I think that for any business with an internet presence, an important part of running and growing that business is being astutely aware of your surroundings. In particular, that means recognizing when people on the internet are talking about you, and responding to or engaging them when it’s appropriate.
Typically when a person on the web is kind enough to link to one of my sites, I learn about it quickly. Those of you who are not familiar with the way the web works might be surprised to know that whenever you click a link in a browser, the browser is typically kind enough to also tell the link’s target server where the link was clicked from. This is called the “referrer” and helps a great deal in tabulating statistics about web site visitors.
What’s really interesting about this referral reporting is that statistics software such as Mint can make it exceedingly easy to keep tabs on who is linking to you. Additionally, services such as Technorati and Google Blog Search attempt to keep tabs on where particular pages on the web are linking to, and offer RSS feeds so that you can keep tabs on any new links that might be pointing your way.
Suffice to say, if you are interested in doing so, it’s possible to keep a broad, open eye on what people on the internet are saying about you, provided they include a link to you among their thoughts.
Cutting To The Chase
I tend to skim every referral that looks like it might be from a legitimate source (not link spam). For instance, sometimes I’ll find a blog post where somebody reveals a problem they’re having with MarsEdit or another of my applications. If it’s possible for me to chime in with proactive customer support, I figure the user will be more overjoyed than creeped out by my “stalking” their blog post.
If you’re lucky enough to start getting linked a great deal, it can start to become a burden to evaluate all those links and decide whether any of them require (or would benefit from) your attention. Typically for me this has involved opening every such link in Safari, and then proceeding to glance at it to see where they are linking to me, and what the context is. This can be difficult on a long page, or when the person has attached the link to an unlikely phrase, such as “this guy says.”
What we need here is a computer. Something that can perform the painstaking task of looking at a web page and deciding where the important parts are. Once these important parts are brought to my attention, I can quickly evaluate and decide whether to quietly take in the referral, or whether to engage in some way with the author.
A Scripted Solution
Safari Link Exposer is a small script I wrote to facilitate this task. Let’s take a look at a sample web page I might encounter in my referral following. See how it’s possible to scan for the links to me, but they don’t exactly jump out from the page:
Now keep in mind this is an arbitrarily simple test case. Normally the web page might be pages long or a lot more complex. Even still, a significant amount of time is spent parsing the “unimportant” information to get to the all-important references to me. Now let’s look what happens when I run my keyboard-activated script in Safari:
Ouch! My eyes, they bleed! Help! But see, that’s the point. There’s no missing the links to me (in red with white text). The first-level container of said links are brightly lit in yellow to accommodate easily tracking to them, and the second-level container is lit in a more subdued yellow to broadly attract your eye’s attention.
Free Download: Safari Link Exposer
I used my shortcuts utility, FastScripts, to attach a Safari-specific keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-Cmd-F to the script. Now when I’m browsing my referrals I can zoom in on the nitty gritty with a single keystroke.
Hope this is helpful to somebody. The basic script needs to be edited to be useful to you, but it’s set up so that you can easily replace the “red-sweater” search term with a term of your choice. You could also use this script as the basis for other types of “smart scanning” scripts that expose elements based on other criteria.
Please let me know if you have any improvements for the script or other ideas for how to streamline this process.