The soft link is the footprint you leave as you pass between the words. The soft link is your shadow, a silent connection between one idea and the next. A neural link.

When you hard link words and phrases in your writeups you've only done half of your linking. You should also connect your node to other nodes. A hard link alone doesn't do this. It only offers a user an option to travel to a specific node. A soft link, on the other hand, creates a hyperlink back to the writeup you've just written. More to the point, it creates this new link on a completely different node. An advertisement, if that's what you're interested in, for the next E2 soft link surfer. Fundamentally, it doubles the chances of your node being noticed, read and accessed in the long run. Hard links don't help you in the long run at all...except to demonstrate to future voters that you knew how to use them.

More important than the voting/xp issue is the fact that by creating soft links you're acting as a 'librarian' for E2...helping to sub-categorize and connect all of the different ideas and data the web site is accumulating. The search engine acts as a poor man's card catalog but a lot of stuff can fall through the cracks. The soft links go a long way towards making E2 searchable and infinitely more useful.

Any given node has a limit of 48 visible soft links below it. Those links change based on use, however, so a link more often traversed will move higher on the list and stay longer.

Creating a soft link is anonymous, like voting.

Example: for the node Madonna some basic soft links would be:

There are easily dozens of others. Some spontaneous soft links could be:

See Also:

Link and Link
pipe link
hard link
firm link
I love softlinks. They can be extremely useful and accomplish many things. Uh oh, I feel a list coming on.

  • Connect the dots. No one has all the information that you have. If you know of something that adds to or is related to a node, show it to the others reading that node! Other people have already shown you! Chances are that's how you arrived where you are in the first place!
    ie: if you see that someone has written a node about gentrification, take it upon yourself to softlink Wicker Park as an example of such.

  • Free nodevertising. Not the seedy kinds of self promotion, like throwing your shit around in the chatterbox and such. If you have a previous write-up you think lends something to another one, showcase it there. Its all good.
    ie: Go ahead, its perfectly acceptable to add a segway to your node about Frank Zappa's poignant songwriting underneath someone else's description of songs that send shivers down their spine.

  • Play on words. There are so many different spellings, different opinions and double meanings for things, why not exploit them all through softlinking. I mean, I am not advocating being an asshole about it but no one is going to stop you.
    ie: so someone softlinked cunnilingus to things that taste good with macaroni and cheese. so what. rule!

  • Make a point. Again, there are nice ways and not so nice ways to do this. I guess both ways have merit, if you really want to be a jerk, but you don't have to do that to make a bold statement.
    ie: I may be a Mac user but I certainly don't take it personally when I arrive at a node like the most hideous evil in the universe is right here in my living room and see the gratuitous softlinking of various Macintosh nodes down below.

  • Give the noder some feedback. Softlink directly in response to the node. Softlinks can be a great alternative to simply voting something down which will result in nothing and will likely go unnoticed. You can often convey alot more about how you really feel without hurting someone's XP by adding an anonymous and poignant softlink.
    ie: I mean, if you see something that is full of crap, why not go right ahead and add a "this is full of crap" softlink to their node. Hey, you may think that is crass but I don't care. I often create custom softlinks for this exact purpose when I feel I want to say something about a particular node. I mean come on, voting things down is getting so passeĀ“, don't you think? If you've got something to say, say it!

    Softlinks rule.

There are three kinds of links here on Everything2. Hardlinks are located within the body of the writeup. Firmlinks are located above the node itself and point directly to a closely-related node. Softlinks are located beneath all of the writeups. While a hardlink doesn't usually change unless the writeup author changes the hardlink, it's possible for the softlinks to change quite a bit, as different people link other writeups together. The more often a softlink has been clicked on, the higher it rises in the softlink list, indicating its importance to other noders...

There are two different ways to create a softlink. The easiest is to click on a hardlink -- a new softlink is automatically created both at the original node and at the linking node. The other way to create a softlink is to type the name of a node into the search bar at the top of the page. Again, softlinks will be created at both nodes.

