Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Really Simple Syndication? - or Stealing?

A Contrary View

Note: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

RSS - it stands for Really Simple Syndication. It's how bloggers 'syndicate' their blogs. What does this mean?

It means that the full text of our blog posts are there to be picked up by any "feed reader," unless we change the settings of our blog to only provide an excerpt, or no feed at all. This is generally considered a good thing, because many people read so many blogs, they don't have time to visit each one directly. They 'read the feeds' in a feed reader such as
and others. Google, Bloglines, Newsgator, and the others don't have to contact every blogger and ask them if its OK if they deliver the full text of their blog posts to any reader who subscribes through their service.  By providing an RSS feed we are granting permission ahead of time.

And while bloggers might be tempted to only feed an 'excerpt', forcing the reader to visit their blog to read the whole post, many if not most readers will refuse to do so, and just won't subscribe to blogs that only provide an excerpt.  And those blogs will get read by less people.

There are some websites that aggregate feeds by topic. For example, AllTop has a Genealogy page.. They created this page back in 2008. My blog is on it, as are the blogs of many of the top geneabloggers. All of them know they are there, because AllTop informed them that they were. (At least, they informed me. So I assume they informed everyone else.) The only real service AllTop provides in my mind is excerpts of blog posts, and links to the original. (They do provide listings of the 'most popular' blog posts too.) They put up ads on their pages. They have no original content. Their purpose is obvious - make money from the ads. AllTop doesn't specialize in genealogy -- they have these theme pages for almost every conceivable theme. At least, any theme they can come up with to generate money for themselves. (This is how I view their business model.)  I know I didn't have a problem with it when AllTop informed me of it. I figured they might direct more people to my site. If not, they are only publishing excerpts. It's fair use. My feed is out there.

A recent addition to the Web is RootsFeed. They do specialize in Genealogy. There is no information on the website about who is behind it, but it's certainly possible they are more knowledgeable about the genealogy blogging community than AllTop is. Several genealogy bloggers, some of whom have feeds which appear on AllTop, have become riled up by having their feeds appear on RootsFeed.

Some of the commentary:  DearMyrtle, EOGN, FootnoteMaven, GeneaBloggers

The reasons usually given
1) They provide no original content
2) Excerpts from our blog posts are next to their ads, generating money for them
3) They imply through the use of the word 'contributors' that we are active participants.

The first two apply to AllTop as well. Arguably, the third complaint has been partially addressed by RootsFeed by removing the word 'contributor' and with a new footer on blog excerpts
"This is a syndicated post written by AUTHOR from BLOGNAME"- with the BlogName linked directly to the blog.
Some bloggers might still object, arguing 'syndicated post' implies an active contributor. But it doesn't. I suspect legally, if you have an RSS feed, your blog is syndicated to any and all feedreaders. It doesn't matter where that feedreader is, and what it is being used for. Do some of the major feedreaders put up ads next to the feeds? I suspect it's possible. I know Google Reader and Bloglines don't, but that doesn't mean others don't. There's no way to keep track of all the feedreading software out there.

I also know that the only differences I see between AllTop and Rootsfeed right now, are
1) Rootsfeed specializes in genealogy information. That, arguably, is a plus.
2) Rootsfeed does require you to click twice to get to the full blog post on the original site.  They provide a short excerpt (headline and the first sentence or so) with a link to a longer excerpt, and then a link to the original site.  They're obviously looking to double their ad revenue.
3) AllTop did go to the trouble to contact the bloggers and inform them their posts were being used. After the fact, and not beforehand, but still, a sign of greater professionalism. Though I'm not sure greater legality. The contact emails weren't beforehand asking for permission. They, like Rootsfeed, assumed they didn't need permission. And I suspect they're right. We grant that permission through having an RSS feed.  Otherwise, Google, Bloglines, and Newsgator would have to contact us as well.  And I know they haven't contacted me.

[We don't grant permission to excerpt without attribution. That's no longer syndication, but plagiarism. Taking credit for the work of others. Neither AllTop nor RootsFeed does this.]

Note: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV

Here's an article - 4 years old - that does quote some lawyers.


footnoteMaven said...

I love contrary views. My post is my opinion and my interpretation.

Their "syndicated post" comment is new. I objected most strongly to the "posted by" language implying an association with them.

As to AllTop, I requested to be placed on their site, giving my permission. I also suggested other bloggers who might be interested in their service. As I remember, all bloggers had the right to decline their invitation.

Always enjoy a differing opinion that makes me stop and think.


Barbara Poole said...

John, what an excellent article, and thanks for explaining everything clearly. However, in 15 years, I've had a lot used without my permission, and companies making $ off my information. Beginning with FTM, then Ancestry. So, I don't copyright my information, I have always wanted to share. Right now, one of my blogs is on the home page of RootsFeed, and I just accept it. It may bring me more contacts. If I let everything like that bother me, I wouldn't post anything. Also, there are a lot of bloggers who are trying to make their own money, selling their own books and products, it seems to be a thing of the times.

John said...

FootnoteMaven -- You or someone else may have suggested my blog to AllTop. I know the email I received from them mentioned I had been included in their list, and told me I might be getting new visitors because of it, but said nothing about how to remove myself.

They do now (and probably did then) indicate how to do that in their website FAQ. However, RootsFeed also appears to be removing people who request it. (Though they don't yet explain on their website a process to go through for that. I have no idea if AllTop was prepared initially with that either. They've been around since 2004, so the Genealogy page was rather late in the game for them.)

footnoteMaven said...

Must confess, I wrote to one of the founders of All Top and suggested the genealogy page. We talked, they agreed, as this person had a great deal of respect for genealogy.

I also believe I suggested your blog. You know how I love the St. Louis connection. Am I forgiven?


John said...

I'm actually glad to know that AllTop's adding a genealogy page was a response to a request from the community. And no one ever needs to apologize to me for recommending my blog to anyone.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

You raise a very good point. Right now Rootsfeed comes up as a blank page so I can't see for myself how they presented the content.

As for Alltop, Apple's Tree is listed under Personal History News but I have never been contacted by anyone at Alltop.