February 25, 2010

GMail Ads on Buzzed Reader Items Attract Controversy

Given the ease of distribution of content from site to site and network to network, with RSS or any other model, it's no surprise that scrapers galore are stocking away our unique copy and then trying to make a quick buck from ads surrounding it. Even though the copyright is not theirs, they are trying to make an end run around the system. As new aggregators and networks have hit the market, those of us creating the content have had to reevaluate what constitutes good practices, and what constitutes bad behavior - whether well intended or otherwise. Google Buzz, which has gained its unfair share of criticism for perceived security holes in the weeks since its launch, has finally gained a more valid critique, from Jesse Stay, who alertly noted, as I had earlier in the week, that the act of putting Buzz in one's GMail meant that content too can flow through Buzz, with Google pocketing cash on ads around your content, without the content originator getting a dime. It's the latest twist in the evolution of content and copyright in a fast-changing Web.

One Shared Item from Me on February 21st in GMail, With Ads

As you know, I don't try to monetize my content here on the blog. I don't run advertising, and I have long said that I don't mind if my content gets shared here and there for more comments. I want my content to be shared, as information, wherever you are comfortable. But yes, scrapers bug me. They mess up search alerts, and negatively impact the perception of this mirage-like image of a personal brand.

I don't believe for a moment that a new network like Google Buzz is an intended scraper, any more than I thought Shyftr was trying to steal comments from your blog when they offered shared comments on full feeds. But, thanks to Buzz living in your GMail, and many people, like me, pulling Google Reader items through Buzz, you can see how one's full content could feature advertising that benefits Google and not me. To some, this is the definition of a scraper.

Another Shared Reader Item from Me In Buzz in GMail With Ads

As a huge Google Reader advocate, and fan of the nascent network, Buzz, I do not mind in any way that my full content is being distributed. I love RSS. It is fantastic. But when I saw the ads in my GMail against others' content this week, it did strike me as odd, because it violated the unspoken rule that it's something you flat-out don't do.

I recognize that "fixing" this perceived flaw is hard. If I am the Buzz team, the act of removing ads against shared Reader items in Buzz while in GMail is probably non-trivial.

But I also can see their potential response. In theory, they cannot prohibit somebody from forwarding your content in full by e-mail, and GMail is an e-mail system. In theory, Google Reader shares are equivalent to e-mail forwards, and thus, the same as any other content being shared in this way.

Jesse asks, "Google, how is this not evil?", calling it copyright infringement. Unlike the overreactions this month, he's a lot closer in this criticism than others. I still hold that Google is not evil and is not trying to be evil, but it's more in the gray area than we would like. I assume if this holds, then we as content creators are going to need more re-education in terms of what the new rules are, and how we should adapt.

UPDATE: Jesse Stay reports the "scraping" issue will be solved early next week.

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