Blogging – It’s about the conversations everywhere, stupid.

There’s an interesting debate going on in the blogosphere and at the center is Shyftr, yet another content aggregator. (I think my next post should be on ‘How many content aggregators do we really need?’)

Tony Hung’s railing against ‘content scrapers’ and Robert Scoble’s proclaiming that "Era of blogger’s control is over’. There are two issues here, one is about content plagiarism that Tony is most concerned about ,

However, in my mind, when a service cannot exist *without* republishing others content in its entirety, and directly profits from that republishing without the original consent of the author, there’s something that isn’t right.

I see Tony’s point, but bloggers can limit or block their feeds from being published in their entirety, thereby forcing folks to come to their blogs for the whole content. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I don’t condone plagiarism, but isn’t this is the same argument that traditional news media used when blogging was in its infancy? As I recall, there was a huge hue and cry about how bloggers were taking content from the news media and reposting with some comments on their own blogs, thereby driving traffic away from the traditional news media sites and to their own blog. Ironic, that bloggers have now started complaining about others ‘stealing’ their content.

The second and much bigger issue is around ‘fractured conversations’ that have proliferated due to feed readers like Friendfeed that allow comments. Louis Gray says,

The Web as a whole has clamored for full RSS feeds, not partial, so we don’t have to return to the originating site. Some of us have just as loudly asked for comments and conversations to enter the world of the RSS feed reader. Now that we’re starting to see what it’s like, maybe it’s not what we had fully anticipated.

That’s a great point, Louis. I can’t help but wonder if bloggers ever had control over the conversations in the first place?! Blogging has always been about distributed content (and conversation). The reason blogging took off the way it did, was because discussions were no longer monopolized by a few individuals/media networks. Some Joe Schmoe in Idaho could start a conversation around organic potatoes and get a gazillion people participating in that conversation. That’s true democratization of content and communication, thanks to the Internet and social media, blogging included.

I really liked Alexander van Elsa’s thoughts on this,

Conversation takes place everywhere. On the web, at home, in a restaurant, with family, friends, work, you name it. There is no controlling that, but we shouldn’t want to either.

To be honest. If a blog post of mine leads to discussion anywhere on the web I would be very satisfied with it. I’m not in it for the traffic, the amount of readers, the number of pageviews. I blog because I believe that I might be able to give something to the people that want to take the time to read my stuff. …It tells me that the things I have written could perhaps inspire others to do something with it, completing and starting new circles.

Say, you’re at a cocktail party and you start a conversation with one person. If it’s an interesting conversation, more folks will join in and the conversation will happen around you, with you. But if you (your conversation) aren’t engaging, folks may very well take that discussion elsewhere. I think the same theory applies to blogs, if you aren’t engaging the reader, they will move on and take their conversation with them. It doesn’t matter if you were the ‘original’ initiator of that conversation or just a passerby.

Here’s the thing, if someone picks up my feed through Friendfeed, and starts a conversation around it, I am okay with it. But you can’t force conversation and you can’t control where conversations happen, that’s true offline and that’s even more true online, where it is becoming easier to ‘move’ conversations.

That being said, would I love to have some type of ‘comment aggregator’ to help me track my ‘popularity’? You betcha. For folks who blog for a living, the lack of trackability (and measurement) is a real issue and needs to be resolved. I think that the social media tools like feed readers have evolved so fast that the players/bloggers haven’t been able to keep up. Now we are scrambling to control the conversation, instead of enhancing the tools that caused this ‘fracturization’ of conversation in the first place.

Last year, Washington Post reported on how RIAA was suing music fans. I saw many commonalities between that debate and this current one. Here’s an interesting insight,

As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don’t usually kill off old media: That’s the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.

I think blogging is slowly turning into the ‘old media’ and the same advice holds true. I don’t think the question is about ‘picking sides’ as Scoble would have us do, it’s more about the fact that the Internet is constantly evolving and blogging, bloggers, and blogging metrics also need to evolve. It’s Darwinism, pure and simple, you can’t stop change, the only choice we have is to adapt.


4 responses to “Blogging – It’s about the conversations everywhere, stupid.

  1. Like I said on eWeek, it is really tempting to spin this as a “bloggers are getting their come-upance” angle — its irresistable, perhaps.

    The problem is that while bloggers may have cut and pasted portions of articles, very few, if any bloggers of repute (i.e. outfits that newspapers should be worried about in stealing their audience or traffic) have copied entire articles, consistently, and based their entire blog in this way.

    It may be a subtle difference, but I think its an important one.

    I’m not going to get riled up because conversations are or are not on my blog; what I do get riled up is when another service / blog / institution is grabbing all of my content and reposting it on another site for public consumption without the courtesy of asking for my permission at the very least.

    I totally agree that things change, and when an idea’s time has come there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

    However, I don’t think the time has come yet for everyone to be ok with — and fine with — the wholesale reposting of ideas and content without any / enough regard for the original author of the piece.

    Bloggers worth worrying about have never done this (I am almost positive) against mainstream media, and certainly as a standard today, none of them would ever be caught doing so.

    Now, all of this is a moot point since Shyftr has taken down full repostings of feeds in the public domain (it works as a private feed reader, however), but I felt the need to step in and leave my 3c (four, really. This is a long comment) — humbly on behalf of myself, and perhaps other bloggers out there.

    tony @ dji

  2. The conversation is everywhere. One of the major things I believe that’s getting lost here is that it’s our responsibility to find those influential centers for discussion, and to participate. Those that do participate will be leaders going forward. Those that cling to the old ways or “one right way” will be left behind.

    Great post and summary.

  3. Hi there Tony,

    Thanks for the comment!

    My commentary was more about the evolution of blogging and related social media tools. It wasn’t meant as a judgment call on ‘bloggers deserve what they’ve got coming’.

    I am no expert but as far as I know, feeds are controlled by the bloggers. I have the option to display either excerpts or full feeds in any feed aggregator. I don’t know if Shyftr was circumventing those RSS settings and ‘scraping’ content off bloggers’ sites as you suggested, but I can see why that would be ‘crossing the line’. Shyftr provides links to the author’s blog, so it’s not they are posting anon without crediting the creator and as long as there is attribution, it’s okay by me.

    This is a great debate and I do believe that (‘interventions’ by) well-known bloggers like yourself help maintain the balance between ‘good and evil’ in the blogosphere. But I think the bigger (related issue) is the loss of revenue to the content owners and I don’t think the answer is as simple as – prevent anyone from copying my content without my explicit permission – because IMHO, that defeats the spirit of social media. The debate should really be around how can bloggers track and monetize content and popularity across the gazillion social sites where their content/conversation happens to show up? Now that’s a debate worth having 🙂



  4. Thanks, Louis! 🙂

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