// Internet Duct Tape

Fixing the WordPress.com Possibly Related Feature

Posted in Technology, WordPress, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on April 27, 2008

WordPress Tips and Tricks

You might want to skip this post if you aren’t hosted on WordPress.com.

You may have heard talks about how “Related Posts” was going to become an integrated feature in the WordPress core. Last friday they released a feature called “Possibly Related”. They use Sphere.com’s technology to analyze what posts are related to the current post and add links to the bottom of it. Doesn’t sound bad, right? Wait for it…

For WordPress Multiuser (like WordPress.com) they’re including links to other “related” posts by other people.

This is supposed to be a community feature, but as you may guess there’s already been crosslinks created between people who blog about racism/feminism and white supremacists.

My example above is on a post I wrote about “doing something important to change your life” and WordPress.com inserted links to

  • an on-topic post about rethinking the time spent blogging
  • a post talking about friends he’s known
  • a post about illnesses in classrooms
  • a baseball post.

Wow, the power of modern computers, eh? I wouldn’t have included any of those links by hand, and I would delete them if I could. Lorelle nails what’s wrong with this:

This is bad for many reasons, which I’m sure you’ve already thought of. No control. Implied recommendation or endorsement. Inappropriate links. And a lot of confusion for our readers who believe we choose these links or that they will lead to links on our blog related to what we blog about. I’m sure I missed some other bad reasons for not liking this new feature.

It’s important that we link to other bloggers, especially others within the WordPress.com community to support and encourage them. It’s wrong to do so without some control.

And let’s not even think about the SEO implications this is going to have on WordPress.com. These automatic links are not rel=nofollow’d. How long until Google treats WordPress.com as a link farm and devalues all of our blogs?

It is uncertain whether or not paid links will ever be inserted this way.

UPDATE: According to a Sphere representative, the links to mainstream media sites aren’t paid for.

Turning Off Related Posts Permanently

thx Lorelle

  1. Go to the Administration Panels > Design > Extras.
  2. Check Hide Related Links.
  3. Click Update.

Hiding Other Users Posts

If you have the CSS upgrade you can still use the related posts feature to point to your own blog only by hiding the links to the other blogs using CSS.

.entry-content > div > div:last-child li {
	list-style-type:none !important;
}

.entry-content > div > div:last-child li > a {
	display:none;
}
 

When I posted that solution to the WordPress.com forums my comment was deleted by a moderator. YMMV.

UPDATE: They’ve updated the feature so that it no longer has a CSS class to make it even harder for users to style this automatically generated content. The code I posted works with the Sandbox theme, it might not work with your theme.

Fixing the Feature

#1: We need to have two levels of disable:

  • No related posts
  • Related posts within our blog
  • Related posts within WordPress.com

#2: Let us control the title

Yes, this is fixable with CSS, but I would prefer it if it said: “You Might Also Like” instead of “Possibly related posts:”. I’m sure everyone has a different idea of what they would like that title to be.

#3: Suggested Blogs

Want to build a community? Use Sphere’s analysis in the dashboard to tell me about blogs I might be interested in.

#4: Whitelist, not blacklist.

In the next few days we’ll have an update that allows you to block specific blogs from showing up, and eventually that setting will also apply to the tag surfer, blog surfer, and top blogs so when you block a blog you should never see it again.

You have one million active blogs on WordPress.com. Do you really think blacklists are going to be manageable? If you have the related posts come from the blogs we’ve subscribed to using the Blog Surfer, then all of a sudden you have a really cool community feature that will automatically link posts to our friends.

Being able to ban blogs from tag surfer / top blogs is still a great feature, but it is not a solution to the related posts problem. Use the blog surfer as a whitelist of blogs to chose from and this feature will become highly usable because it will leverage the small communities that already exist on WordPress.com instead of trying to create some kind of global community. There is no global community on WordPress.com and there can never be because the only thing that we all have in common is our choice of blogging host.

I’m not adverse to having the related posts feature link out to other bloggers, but I want it to be from the blogs I choose:

Not to mention several others I enjoy that also happen to be hosted at WordPress.com.

Using the “Links” as a whitelist would work as well and has the benefit of working with self-hosted WordPress as well as WordPress Multiuser.

Fixing the Longterm Problem

I often feel like WordPress.com is the red-headed step child of Automattic, but that may just be because I am so far removed from whomever their target user is. I’m the type of person who should be using self-hosted WordPress, and I can’t fault them for targeting who they want to target. But I also wouldn’t recommend WordPress.com to anyone because of the lack of control you have over your own blog. This is just one example of the systemic problem of WordPress.com where users don’t have the freedom to do what they want with their blog [1].

Not enough of the people working on WordPress use WordPress.com as their primary blogging platform. Have more developers using (non-VIP) WordPress Multiuser full time and you’ll see better features come out because they’ll understand the constraints users have to face. Eat your own dog food.

