Really Simple Syndication Gets Complicated

It’s been a busy weekend for RSS (really simple syndication) on the web. It all started when Martin Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog posted and entry titled “Why I Have Asked Bloglines to Remove My Site From Its ‘Service’” 

Essentially the debate is raging around the unauthorised use of RSS content in some aggregators which display the content in their own frame, remove contact details and place the content next to advertising. In other words aggregators which make money off your content, without your permission.

The debate has continued to rage, with lost of great posts being made for you to sing your teeth into. Martin responded to Scobles post, clarifying his decision to ask Blog lines to remove him, and then a whole bunch of posts sprang up on the web, agreeing with Scoble, agreeing with Martin etc…Scoble links to a whole bunch of them, so instead of going through them all, I’ll just direct you to his post of reactions.

Tyme White responds to Scoble with this post, “The short version: In my opinion Robert’s wrong, Martin’s right.” Which causes Scoble to bemoan the “day that DRM in RSS was born”.

Wow! That was a lot of linking in one post!! So, after all that, where do I stand on the subject? As far as I’m concerned with, I publish my RSS feeds and make them available to all and sundry. I want people to read my blog, and as I don’t make money from my content, it’s aggreagation by a site like BlogLines has no monetary impact on me, so is of no concern.

However, if, as Martin does, I were using my blog as an advertising tool for  my company, then I would be in agreement with him. RSS aggregation by aggregation sites should be OPT IN. If you want your content in BlogLines you sign up, add your site and add your feed. This simple act allows them to display it in their system, and you have agreed to this by signing up for the service.

People accessing your content with “off line” aggregators aren’t affected by this because they’re getting the content direct from your site and seeing it the way you intended.

So, how does this affect the likes of Google and Yahoo who cache you’re pages. It doesn’t really, because they’re not specifically aggregating your content. They’re not reframing it, and stripping content info, or placing adverts next to it.

Sites which aren’t aggregators and display your content syphoned through RSS are another kettle of fish, worse than aggregators and are the RSS equivalent of hot linkers. But there are pro-active measures you can take against this sort of thing, such as modifying your .htaccess file.

Now, if after that if my position still seems a little confused let me sum it up, short and simple. In an ideal world, RSS should be OPT IN! If you’re an aggregator site, and want to use my content you should contact me, (not this doesn’t apply to the ordinary user using there won aggregator!), or I’ll come along and add my feed to your service. Other than that you don’t have permission to publish it.

As thing stand, I don’t have to enforce this, because aggregation of my RSS content has the effect of promoting my blog, and is a service to me. Therefore I allow and I encourage all and sundry to come along and aggregate it, as long as you link back to me. But this is my choice. If I change my mind tomorrow, you have to respect that!

As, a closing note, check out this post on Things that make you go hmm.

3 thoughts on “Really Simple Syndication Gets Complicated

  1. You said:

    People accessing your content with “off line” aggregators aren’t affected by this because they’re getting the content direct from your site and seeing it the way you intended.

    That’s not true. Bloglines, like any aggregator, simply displays what’s in your RSS feed. Take a look at a raw RDD feed file, it’s not very pretty or readable. The way to “see a site the way the author intended” is to visit the site directly. AS for Martin’s concern about ads being “wrapped around” his site, offline aggregators, not to mention My Yahoo!, are already doing that. So why single out BlogLines???? In my opinion, all Martin had to do was change his feeds so that they only provide excerpts of his posts. Either that or turn off his feeds all together.


  2. Michael I think you’ll find that you’re assumption Bloglines displays exactly what is in your RSS feeds is incorrect, as they also strip out Meta and copyright data, replacing it with their own, which is of course, illegal!

    Also, any author can display their feeds, as they intend in the average aggreator, but mostly this comes down to inserting site logos and stuff. We’re not talking here about readiality, or if Bloglines made his RSS feed more readbale to the human eye.

    What we are talking about here is the fact that bloglines took his content without permission, and used it in conjunction with advertising to create revenue. That’s it, plain and simple.

    As for my Yahoo, I was under the impression, and forgive me if I’m wrong here, that someone has to specifically add your feed to their “my yahoo”. If I’m wrong on that, then they are “guility” of the same thing.

    And yes, Martin could have simply altered his .htaccess file, or stopped publishing feeds, but why should he have to? He wants his readers to be able to read his content, but he also wants credit for it. Is that really to much to ask?


  3. I don’t get how an offline aggregator is any different than an online one.
    Some offline aggregators are not free, some may even be funded using in-app ads. How is that different from bloglines, if they were to add ads on the side of the page?

    Now, there is one thing that I agree: bloglines should make it very clear attributing the credits for the content to the original author, as the creative commons license requires.


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