Sgt_Kickaxe - 5:24 am on Jan 9, 2013 (gmt 0)
It will be interesting to see how much memory Google has come their next Panda/Penguin update, keep us posted.
I'm facing a mega competitor who very openly interlinks their (200+) web properties in the footer area. The problem for me is that this competitor is extremely deeply funded by ads, showing over 1 Billion pageviews a month, and all of the sites are considered authority in their niche. The company puts out a great effort to either create the best content or to buy out a competitor when they face a stubborn one.
When they started interlinking their properties with about 25 links per page, all internal page to homepage links, their traffic exploded and it hasn't let up in 18 months. They don't repeat the same links sitewide because they have enough very similar sites to change up the links on a per page level.
The site also actively advertises in adwords for their entire network. A second network of roughly the same size is also making inroads into the niche right now so networks aren't automatically evil, apparently.
My conclusion: if your site is deemed an authority site you can get away with things that would destroy a lesser site's trust by Google. Since networks do work within Google I don't expect they will stop being used and if the quality is there the benefit is substantial.
Have rankings become more trivial to obtain for the rich? It sure feels like it.