April 11, 2008

Should Fractured Feed Reader Comments Raise Blog Owners' Ire?

One of the more frequently mentioned suggestions for avid Google Reader users is the addition of comments to the service, so RSS readers could respond to blog posts, either directly from the reader and back to the originating blog, or within the Google Reader community itself, in effect, becoming a social network. But while Google Reader has not yet enabled comments, other services are, and it seems the excitement of adding this capability is hardly universal - and its opponents have gone so far as to call it "outrageous" or "theft".

While the discussion around where a blog's comments should reside has raised its head before, especially around services like FriendFeed, (See: Sarah Perez of Read Write Web: Blog Comments Still Matter) it flared up again this afternoon when I had (innocently, I thought) highlighted how one friend's blog post from earlier in the week was getting a lot of comments, and had become the most popular story on Shyftr, a next-generation RSS feed reader that enables comments within its service.

While I had hoped the author (Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist, who I highlighted on Monday and like quite a bit) would be pleased to see his post had gained traction, the reaction was not what I had expected. He said he was uneasy about seeing his posts generate activity and community for somebody else. Another FriendFeed user called it "content theft" and said "if they ever pull my feed and use it there, they can expect to get hit with a DMCA take-down notice". (See the discussion here)

I can see how content creators can feel threatened or wary of services who leverage full RSS feeds, or might actually have a case if they have publicly asked for no repurposing of their content, via Creative Commons or other methods. But I also see that the whole idea of reading feeds in isolation, without engaging, is going to soon be something of the past. AssetBar, Social|Median and Shyftr have been among the first to add comments in their site. Fav.or.it, via Disqus, offers the ability to post comments to the originating blogs. FriendFeed, RSSMeme and many, many others offer links to the content but contents on their site. And that's not even touching on the social news sites like Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, etc., where comments and community are generated, essentially through leveraging third party headlines.

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.

Even the conversation about this issue has escaped the blogosphere. Eric, on FriendFeed writes, "It's slightly troubling that this conversation is taking place here instead of on one of our blogs," but it's not so much troubling in my mind, but instead requires a changing mindset.

The Web as a whole has clamored for full RSS feeds, not partial, so we don't have to return to the originating site. Some of us have just as loudly asked for comments and conversations to enter the world of the RSS feed reader. Now that we're starting to see what it's like, maybe it's not what we had fully anticipated. But it's the way things are headed, and rather than label innovators like Matt Shaulis (Twitter | FriendFeed) and Dave Stanley of Shyftr (Twitter | FriendFeed) as outrageous or possibly illegitimate, we should engage and speak up about what we think is right. As for the developers who enable these services, there are definitely ways they can help raise the visibility of the practice - through e-mail alerts, trackbacks, or even giving the option to opt out. But we'll be seeing this more and more going forward. I promise you that.