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Today an editor added the source of every link I included in an answer of mine. They are a total of six links, only one contains a quote– fairly extensive–which was clearly attributed.

In the comments below my answer, I asked a mod, who had happened to post a helpful but unattributed comment, whether it was policy for every link to be attributed.

This is their comment complete with its unsourced hyperlink

They were also called pikes for obvious reasons

This is my comment addressed to them:

Since when do "we" have to attribute links? Excerpts, yes. Quotes, yes. But links? I mean, imagine giving the title of every book that Ily provides a link to. It would look a real mess. (I see from the edit history that the editor, XXX sensibly refrained). Moreover, I don't like the aesthetics, the answer [mine] looks crowded and the links should be on the terms not the sources. I don't have time to sort this out, or to find a compromise, but I'm very disappointed by the (ugly and unwarranted) editing. Unless you can point me where it has become official policy. @Mari-Lou A

I am sorry for that rushed comment, it lacks elegance and diplomacy, but I simply didn't have the time to craft the comment properly. And besides, I was upset.

I did get a response

There's no rule that you have to attribute links (got into the same argument myself elsewhere). However, it may be helpful for the less technically savvy (who don't know how to see the URL without clicking on it). A more elegant solution (or compromise?) would be in-text (e.g., "according to Etymonline…")

Searching in the Meta archives, I found the following guidelines, which I quote verbatim:

Why can people edit my posts? How does editing work?


When should I edit posts?

Any time you see a post that needs improvement and are inclined to suggest an edit, you are welcome to do so.

Some common reasons to edit a post are:

  • To fix grammatical or spelling mistakes
  • To clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning)
  • To include additional information only found in comments, so that all of the information relevant to the post is contained in one place
  • To correct minor mistakes or add updates as the post ages
  • To add related resources or hyperlinks

It's not exactly clear whether an editor who decides to add extra information to hyperlinks is be lauded or not. However, it is puzzling that of the eleven hyperlinks in the OP, whose sources were unnamed, none were touched by the editor.

  • Can the editor please explain why they believed my five hyperlinks needed to be attributed but not those in the original question?

UPDATE 13 July 2023
I've edited the answer and struck a balance between reducing the noise but including the sources, and in some cases I've gone into some detail. I especially hated the editor's choice of writing YouTube next to a link, it was so reductive, but it is an Italian video excerpt and I can see why someone would prefer to lower the volume before clicking.

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    It is in general a good idea to give people some indication of where a link is going to go before they click on it, especially if it's going to go to a video with sound. When people are browsing on a phone or tablet, it isn't easy to just hover over a link to see where it's going to take you. Would I have edited someone's post to add that info? Probably not, but I would assume anyone adding them was trying to be helpful. I often link to specific definitions of terms without indicating which dictionary I'm sending people to though, so I wouldn't say it's a "rule" for every link.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 13, 2023 at 12:02
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    Relevant question, which may hold the answer to this. That one was asked eight years ago!
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jul 13, 2023 at 12:29
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    @Colleen you weren't the editor, so you cannot know what was in their mind when they added those unsightly pieces of information. But let's be generous and say it was the editor's intention to be helpful. Why only edit my answer? Why not edit the original question, with its multiple links, unnamed, if it's true that the editor was motivated by altruism?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 13, 2023 at 12:52
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    People can choose to click on a link or not, when they visit a Wikipedia article, there can be dozens of hyperlinks in one single page, do people complain of not being to trust Wikipedia? If someone finds one user who complains, that is a drop in the ocean.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 13, 2023 at 12:55
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    Insisting that the links be 'attributed' to a source is conceptually problematic, because all links, by definition, attribute something to a source; they themselves are attributions. If a link did not incorporate information about a source, it wouldn't be a link.
    – jsw29
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:13
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    I’m not saying I support a rule that all links have their targets listed in text; back in the olden days it was basic netiquette to identify the targets of links. Modern browsers have features that make that less of a need. You’re correct, I don’t know what was in the editor’s mind. I wasn’t telling you what you should do or think, just commenting on what I would presume, which is good intentions. If someone takes the time to attempt to improve one of my posts, I choose to view that as someone believing my post is worth their limited time, even if I don’t like the result.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:56
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    @ColleenV you haven't answered my question though, you're skirting the issue. Why the need to "fix" my answer and not the original question. I know, only one person can answer that, and they are deliberately keeping quiet.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:23
  • Any idea what the modification to the question itself done by that same editor was? Perhaps the links were attributed before he changed it back? Jul 14, 2023 at 17:26
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    @Heartspring Could very well be or it could be anything, feel free to ask the editor yourself. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 14, 2023 at 17:30
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    @Mari-LouA For simple links: 1) There doesn't seem to be a formal SE or ELU policy (Andrew Leach's link in a comment seems to give the most explanation of something that looks like a policy). 2) It sounds like extra text would be welcome. 3) People hardly ever do it, here on ELU, on SE, or the entire web. 4) How nice of someone to edit and add text, like having a stranger sweep your sidewalk for you. 5) It does seem strange that they didn't sweep up that guy's across the street that really needed it. So why don't you ask them?
    – Mitch
    Jul 18, 2023 at 21:27
  • @Mitch I have asked them, quite directly in fact, do you think the editor is a stranger to meta? If you look at their profile page they were last seen on meta a week ago, which could be any day between July 13th and today. By the way do you think my original post looked like a messy sidewalk that needed sweeping?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 18, 2023 at 22:54
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    @Mari-LouA "Do you think [it] ... needed sweeping?" As to the issue of attributing links, no, I think just the link is enough in almost all instances, and in particular your post did not need any edits. Attribute quotes, yes, attribute links no.
    – Mitch
    Jul 19, 2023 at 13:57

