1script - 4:10 pm on Sep 15, 2011 (gmt 0)
I honestly don't know what the original intent was but now it's used in a context that's different from what Google wants to use it for. WordPress, for example, by default adds rel=”next” and rel=”prev” to articles that have nothing to do with one another except that they were published sequentially. This is an example of a wrong signal Google is trying to pick up. The fact that different URLs are "linked" through the chain of rel=”next” and rel=”prev” directives does not mean that whichever is the last one in the chain, the most previous, so to speak, should rank best (apparently Google now thinks it's Page #1). In WordPress interpretation it is simply the oldest article.
or is this really designed for articles with split content?
Anyhow, if Google will start interpreting these directives as pagination signals, many WordPress installs, at least the most recent version 3.2.1 are in danger.