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
    Lisuebie, 7 Nov 2006 @ 1:17am

    Gut response to the article and all the above, int

    I never look at ads. But it wouldn't help if I did. I belong to the rather large population of English speaking people on the planet who do not live in the US, and thus cannot buy in the US.

    Now I suppose that makes me and the rest of us out here thieves, since we are consuming the intellectual property without "paying" for it, no matter whether we view it through Jason's or Mike's help.

    But nobody's bed gets dirty and no one's porridge is gone because of it.

    But perhaps, if within the actual substance being provided there is truly useful information, motivation to physical or political action and such, then the writer of the blog, the company who paid him and provided the server space to host the files have made a contribution to humanity, even though no one "made money".

    They have helped real people do a better job, make a more informed decision, judge a personal crisis in light of others' experience.

    But that is completely irrelevant to you all, right? It doesn't put shoes on baby, or make the yacht payment. Your goal is to monetize information exchange, as has been done for the last few centuries, within this new medium.

    This new medium, however, makes the control of information nearly impossible. It is a world of cut and paste, download and save, mail and post. Freedom of access and distribution is changing the world. It is speeding up science, forcing innovation in internet technology, bringing something much closer to democracy to the masses around the globe who can get to a internet access point.

    I find the internet that consists of people wishing to help people for the sheer lust in the ability to share, connect and be of use, such as the software developers of sourceforge.net, ordinary bloggers and posters at myspace, vox, blogger, YouTube, and the like, something inordinately valuable and precious. A movement larger and with greater impact eventually than all the wealth someone like Bill Gates has accumulated.

    I find the portion of the internet that consists of intellectual content created, designed and corralled with the main purpose of placing consumers in the presence of advertising to facilitate the exchange of money and goods to be a waste of electrons and metal equivalent to commercial television and commercial radio. Forget making money. Go make something real, help people, and the money will find its way. Not in ridiculous quantities, but sufficient amounts.

    And you'll sleep better.


    But of course my problem, and your problem is that somehow the infrastructure and the people involved in making all this possible does have to be paid for. How to do that without the ghastly business of shotgun ads in your face, content that appeals to our basest and thus most widely shared natures (thank you, David Foster Wallace) and a limitation of access to information to those who have or can "pay" in some form?


    And by the by, I really liked Gary's response. Seems the clearest description of what is really going on here.

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