So why are softlinks important? Well, it makes E2 a lot easier to browse through. If you're looking up a node about, for instance, Japan, all of the softlinks at the bottom of the node will give you some more places to go look up related information. Of course, there may also be a number of seemingly-unrelated softlinks at the Japan node, like Pete Townsend, confusion, Satan, This node sucks, or Detroit. This can mean either (1) there's actually a connection between the two links that you weren't previously aware of, (2) some people like to link insulting comments to writeups, or (3) the universe is a random, chaotic place, and it's impossible to make sense of everything that goes on. No matter what the explanation, there are important things to be learned.

And why is it important for you to make softlinks to all your nodes? Well, it makes it easier for people to find what you've written. Very few people are just going to randomly surf onto your writeup about The Day I Caught My Dog Having Sex with My Cat -- it's just not something that people tend to go searching for. But if you create softlinks to nodes like dog, cat, sex, and other important and related topics, then people who are reading about dogs, cats, or sex may see your softlink and could click over to read your (hopefully) undying prose.

Here on E2, the softlink is of paramount importance! Worship it as you would your gods! Remember the softlink, and keep it holy!

Questions and answers about soft links.

How many soft links does a node hold?

The database stores unlimited soft links, but it does not display them all. At the current moment, regular users can see 48 soft links, gods can see 64, and people who are not logged in can see 24.

What is the difference between the links at the top and the bottom?

Softlinks are ordered by strength, with the strongest ones at the top, and the weakest ones at the bottom.

How do I create soft links?

First you have to be logged in. Next you should go to the node you would like to link. Creating a soft link requires invoking the search function. You can do this in two different ways. The first way is by merely typing the word or phrase that you want to link into the search box, and clicking through to that node (this creates a soft link in each node). The second way is to click on a hardlink, and follow it through to another node, this also links both nodes.

You can also create soft links by manually typing in urls, but that is the hard of way of doing it.

It isn't working, what am I doing wrong?

First make sure you are logged in. Then you should make sure that you are attempting to link from the entire node, not just from a single writeup. If you see a "Go back to" link at the top, then you are viewing a single writeup, simply click that "Go back to" link to go to the entire node, and then link from there.

Sometimes the default theme will not properly create soft links. If you are using this theme, then try switching to another theme. You can switch themes by following the "preferences" link in the Epicenter.

I am trying to make a soft link to Touch the Puppy". It is showing up in my node, but I don't see it in the other node. What am I doing wrong?

Some nodes have a lot of strong links, so many of them that it will take many searches to successfully bump one off the bottom. If you simply must link to one of these nodes, then just keep searching (or clicking), and eventually your link will show up (although it may not be worth the effort).

How many soft links should I make on my nodes?

This is entirely a matter of personal preference, but you must ask yourself if you want people to read your node after it falls out of New Writeups. I personally try to fill my entire visible table of 48 soft links. If you have time, then I would recommend doing the same thing. It ensures that your node will have readers for many years to come.

I have a node that won't fill up with soft links, no matter how hard I try. It has 47 of them, and I simply can't get another one to show up!

Ah, you have discovered a hidden soft link. Some nodes do not make visible soft links, E2 Nuke Request, Edit these E2 Titles, and Nodeshells Marked for Destruction are a few of them. The links are still there, but they are not displayed. Your "missing link" can probably be attributed to one of those nodes accidentally being linked to it.

Are there any shortcuts to this soft linking process? I am a bit lazy you know!

Yes, there are several shortcuts, all of them based around a single idea. You do not have to wait for the page to load when making a link. If what you are searching for (or clicking on), would have brought you directly to another node (without a "Findings:" or "Duplicates Found" page), then the link will be made, even if you hit ESCAPE to cancel the pageload, or click on another link before it loads. The link will be made as long as the server gets the command, you don't have to wait around to see it happen.

This means that you can quickly click every link in your writeup, one right after another. Go ahead and let the last one go all the way through, search back and you will find a nice collection of links has cropped up underneath your node. This also works with the search button, you can use your search button (with "ignore exact" checked), to quickly link related nodes to yours. Here is how it works. Type the all the keywords of your node into the search box (when I was linking my Star Castle node, I chose "star, castle, and arcade). Hit the search button and you should get a list of results (which may be anywhere from a few nodes to several hundred). You can then go down the list clicking these nodes, and they will all link to your node. Just click fast, or hit your ESCAPE key in-between clicks to avoid having to load all those pages.