1 Answer 1

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A personal view: I generally mention the source of links I use to support facts, but wouldn't usually edit someone else's answer to source their links.

There is an exception, and it happens to occur in your answer - YouTube. I know you're not keen, but some browsers autoplay (I've disabled mine but I know that autoplaying videos trouble some people who haven't disabled it). So I'd be inclined to highlight the YouTube link, not as attribution, and not in as much detail, but as a warning. I would do that inline next to the link ("In Italy they were called Cracovia (YouTube)") as I feel that's helpful to the reader. I don't feel a footnote is much use in that case because it's far removed from the link that could cause annoyance, but if you want to add something more like a proper citation, a footnote is quite nice. And I mean "you" as author, not a random user who happens to have a lot of rep.

Linking the actual word or phrase you're defining, as you did originally and in the latest edit as I write this, seems to me a more readable style highlighting (in the link colour) incidental information (the source).

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    Thank you for the sensible advice, I recently edited my answer and included (in tiny letters though) the "warning" that there's a YouTube link. So, thanks again. I've never really thought that someone could be bothered or annoyed by a video link, worth remembering in the future.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 18, 2023 at 19:50
  • @Mari-LouA I'm getting old - I remember when online multimedia was rare and it was bad form to link to anything that made a sound without a warning. I'm also guilty of occasionally assaulting my colleagues' ears by forgetting I'd plugged in speakers and blasting them with the heaviest of metal in the office. But I try to be gentle, here as well as at work.
    – Chris H
    Jul 18, 2023 at 19:58
  • Probably the best style would be something like "According to [XYZ's YouTube](link), in Italy they were called Cracovia". It's very natural and gives you some sense of how trustworthy the source is, plus no surprises with video autoplay.
    – Laurel Mod
    Jul 25, 2023 at 21:23
  • @Laurel yes, good thinking. I'm not sure why I didn't think to mention it this time, given my preference for naturally readable wording around things like citations.
    – Chris H
    Jul 26, 2023 at 5:36
  • I've come across quite a few people who object to YouTube on moral grounds and try and avoid it because it tracks users and pushes far-right propaganda and hate speech (MIT Technology review). Tagging YouTube links seems a good idea, not just for the noise. Plus, YouTube is blocked on some school/library/corporate networks and may trigger alerts; this should probably also apply to sites like Urban Dictionary which are likely to trigger obscenity filters.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 26, 2023 at 9:22
  • @StuartF good points. I forget how bad the algorithms are on YT - I use it heavily for things like music, adventure sports, and general nerdy curiosity so miss the objectionable stuff (and I assume I'm being tracked everywhere despite blocking what I can) . I tend to mention UD explicitly on the rare occasions I link to it here because it's occasionally useful but far from definitive; the fact it's a filter trigger is another reason.
    – Chris H
    Jul 26, 2023 at 9:55

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