Extreme borrowing in the blogosphere APR 09 2009
In the past week, both Joshua Schachter and Matt Haughey published articles that were excerpted in the Voices section of All Things Digital, a web site owned by Dow Jones and run by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg of the WSJ. Each excerpt was accompanied by a link to the original articles. Schachter and Haughey both reacted negatively to All Things Digital's posting of their work. Andy Baio has collected responses from Schachter, Haughey, All Things Digital's Kara Swisher, other writers whose stuff has been excerpted in the Voices section, and a couple other long-time online writers. Merlin Mann's comment on Twitter sums up what the independent writers seem to be irritated with:
Republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called "feed scraping." At AllThingsD, it's called "a compliment."
It does suck that ATD's linking technique makes it appear as though Schachter and Haughey are in the employ of Dow Jones and that DJ has the copyright on what they wrote. ATD should make the lack of affiliation more clear. Other than that, is the ATD post really that bad? In many ways, All Things Digital's linking technique is more respectful of the author of the original piece than that of a typical contemporary blog. For comparison purposes, here are screenshots of Schachter's original article as linked to from a typical blog (in this case, Boing Boing) and by All Things Digital.
Go read both posts (ATD, BB) and then come back. With its short excerpt and explicit authorship (i.e. there's no doubt that Joshua Schachter wrote those words), the ATD post is clearly just an enticement for the reader to go read the original post. On the other hand, BB's post summarizes most of Schachter's argument and includes an extensive excerpt of the juiciest part of the original piece. The post is clearly marked as being "posted by Cory Doctorow" so a less-than-careful reader might assume that those are Doctorow's thoughts about URL shorteners.
[Metaphorically speaking, the ATD post is like showing the first 3 minutes of a movie and then prodding the viewer to go see the rest of it in a theater while BB's post is like the movie trailer that gives so much of the story away (including the ending) that you don't really need to watch the actual movie.]
What ends up happening is that blogs like Boing Boing -- and I'm very much not picking on BB here...this is a very common and accepted practice in the blogosphere -- provide so much of the gist and actual text of the thing they're pointing to that readers often don't end up clicking through to the original. To make matters worse, some readers will pass along BB's post instead of Schachter's post...it becomes, "hey, did you see what Boing Boing said about URL shortening services?" And occassionally (but more often than you might think) someone will write a post about something interesting, it'll get linked by a big blog that summarizes and excerpts extensively, and then the big blog's post will appear on the front page of Digg and generally get linked around a lot while the original post and its author get screwed.
So I guess my question is: why is All Things Digital
getting put through the wringer receiving scrutiny here for something that seems a lot more innocuous than what thousands of blogs are doing every day? Shouldn't we be just as or more critical of sites like Huffington Post, Gawker, Apartment Therapy, Engadget, Boing Boing, Buzzfeed, Lifehacker, etc. etc. etc. that extensively excerpt and summarize?
Update: I'm pulling a couple of quotes up from the comments so that the opinions of the people involved aren't misrepresented.
I really just objected to the byline on the ATD thing. It made it appear that there was a relationship when there wasn't. If there is curation, the curator should be the one noted as making the choices.
All the complaints stem from the affiliation issue. Running ads and having comments on an excerpt are only an issue if it's presented as original content, instead of curation. Put an editor's name on there, remove the author photos, throw it in a blockquote, and all these complaints go away.