I have filled up my soft links all nice and neat, but I would like to change the order of a few of them (to put the most related ones at the top). How do I do this?

That is simple, just click away on the ones that you want transported to the top of your node. Once again, you don't have to wait for the page to load, just throw down several clicks in a row to make a link rise in strength.

Ok, I linked up my node all nice and proper, am I finished now?

Perhaps for now, but you should always be on the lookout for more nodes to link to. Always check "New Writeups" to see if there are any new nodes that should be linked to some of your old ones. For example; if you notice a science fiction movie node in new writeups, you might as well link any science fiction movie nodes you have done. This is beneficial to everyone, as it helps people find related information.

Is it ever possible to soft link a node too much?

Not normally. There are a few famous nodes that are linked to thousands of other nodes. But you shouldn't really have to worry about overlinking anything. You may want to avoid soft linking to the daylogs, as this can be seen as nodevertising. Other than that you can safely link away to your heart's content. Your effort will be paid back over time by increased readership, and higher node reputations. It really is worth the extra effort.

I have another question about soft links that you did not cover here. What should I do.

Feel free to /msg any gods or editors with your questions. They are a very helpful bunch overall, and are usually happy to answer your questions. If you have a question that you feel should be answered here, then simply send me a /msg, and I will update this writeup to include your question.

Thanks to N-Wing for the answers to a few of these.

The soft link is Everything2's killer app.

E2 is a website concerned predominantly with text: reading, writing and textual interaction. Soft links primarily facilitate the first (and, since guest users may not write or interact, arguably the most important) of these.

It works like this. When you navigate from one node to another node - via hard link, soft link, firm link, or manual search - you leave "footprints". Everybody does, in fact, the whole time they are on this site. E2 records these footprints. The soft links at the bottom of a node are actually a list of the other nodes which have the most footprints leading to them. The first soft link is the most popular destination after reading the node, and the rest become progressively less popular. If there are fewer than the maximum number of soft links then this node is poorly-travelled, and not enough footprints have been made.

By going back and forth between two nodes multiple times, noders make the tracks deeper and the most popular destinations rise to the top of the soft link pile.

Fairly simple stuff, yes?

Okay, let's look at this thing from the point of view of a passive reader. You finish reading the node and finally, at the bottom, you are provided with a list of possible further destinations, with the most popular destinations towards the top. In other words, you get to see an image of the footprints - you see what other people were thinking when they finished the node before you. You can see their collective train of thought.

The resulting soft link pile isn't necessarily coherent, or even relevant to the subject matter, but hell if it doesn't turn up something worth reading, nine times out of ten. And each node after that has more soft links, so naturally you open more browser tabs and keep reading. Presented with such a wealth of interesting things to read, the result is hours spent wandering across E2, reading dozens or hundreds of recursively interesting nodes, getting sucked in - and leaving a trail which, by the very nature of its construction, is likely to suck in others too.

This is the entire secret of how E2 works. No other site has this.

Wikipedia and other wikis allow hard links, which, for factual writeups, are great. A factual writeup (e.g. stars) will almost certainly contain references to other related subjects which an interested reader would wish to pursue (planets, hydrogen, cosmology). These could be justifiably hard linked. But E2 contains much which is not strictly factual: for example, fiction, poetry and daylogs. Somebody reading a poem about a star isn't going to come across the word "cosmology" and think, "Hmm, I want to find out about cosmology", they're going to want to read more poems by the same author, or more writeups on the subject of distance and loneliness. Hard links and pipe links can help with this, but aren't ideal. They can be obstrusive or inappropriate.

Another approach is tag-based systems, such as those used by Digg and Slashdot and, these days, many blogs. These rely on users to manually input metadata which they think is relevant and which they think will lead to more relevant content. But this requires conscious effort and relies on the consistent intelligence and diligence of the users. And it's a pretty tall order for a site with 400,000+ nodes!

With E2, we do still have those options (hard links and a forthcoming tagging system - plus, it's possible to manually tread and re-tread soft links if you can be bothered to do so), but they take a back seat to the natural (organic?) soft linking process, by which noders contribute that metadata subconsciously, according to whatever they were thinking about at the time, and by which E2 is gradually bound together, tighter and tighter, by nothing more than the continous browsing of all its users. Huzzah!

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