Why are experimental features always released on friday afternoons? Don’t release features on Friday, release them on Monday so you have all week to tweak and fix them.

I’d also strongly suggest targeting some bloggers they feel are a good example of the WordPress.com demographic and having them try out new features before everyone else. Their feedback could go a long way to improving everyone’s experience.

Footnotes

  1. What can’t WordPress.com bloggers do? Can’t edit themes (only CSS), can’t use FeedBurner, can’t use Google Analytics, can’t use alternative comment systems like Disqus, can’t add javascript widgets… our tag links point away from our own blog and advertising is shown on our blogs that we have no control of.

36 Responses

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  1. Bug Girl said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I’m not getting how “!important” is going to screen out non self links.
    Can you explain a little more for the CSS-slow?

    (I know CSS, but this one isn’t computing for me. So to speak.)

    Thanks so much for this!

  2. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:23 am

    @ Bug Girl:

    The first one is getting rid of the bullets on the list. The !important is needed because of other CSS styles applied to bullets.

    The second one is getting rid of the links.

  3. vjp said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Great article and thanks again for the code. You’ve raised some truly valid points here. I hope the folks at WP listen.

  4. Bug Girl said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:42 am

    That part I got; it was the “excluding links that aren’t from your site” part that is stumping me.

    It seems like this code would stop the display of all links, not just ones from external sites.

    Sorry, I’m slow. :p

  5. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 11:20 am

    @ Bug Girl:

    The links to your own blog are

    LI STRONG A

    while the links to other people are

    LI A

    “.possibly-related li > a” means

    grab all the As
    that are a direct descended of an LI — this is the important bit
    that are inside of a .possible-related

    So you hide all of the As that aren’t inside a STRONG.

  6. [...] Engtech on how to enable locally related posts (requires the CSS upgrade). Naturally this was censored from the forums. [...]

  7. Javier Aroche said, on April 27, 2008 at 11:46 am

    The problem in hidding links via CSS is that these links are still visible for Spiders.

  8. Bug Girl said, on April 27, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    AH. Thanks!

  9. Andy Beard said, on April 27, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I wouldn’t go the hidden links route on a blog outside wp.com because it might upset Google. wp.com however might have immunity

  10. Cat said, on April 27, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Very good post about the new feature [which I disabled straightaway after realising how broken it was] and and even better section about wordpress.com in general.

    I like it here, I’ve been blogging on wordpress.com for close to two years, got my own domain and CSS upgrade and I’ve been happy paying for it. But there is always the matter that we just don’t have all that much control over it. New features get added by random without prior notification and then there’s always the question about the ads.

  11. Dr. Mike Wendell said, on April 27, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    We still have active moderators in the forums? :D

    It was probably a staff member who deleted the posts on the forums. I would have left it.

  12. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    @ Cat:

    I blog with blogger and tumblr as well, and it’s peeking out over there that makes me see how screwed up the control issues are here.

    There’s a certain model for who WordPress.com is target for, and if you don’t fit that model then you aren’t a good match for the service.

    Which is fine, because you can get the same software on self-hosted. :)

  13. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    @ Dr. Mike Wendell:

    Yeah, I’m not sure what happened with the comment getting deleted, although I think I did start it of with “for !@#$’s sake” :)

    So it might not have been the CSS, but rather my attitude that got it removed.

  14. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    @ Andy Beard:

    Yeah, the hidden links thing sucks. It’s definitely a band-aid solution, and a tattered dirt-encrusted one at that.

    I’d really like to enable this only for links back to my other posts. I’d be perfectly fine with a whitelist as well, except that’s not the way Sphere is supposed to work.

  15. Gabriel... said, on April 27, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    There needs to be a disclaimer above the links stating the Possibly Related Links are being recommended by WordPress, not the blogger… if I ever do turn the feature back on and someone clicks a link on my blog and ends up somewhere being asked to join Sci3ntology I don’t think they’d ever trust one of my links ever again.

  16. [...] Fixing the WordPress.com Possibly Related Feature [...]

  17. vjp said, on April 27, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    engtech – they have updated the code somehow and the CSS fix you posted is no longer working. Right this minute, I see two posts in this thread that are not links to your blog.

  18. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    @vjp: I’ve updated the CSS code.

    One of the related posts goes to someone’s “hello wordpress” post. That Sphere code works real well, doesn’t it?

    (sarcasm)

    I love how they’ve taken the CSS class off of the autogenerated content to make it harder for paying users to do what they want with their blog content.

  19. Matt said, on April 27, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    If you don’t want the related posts on your page, just turn off the option under Design > Extras. If you hide the links to other bloggers but they’re still linking to you you’re cheating the system, which isn’t really fair to other folks.

  20. Roads said, on April 27, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    This sounds like a great idea. But perhaps it’s too random to use in its present form.

    A widget to identify ‘related posts’ from within my blog would be very useful. This would help people to read more of your best content, and increase the ‘stickiness’ of you site. I back-hack this feature by selecting and linking to a set of related posts manually, but it’s a faff to do.

