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Annoying link requests (#974)

Topics/tags: rants

For some reason I don’t quite understand, every month or two I get a request to add a link to one of the pages I manage. Here’s a sample.

Hi Prof. Rebelsky,

I’d like to suggest something to add here -

My colleague Josh has just written a guide to federated learning exploring it from a privacy/security angle.

Here’s the link - [elided]

I figured your users might be interested in reading this among the other resources you’ve shared.

Please let me know your thoughts.



P.S. If you’re not the right person to contact about this, just reply to this email and let me know.

I got a followup message a few days later.

Hi Prof. Rebelsky,

I just wanted to follow up in case you missed my email the other day. Please see below -

On Fri, Dec 27, 2019 at 5:30 PM, Kevin Manning wrote:

This pair of messages is better than most since it references a page I’ve updated within the past year. Often, the requests are for ancient course pages from a decade or more ago.

I assume that messages like this must be automated. It’s not hard to scrape my email address off of a page [1] and it’s only slightly harder to figure out my name. Still, I am interested in the algorithm they use to do the latter. How do they pick the page? I assume they look for pages that have comparatively high page ranks. But I wouldn’t expect mine to have a high rank for federated learning, whatever that is [2].

These kinds of messages seem to play on our sense of politeness; it’s only reasonable to write back and say I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in linking or even to add the link to the page. But these requests are generally spam, so I treat these messages much like I treat spam phone calls; I discard them as soon as I realize that they are spam [3].

You know what? It may be time to set up an official policy about link requests. Let’s see …

On link requests

I regularly receive requests to add links to my pages. I charge a fee of $100 to consider such requests. If I consider the link appropriate, I will be happy to negotiate a fee for adding the page. Most fees are a minimum of $100, which represents my effort at adding the link.

I may waive both fees for people in academia and those at select nonprofits, such as EFF or Creative Commons.

Yeah, that seems reasonable. I’m going to add that to my home page. Next, I need to figure out how to add a link to that to all of my pages [4].

Do other folks get these kinds of requests and, if so, what do you do in response? Are you interested in partnering in an LLC to regularize the charge?

[1] Or, I suppose, to figure out my email address from the URL.

[2] Nope, I’m not going to bother to look it up on the Interweb. Nor am I going to follow the link they sent me, since that may tell them that I read their email.

[3] I recall an interview with a telemarketer on NPR a decade or more ago, which went something like this: We rely on people being polite. Until you hang up on me, I’m going to keep trying to convince you to buy our product. Since hearing that, I’m perfectly comfortable hanging up on telemarketers; it’s better for them. If I were a less nice person, I’d set up an AI voice response system.

[4] That’s a useful exercise because I should be updating all of my pages in multiple ways, particularly when I am forced onto a new server. Among other things, I should add links to the College’s accessibility statement for Web pages [5], our DMCA contact, and other similar things. I might also update my CC licenses to the latest versions.

[5] I had a bit of difficulty finding that, but it’s now linked from our primary site. It’s at Unfortunately, much of the content deals with our primary site, making it inapplicable to my site.

Version 1.0 of 2019-01-02.