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Ensuring that links do not turn into embarrassing connections – proper linking strategy

This post is about something that a lot of people never think about, and which can be embarrassing if things turn bad. In this modern world with the internet ever present, with companies now moving all their documentation to the web and using a lot of components that are open source, there is need to be much more careful about the usage of links. Let me detail an experience to you that could show you how things can go bad and you would not even be able to do anything about it.
This is the table of a modern fairly successful application. The application did some pretty great stuff with photographs and allowed you to create some great calendars, photobooks and other stuff that you would love to print and give to people. It also allowed users to create DVD’s, and allowed users to add their own videos as a part of these DVD’s. Now, video technology is fairly complex with the use of separate codecs and it never makes sense for a company to try and write their own code for handling all the different video formats. As a part of this and also to reduce costs, the company opted for a open source software to handle some of the more different formats.
Part of the condition for using the open source software was to have a link to the site of the external software and show this in the help of the application. So far so good. The company decided that this was an okay condition, they really did not want to spend the much higher amounts to buy the expensive commercial codec software that would let them do the same thing. So, this link was incorporated in the application as a part of the Help menu, and things were fine.
And then disaster struck. The open source software ran into some personnel issues and the entire project was disbanded. The web site that was linked under the Help menu went belly-up since no one was taking care of the server, and soon did not point anywhere, throwing an error when the user tried to click it. This was acceptable to the company, although it would have liked for the link to keep on working. But this was not the end, since after an year, the website was not renewed, and it was bought by somebody anonymous who was interested in the site that had some page ranking and wanted to use this page ranking.
And guess who bought this ? It was a porn operator, who used the site to sell porn DVD’s and who put a redirect that anybody clicking on any inside link would be taken to the home page with some interesting images shown. Now, this caused a panic in the application company, since this meant that their software had a link that led users to a porn site. This was disaster and caused a huge number of people to call up and complain, and there was really nothing that the company could do other than: Either try and buy the external site (which could prove expensive) or release a patch that changed the link, but there was no guarantee as to how many people would take the patch.
What is the solution ? Companies should employ a redirection scheme on their servers, where they can use a link which in turn redirects to another link. So you click on which in turn leads to the desired external link. The beauty of this is that if the external link changes, then you should need to change the redirect link on the server, and no patch is also required. It’s a clean solution, but does put some load on the server.

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