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.
Nice to be mentioned on BBC News, but what’s up with the disparaging “peppered with annoying links”? Especially when Boing Boing is mentioned as “cool” in the same sentence…their links are at least as annoying as mine. And in May, four of those “annoying links” went to the BBC News site. Up yours, BBC!
David Carr wrote an article for the NY Times about the Washington Post’s recent decision to close down comments on their blog when one of their threads turned ugly. As the article points out, the issue of web sites having problems dealing with feedback (particularly published feedback like comments) is not localized to mainstream media publications:
Mickey Kaus of kausfiles.com, which does not carry comments, said that “the world is crying out for the jerk-zapper,” although he added that he thought that The Washington Post’s Web site overreacted. BoingBoing, a heavily trafficked “directory of wonderful things,” shut down its comments section last year. “We took a lot of heat over it,” said Xeni Jardin, a founder of the site. “But until we are able to come up with a better comments system - most of what is out there is too crude - it is not worth the trouble.
If you’re wondering why the comments on kottke.org aren’t on more often, this is the reason. This site is a one-person operation and even though I work on it full-time, I don’t have the throughput to manage a lot of threads. Comment gardening (as I call it) is hard work if you want to maintain an appropriate level of discourse. And as Xeni said, the current technological and user experience solutions suck. Approved commenting, sign-in to comment, Slashdot-like comment moderation…they all have their problems.
As an experiment back in October, I opened the comments on all threads on kottke.org for a little over a week. During that time, I kept track of my comment gardening duties, basically everything I did to keep those threads clear of trolling, flaming, off-topic comments, and the like. The only thing I didn’t record was how many times per day I checked for activity in all the open threads — every 15-30 minutes or so while I was awake (~8am to midnight) — because I would have been too busy recording the checking to actually do the checking. At one point, I had almost 60 simultaneous threads open and was spending half my day keeping up with all of them.
After more than a week, I stopped recording everything…even though most of the threads were still open and the comments, flames, trolls, and spam kept pouring in. But the resulting document will still give you some idea of what’s involved with opening comments on kottke.org. I would love better tools to deal with this because I enjoy having comments open on the site and so do my readers. But for now, I think it’s a better use of my time to focus on other aspects of the site and open comments when I feel a particular post would benefit from them.
 You can’t imagine the reasons I’ve heard about why comments are off on kottke.org. Most of them are variations on the theme of: “All the big bloggers have their comments turned off because they’re too stuck-up and self-important to care what their readers have to say, those arrogant bastards. They can’t stand people disagreeing with them.” And so on.
Cory is leaving the EFF (at least on a full-time basis; he’ll still be an EFF Fellow) to be a full-time writer (Boing Boing, novels, short stories, etc.). Good luck!
Google search for “i don’t read kottke” versus a search for “i don’t read boing boing”. Nottke** wins, 39 to 37! Sit on it, Cory!
** Nottke = not Kottke, coinage by John Gruber.
Over on the Odeo blog, Ev talks about a potentially different type of podcasting, casual content creation:
But, personally, I’m much more of a casual content creator, especially in this realm. The other night, I sent a two-minute podcast to my girlfriend, who was out of town, and got a seven-second “podcast” back that I now keep on my iPod just because it makes me smile. I sent an “audio memo” to my team a while back for something that was much easier to say than type, and I think they actually listened.
A blogging analogue would be Instapundit or Boing Boing (published, broadcast) versus a private LiveJournal (shared, narrowcast). It’s like making a phone call without the expectation of synchronous communication…it’s all voicemail. I thought about doing this the other day when I needed to respond to an email with a lengthy reply. In that particular instance, I ended up sending an email instead because it was the type of thing that might have been forwarded to someone else for comment and returned, etc. But I can see myself using audio like this in the future.
 Integrated podcasting tools within LiveJournal would be huge, methinks.