Ramblings

by Mike Masnick




How Dare You Make My Content More Valuable!

from the it's-not-so-tricky dept

Perhaps it's not that surprising, but it's a bit upsetting to still see so many people having difficulty with the idea that having others increase the value of your content is a good thing. There are the obvious cases, such as the entertainment industry lawsuits against sites and services that help promote their content. Or, publishers and authors suing Google over their book scanning project that basically will create a tremendous card catalog for books that is already helping to drive more sales. Earlier this year, in looking at some of these cases, it seemed that the only way to make sense of them was to chalk it up to jealousy. These other services were generally making some money themselves, but they were doing so by making others' content more valuable. That should be a win-win for everyone. After all, they weren't charging the original content owner to make his or her content more valuable, but just doing so on their own -- and therefore there should be nothing at all wrong with them monetizing that value for themselves. The payout to the content owner is increased anyway.

However, something started to become clear last week, when we wrote about the similar misunderstanding from News.com editor Charles Cooper, in that he claimed that Google was making money and giving nothing back. Specifically, Cooper was upset about the lack of a monetary payout, even though the content he produced is available for anyone to read free online. The problem was that Cooper had difficulty realizing that Google was paying. It was paying by driving additional traffic to News.com (and plenty of other sites) by providing a service that people enjoy using to find news. This weekend, a very similar situation played itself out. Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs Inc., which is now owned by AOL, threatened to sue any RSS aggregator that placed ads next to any Weblogs Inc. RSS feed, and reiterated his claim that their full content (with ads, mind you) RSS feeds are for "individual and non-commercial use only." Almost two years ago, we had a discussion about how exactly this issue concerning RSS feeds was destined to be a messy situation.

How do you define individual and non-commercial use in this context? As we wrote at the time, if an investor reads something and makes a trade on it, is that non-commercial use, or does the trader owe Calacanis or AOL some money? What if someone views the feed in their Gmail account that has ads down the side? Is that a violation? How about the old Opera browser that had ads showing across the top? Someone in the comments to Calacanis' post notes that he paid for his RSS aggregator software and now uses it to read Weblogs Inc. feeds. Does Calacanis deserve some of the money that was used to pay for the aggregator? With Techdirt's InfoAdvisor product, we build information portfolios for customers that include (among other things) RSS feeds that they should read, where we manage the feeds (setting it up so when they login they see what they're subscribed to without having to bother figuring out how to subscribe and how to unsubscribe from stuff). Companies pay us for this. If we recommend a Weblogs Inc. feed, is that against their terms? Just to be safe, I've instructed our analyst staff to no longer include any Weblogs Inc. feeds for our customers. This is a shame, because sites like Engadget provide excellent content. Instead, we'll need to replace them with other gadget blogs to remain on the safe side.

Again, it's a situation where it appears that one side is oblivious to the value provided by the other. Calacanis complains in the comments to his post that it's a case of "let us make money off your backs and do nothing for you in return." Except, that's not true at all. We provide value by helping get people at various companies reading the content on his blogs. Newsgator and any other RSS aggregator does a ton in return for Weblogs Inc., in getting a lot more people regularly reading their content, pointing to it, commenting on it, writing about it on their own blogs and much, much more. In all of these cases, from Cooper to Calacanis to book publishers to the entertainment industry, they ignore the value these services provide back to them in increasing their traffic, giving them lots more attention and generally helping them get more viewers/buyers/customers... and they're doing it all for free. As with Cooper, where I suggested Google send him a bill, Newsgator should consider sending Calacanis a bill for all those years of freely delivering Weblogs' Inc. content to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of readers who probably wouldn't bother to visit his sites otherwise.

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  1. identicon
    Tony L. Svanstrom, 24 Oct 2006 @ 2:57am

    On one side we've got the guy saying that what he's doing is outside of the other persons business (or simply website) and therefor can't reduce the value of that other persons business, all he can do is add to it; on the other side we've got the guy thinking that all business related to his business/work/website is his market, and that all money made within it should be his.

    Both sides are, of course, wrong; and, of course, they're both right.

    Having a service that will send my information and my ads to people is great, but only as long as those people otherwise wouldn't have gotten the information and (even more) ads using the interface (ie website) that I control myself; the day I find that the prefered interface to my information is controlled by someone else I'll realize that although my ads are shown, only maybe 20-50% of the total number of ads will actually give me money, and that if the interface is more important than the information then I can be replaced very easily - there's no real loyalty, and the value of my brand is going out the window, straight down, into the gutter and eventually it'll be eaten up by the New York sewer alligators.

    When that day comes I need to do something; I could make sure that my information won't ever easily be replaced at those other interfaces and change my businessmodel accordingly, but that's risky... being a businessman I don't like "risky", esp. not when I'm just fighting to keep what I've already got... so I'll go with the classical "I'll try to turn back time"-solution, which of course means doing a lot of bitching, yelling and calling in the laywers.

    We do know that lawyers are often used as a solution, but what's actually the problem that they're trying to solve this time? Well, if our information is good it's the interface that's not... and unless our lawyers happen to be great at (G)UI-design they're not really the solution which we're looking for.

    Send in the design-guys instead, and while they're working on a better interface we send in the tech-guys, which make sure that the information is available in only the formats which we want it to be available in; let them do all the usual user-agent-sniffing and rewriting and blocking and membership-extras and whatever is available to make sure that we control the information and how it's presented to our readers.

    Sure, if the information is available it can be rewritten and published in other formats, but if the tech-guys are doing their job right people can't easily take our information and republish it without obviously doing so without our permission; they can't just take an open feed and republish it. And what if the meanies do it anyways, well... here be lawyers.


    Ok, so what if we do that and we're still in trouble? Bad news... we've got a faulty businessmodel. It might have worked yesterday, but this is today, and we've got to keep up.
    If we think our businessmodel is so bad that it'd just be a waste of time and money to send in the design- and tech-guys, then we can of course skip that and go straight to the bitching and lawyers; but then there's even more bad news, SCO's already tried that businessmodel, and we all know how well that went... then again... it might be enough to keep up with the payments on our new we-just-had-to-have-it-when-the-businessmodel-did-look-good-thingie long enough for us to either pay it off or find a new job... so... hey... send in the lawyers, after all, it's the american way of life...

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