A thread at Search Engine Watch forums named Having trouble believing in crosslinking penalties really got me thinking about intentions as a relevancy tool. First, let me summarize the thread so you can get some perspective. The thread discusses a members doubts when it comes to "cross-linking penalties". The member has a handful of sites all somewhat on different topics; apple mac forum, volvo forum, photography site, Garageband news site and an education news blog. The member interlinked each one because of the simple fact he owned each one. In addition, each site is hosted on the same domain name, same server and same IP address. So you can see his doubts.
Other members who are fairly well known around the SEO forum community came in to offer some support. One member explained how a network of jewelry sites that all focus on a niche of jewelry interlinked with each other. The network of sites ranked very well for about a year, until Google basically banned the sites. So this member's advice was be careful.
An other well known member came in to give examples of sites such as Jupiter Media, Developer Shed and even network of hotel sites in my Stockholm SES Coverage. Those types of sites link on all of the pages within their networks, using the same anchor text either at the header or footer of every single page. In addition, most of these sites are on the same C Class, some are on the same IP and some are even residing on the same server (as with the case of the stockholm coverage).
Now we have two examples, the network of jewelry sites and the network of content sites.
The topic of user intent has been discussed time and time again. In the case of the network of content sites, the intent was to build a brand. JupiterMedia, DeveloperShed and the Stockholm example are all proud of the content they have built up and want to build up a brand. My SEO side says, hey, these guys are doing crazy interlinking. But to an average user, it just shows them how many sites and Internet properties Jupiter and DevShed manages. This is often like when you go to a building in the city and they have a sign with the owners name on it. Trump Towers, Trump Casinos, Trump Resorts and so on - just take a look at the property portfolio at http://www.trump.com/.
User intent is critical in defining relevancy when it comes to these gray areas. If your intent includes other intentions outside of ranking number one for Blue Widget, when building these network of sites, then great. If not, or if much of the intent has to do with rankings, then you need to sit down and rethink your strategy. The example of the member above with the apple mac forum, volvo forum, photography site, Garageband news site and an education news blog, is an example of someone who is proud to have built up five sites. I doubt he has a goal to rank number one for "garageband" in Google.