The Shyftr debate: If you provide all your content on feeds, does that give permission for anyone to do anything with it?


This is a very interesting issue and discussion that has a long, long way to run. Shyftr is a service that uses blogs’ RSS feeds to replicate their content, and encourages people to comment on the blogs within their own service. On one level, it is providing a useful service so that people not only have a reader for all their feeds, but can share feeds and recommendations. However blog writers are finding that the discussion their posts are generating is not happening at their own site, so they are not getting the traffic, attention, and potential to monetize the visitors.

Louis Gray gives a very good overview of the issue, covering the many feed services that have enabled comments within their site. Louis is ambivalent, but basically believes that bloggers need to go to where the conversation is happening:

As a blogger, I am a content creator. I don’t want my content stolen, or reposted without attribution or under somebody else’s name. But I am also a huge advocate of RSS and continuing to adapt where the conversation is being held. Just as my blog’s RSS views have undoubtedly eclipsed my blog page views, I would not be surprised to see that more comments on my posts might eventually live outside of my blog. It would behoove me and other bloggers to be aware of the other places the conversation will be taking place, and to engage there, in my opinion, rather than railing against the continued evolution of how we’re consuming content and engaging online.

Robert Scoble agrees. He believes that:

The era when bloggers could control where the discussion of their stuff took place is totally over.

This is a trend that the best bloggers should embrace. Me? I follow wherever the conversation takes me.

As someone else wrote: steal my content please.

However Tony Hung of Deep Jive Interests explains in detail why he think a line has been crossed here.

Its not the conversations being hosted somewhere else that bothers me, its that there are a new crop of services which would not otherwise exist without republishing someone else’s content without the original author’s explicit permission. Well, lots of people’s content. And you can dress it up and all kinds of clothing and all kinds of nifty wrappers, but ultimately that’s what this is about.

And to me, that’s what the line is, and in my mind services like Shyftr (wittingly or unwittingly) cross it.

I think there is a moral and ethical obligation to obtain content [sic. I presume Tony means ‘consent’] from the content owners about reproducing feeds in their entirety, particularly if its going to be used as part of public service which a) has or will generate profits from a service which is based on those feeds and therefore is a b) service which cannot exist without reproducing (i.e. “copying”) those feeds.

Mathew Ingram agrees that Shyftr should ask bloggers for permission to use the full feeds from their blogs:

The idea that is taking a full feed and posting it on their site and building a business around it, seems to cross a line.

Top Ten Sources…eventually changed its focus and began asking bloggers for permission before reposting their full feeds. I think that’s probably the best way for Shyftr to handle it as well…

It’s a deeply interesting question to grapple with. Like Louis, I believe that providing feeds from any content site is an enormous enabler of value to the entire community, and to the content creator. However there is the potential for a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’, where the behavior of a few within a common space wreck the experience for everyone. In this case this could ultimately mean that content creators become reluctant to provide feeds, which would truly be a tragedy.

In principle I don’t have a problem with sites creating conversations out of other people’s content. If people are discussing my content elsewhere, sure I’ll go there and engage. But I think the style of Shyftr does cross a line. For me that line is that in many cases they provide no direct link back to the source of the content. (It’s not quite clear what the system is – for some reason some blogs inside Shyftr have a link back to the source, but only a handful, and there are no links back from individual posts.) I generally don’t have a problem if people syndicate my content. But they must acknowledge the source, and I strongly believe they should link back. If they do, they can use the content in innovative ways that meet the licensing of my content.

There is no doubt that there will be many more business models that attempt to use feed content in innovative ways. It will be fascinating to see how the discussion evolves, and how companies respond to bloggers’ opinions on how their content is used.

[UPDATE APR 13:] Companies are (sometimes) getting good at being responsive. Shyftr’s CEO wrote on the weekend of changes to the format of the site, reflecting the recent comments by bloggers: “We have decided to revise the format around our discussions. We will only display the title, author, and date of an item where discussions occur outside of the reader.”

3 replies
  1. ShyftrDebater
    ShyftrDebater says:

    After all that’s written about Shyftr I went to sign up to see what the fuss was all about, and now I’m a bit confused, you write this:
    ” (It’s not quite clear what the system is – for some reason some blogs inside Shyftr have a link back to the source, but only a handful, and there are no links back from individual posts.)”
    There are links back from ANY post in Shyftr. Click the title of any article, anywhere, and it takes you back to your original web site where the blog/article was written.
    So essentially Shyftr is acknowledging the source, and linking back. They’re syndicating the content, just as you mentioned.

  2. Louis Gray
    Louis Gray says:

    I’d say 95% or more of the people who reacted negatively to Shyftr had never actually logged into the service. But they are trying to work with the blogosphere, to give clear attribution, and to offer partial feeds with headlines where discussions are taking place, to placate those who had heartburn around it. But in my opinion, they shouldn’t have needed to do that. It’s our responsibility as bloggers to be aware of where the conversation is going, and adapt. Those that don’t will fall behind those who do.

  3. Ross Dawson
    Ross Dawson says:

    Hey Louis, great to have you drop by. I have to respect your opinion on this, as someone who is out there exploring the boundaries of blogging. I’m sure you’ll do well, whichever way this all turns. I guess I agree with you on this. However it does everyone a disservice if conversations get fragmented. That doesn’t mean they have to reside solely on the blog, but there needs to be an easy way to see them from there.
    ShyftrDebater, yes it’s true that there are individual post link backs, but not at the blog main page level in most cases.

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