The role of expertise in navigating links of influence

Eszter Hargittai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

24 Scopus citations


In this essay, I focus on how the influence of links may be mediated by the skills and expertise that both content producers and viewers are able to mobilize when using the Internet. My main argument is that while lots of factors influence how links are presented on the Web and how users respond to the content that shows up on their screens, people's Internet user abilities remain an important and understudied aspect of navigating links of influence. Both content creators and content users (readers, listeners, viewers) can benefit from a more in-depth understanding of how the Web works. Since such skills are not randomly distributed among the population, certain content providers and content users stand a better chance of benefiting from the medium than others. Relevant know-how will help producers attract attention to their materials. Savvy about the medium will assist users in sidestepping potentially misleading and malicious content. Links' control over what people see is less of a factor in the online behavior of savvy users than it is with those who know less about the Internet. Knowledgeable users know how to interpret various types of links and are able to approach information seeking in a myriad of ways. While some people are considerably dependent on what content is presented to them by aggregators and content providers, others can sidestep many supply-side decisions by turning to alternative ways of browsing the Web's vast landscape. Both provider and seeker have the potential to influence which links will matter to any particular user's experience in the course of a particular information-seeking incident or when confronted with particular content. My main argument is that the weight of how much of this relationship is influenced by the provider versus the user shifts based on the savvy of actors at both the supply and demand sides of the equation. I start the essay by discussing why links matter and the main types of links that exist on the Web, including a brief consideration of how the presentation of sponsored search engine results has changed over time. In the first section, I also consider the types of manipulations that content presenters can employ in order to attract more attention than would otherwise be possible. Then I introduce the concept of user skill, providing examples of what we know regarding people's Internet uses in order to argue that expertise is an important component of how user attention is allocated to online content and how people navigate links of influence. I end by discussing what questions remain about predictors of user savvy and the type of research that would be helpful in answering them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Hyperlinked Society
Subtitle of host publicationQuestioning Connections in the Digital Age
PublisherUniversity of Michigan Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780472050437
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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