At the 140 Character Conference this July, one of the savvier points made was about the value of the link, and how links themselves, in a decentralized social space, become increasingly valuable monetarily. Take the Amazon Associates model: through affiliate links, you earn percentages of referral purchases. I tell you to check out the new hot book, you follow my link to Amazon, buy it (and maybe a garden hoe and a Fletch DVD), I get a small percent of your total purchase. Back in the day, we called this commission. Back in the day, we also thought Fletch was really cool.
Now Amazon’s new program, where Amazon Associates members can instantly share product recommendations via pre-shortened URLs on Twitter, is a bit problematic. Check out ReadWriteWeb’s analysis and Galleycat’s overview. Affiliate linking in a microblogging platform doesn’t allow the space for verbose disclosure. How do you know if I’m sending you to Amazon because I want you to check out a book/movie/Fletch DVD, or because I want to make money from your purchase? You don’t at present, not on Twitter.
Two options: One, Twitterers develop a shorthand for indicating referral linking. Maybe a ^ after the shortened URL? Something like this could work. It’s as susceptible to abuse as made-up retweets; as long as we start using it in good trust, it should work. (That was my Craig Newmark moment. I’m done now.)
Another idea would be to just stop linking to Amazon.
Crazy, right? Link to Powell’s, B&N, Indiebound, wherever. This could be a position any one of these sites take as a PR win: you know if you’re being sent to our site, you’re being sent for reasons of editorial interest, not commercial gain. Hope this doesn’t sound too naïve. The whole affiliate linking issue is the reason I link my books to the publisher’s site or Indiebound’s listing.
By the way, I just made $0.08 off of you because you read Fletch twice in this post. (That’s three! Another four cents!)