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Converting text Urls to hyperlinks

I have a 5 year old site that has 500+ user generated text Urls.

     
2:57 am on Dec 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

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My internal debate right now. Should I convert all the text Urls on my site added by users over the years to actual links?

The Nofollow discussion on the homepage sparked my interest on the topic.

From a usability perspective, they should definitely be converted to hyperlinks. That leaves the question of trust. I have the ability to convert only text Urls added by trusted members. So my initial thought is to convert them all to natural links, no limiting attributes (like nofollow). That seems to make sense to me.

What does everyone else think? This particular site only has a few hundred inbound links.

Thanks!

2:06 pm on Dec 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I imagine that you are worried about search engines seeing too many changes to the site at one time. Maybe a few numbers would help prompt some useful advice.
Are we talking about 50 or 500 or 5000?
How many per page?
6:35 pm on Dec 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

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We are talking about 500 or so... no more than 1-2 per page in the "comments" section. Users will often post very helpful links to supplement an article, etc.

In the past I never allowed links in comments, so they would just post as text. But now I want to make them more useful, save users having to cut and paste... =)

I just hate rocking the boat with big changes all at once. Kind of sucks that you have to think this way sometimes... at least when these sites are your livelyhood...

2:04 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I decided to just pull the trigger and enable them as normal links. It was the proper thing to do and fitting for how the web is suppose to work.

Once a user reaches a trusted status, their links then become active. Until then, they are in the sandbox so to speak... ;-)

9:05 pm on Dec 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

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If you see any changes in ranking and/or spam-quantity, mind reporting back and letting me know? I'm always eager to know about those things, since I've had two almost identical forum scripts running on two sites. I _know_ by looking at the log-data that the same spambots visited both pages and checked into the forum. they dumped their load in one of them bot not in the other -- the one they dropped their links had urls autoconverted into links and there were a few in every thread, the one they left without action did not autoconvert urls. I'd love to find out if you'll see any changes in spam-quantity.
5:39 am on Dec 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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We don't allow visitors to comment unless they register (with email validation). So that alone seems to thwart auto-spam. We of course have to deal with manual spam every day. Which is where this whole dilemma comes in.

We also decided to take a different route than mentioned above. After doing a boatload of research, I decided to:

1. Enable links via javascript for established members.
2. Enable any .gov links by default
3. Enable any internal links added by users by default

After doing some research, I found that many of the topics on my site often discussed "unsafe" sites, and as a result some comments would inevitably add a link to such sites. I really didn't want to be linking to these bad neighborhoods, but I didn't really have a way to catch them all. So I opted for a javascript solution. It is quite simply. I basically wrap a DIV tag around the text URL. Then I transform it to act like a link via Stylesheets. Then I have a basic javascript function to handle the click. Works like a charm. No more worries about linking to bad neighborhoods from user-comments. And now my links are fully functional.