    I believe that (he ability to do this automatically exists as a plug-in in wp.org (where there is only a fraction of the user base) and it would be a very popular feature at wp.com, too (where there are 3 million blogs).

    Your list above shows that there are several fairly inconvenient features in wp.com which could usefully be changed.

    The business rationale isn’t quite so clear here. The ability and time to upgrade to CSS and self-hosting to solve these issues is outside the remit of the vast majority of wp.com users. wp.org was once the premier product, but now it is evolving into a testing plate for wp.com, which is where the real numbers lie.

    An alternative approach might now be to provide the best possible and most desirable set of features within the core brand, wp.com, to increase users and market share and thereby boost wp.com’s advertising revenue.

    Limiting user flexibility and control at wp.com might once have offered the best business route, but does it really do so now, and will it do so in the future?

  21. [...] engtech from Internet Duct Tape lists these and further problems with the new feature, shows exactly how to disable it, and offers other advice on “fixing it”. He also links to the always-worth-reading Lorelle, who is also very much not a fan, and who points out: Since the beginning of WordPress.com, one of the most requested features has been the ability to showcase related posts from our own blogs. WordPress.com has activated this ability, but the links link to WordPress.com blogs, not our own. [...]

  22. vjp said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    If you hide the links to other bloggers but they’re still linking to you you’re cheating the system, which isn’t really fair to other folks.

    Yeah, well, if a lot of the “possibly related posts” are coming from VIP blogs and they seem to not have the same “feature,” then who is cheating the system? Why should our blogs drive traffic to theirs and not vice versa?

    @engtech – the code doesn’t work with my theme :( Guess I need to keep looking to see where they put it.

  23. engtech said, on April 27, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    @ Matt:

    Matt, much like the global tags page, I think I’ll see traffic from this in the order of magnitude of less than 15 hits a day (news and top blogs are quite good for traffic, it’s the tag pages and possibly related that aren’t). The problem is the Sphere stuff doesn’t work very well: there’s usually one good link and 2-3 bad ones.

    You’ve got half a good feature here: give people the option to use it only for linking to their own blogs (while removing them from the autogenerated lists on other blogs). I want to have a related posts feature, but I want to have some control over where it points to (without having to continually monitor the links — blog maintenance is enough work as is).

    The CSS hack isn’t an attempt to steal traffic (not that there’s appreciable traffic to steal), but rather a desire to use this feature in the manner in which it was asked for: related links to posts within my blog.

  24. [...] — which is a good feature, and one that users wanted — but done it in such a way that it has really annoyed their users.  Tony alerted me to this, and Lavratus Pradeo has a good, brief [...]

  25. [...] Luckily, I found engtech’s post on how to disable links to other places but at the same time keep links to my own posts, using CSS. [...]

  26. Daemonhunter said, on May 07, 2008 at 2:38 am

    It’s true that we don’t get much control over our own blogs, and sometimes you get the feeling that WordPress.com cares more about expansion of it’s blogging system in terms of users and page views across wordpress.com than improving the experience of bloggers and the tools bloggers use.

  27. [...] Internet Duct Tape > Fixing the WordPress.com Possibly Related Feature [...]

  28. Daemonhunter said, on May 11, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Hi, just thought I’ll let you know. Matt sent me an email, and I posted my response on my blog.

  29. raincoaster said, on May 12, 2008 at 12:46 am

    The minute this feature pulls only from sites using this feature, it will go back on my blog. As it is, it reinforces the hegemony of the Mainstream Media, which is exactly the kind of thing that blogs arose to fight. I can’t imagine what Automattic was thinking when they thought this was a good idea, except possibly earning brownie points with media companies who have a lot of money to spend buying, say, blogging companies.

  30. static brain said, on May 16, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Just goes to show that the only control you can ever have over your blog is to host your own. It probably won’t be long before wordpress.com figures out more ways to get around the fixes being implemented.

  31. A.J. Valliant said, on May 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Great article Engtech. That thing has been driving me nuts. When I’m putting up a fairly personal piece of prose the last thing I want is for it to link to some emo douche’s grocery list.

    Though I did appreciate the absurdity of some of BE’s absurdly offensive election commentary being forcibly linked to reputable political blogs.

  32. [...] best thing to do until WordPress fixes this feature, in my opinion, is to turn it off and maybe even ask WordPress to make sure your blog isn’t [...]

  33. emoboy said, on October 21, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Hey, i’ve got pictures of my new emo hair style
    in http://tinyurl.com/59ps64

  34. Ed Bennett said, on January 04, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks – I just set up my first blog on wordpress.com and encountered this “feature” on my first post. I really appreciate your instructions on how to disable the links.

  35. Leo said, on May 26, 2009 at 11:55 am

    This might seem like something obvious but if you really wanted to control the links on your posts, you’d simply disable the “related” links feature on your wp.com blog and then manually add your own list of related links on your post.


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