solve the problem.