Content Republication

December 4, 2006 :: 2 comments

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this. There’s several sites that are pulling my feed and republishing my content. Most of the time they’re doing it with attribution, as Technology Voices is. Sometimes not. Generally, they’re wrapping my content (and that of others) in advertising. Never have they sought permission.

Almost two years ago I explored this same problem when someone asked for Bloglines to stop tracking their feed.

The question is where do we draw the line? Is reading the feed in a reader like FeedDemon a commercial use? I had to buy a copy. What about an aggregated list of posts on a site? Mt-Plugins.org used to have the latest posts from a number of plugin authors (including me) on their site. Would this be an acceptable use? Syndic8 publishes a list of random feed items as RSS. Is that okay? Would your answer change if Syndic8 started selling ads in that feed? There are a number of services that will send you feed contents by email. If I subscribed to [a] feed with such a service and had those emails go to my Gmail address, is that a commercial use of his content and who is responsible for it?

I could move to partial posts, but that’s going to damage me as much as it damages content republishers.

I see RSS as a way to build mindshare. It’s a way to make my site more popular, thus improving my authority and increasing the amount of display advertising I can sell. Because I publish the full content of every blog post for free with no ads attached, I make money. My content is read by others. It’s quoted, excerpted, linked to, and remixed. That makes my blog more popular and results in more visitors, often to old archived pages. This October I had 75,000 unique visitors per day to a five-year-old blog post about jack-o-lanterns. This wouldn’t have happened if I my blog was an obscure site. RSS is the reason that I’m not an obscure site.

I could go to republishers and ask them to remove my feed. But is that what I really want? Because of them, my words are reaching a new audience. On the other hand, it feels like they’re stealing my work.

What are my other options? I could try and add advertising to my feed in a way that only shows up on republisher sites. It shouldn’t be that hard to do. Just add the JavaScript code of an Adsense block to my feed. Feed readers strip Javascript and wouldn’t show it. I’m betting that these scrape sites would allow the Javascipt and thus my ads would show.

I could use that same idea to be a bit more malicious. I could insert an XSS attack into my feed. A small amount of script could spawn new windows, click links, or rewrite much of the page. If I were to insert a bit of script that found an clicked an AdSense link on the page, there would be 100% click through on their ads. That would probably make Google suspicious enough to kick their account. I could even ensure that anyone viewing the entry would be redirected to the original blog entry on my site. And these attacks wouldn’t affect feed readers.

There’s a number of feed readers that have public views — lots of people have public Gregarius installations, and Rojo has copies of my feed — but those somehow feel different than a company simply republishing my entire feed.

When a feed reader republishes my content, it’s because person who reads my feed decided to add it to that reader. The public republication of the feed is a byproduct of that. The nature of feed readers means that there are prominent links to the original and the attribution is very clear.

When a site like Technology Voices republishes my feed, the articles that appear there look and feel more like a magazine. The attribution and link to my blog are part of a byline. Bylines tend to be overlooked when people are reading articles on the web. There’s a bevy of “bookmark this” links to various bookmarking and social news tools — all of which point to the article on Technology Voices instead of on my site. There’s comments and inbound link counts — again all on the Technology Voices site instead of pointing to those facilities on my blog.

The copyright statement in my feed reads (emphasis added), “Copyright 2006 Adam Kalsey. Permission granted for non-commercial use. Republication is prohibited.” That statement in the feed is not likely ever actually read by content republishers or anyone else for that matter. Tools that consume feeds rarely show anything but feed title, description, and the feed items.

Even if the feed republishers bothered to read my copyright statement and abide by it, I’m starting to wonder if that’s something I want. If the value of my feed is that I am widely read, then pushing my content out to the edge is likely to increase that value. Where do I draw the line?

The more I think about the problem, the more I’ve come to realize what part of republishing is bothering me. The sites that I don’t like are the ones that make my content look like their own. To the casual observer, it appears that I’m a columnist for Technology Voices. If you’re building a content aggregator, this is what you need to avoid. It needs to be clear and obvious that the content is pulled in from elsewhere. If you want my words looking like a column on your site, then you need to pay me for them.

The solution I’ll try for a bit is to insert some script that shows an ad and a prominent link back to my site. I’ll implement it in such a way that feed readers won’t show it but most republishers will.

ThinkFree Office

December 1, 2006 :: 3 comments

I posted earlier about the troubles I had signing up for ThinkFree Office. I’ve been using the site (or is that software…?) today to edit a few documents and I’m impressed. The simple ajax editor makes quick text updates easy, and the Java editor allows me to change formatting and layout. All in all, it handles MS Office files with ease and should feel completely comfortable to someone who is familiar with Office.

It probably won’t replace my NeoOffice installation since I do a fair amount of work offline, but so far, so good.

count(*) in InnoDB

December 1, 2006 :: 0 comments

I’d always read that an advantage of MySQL’s MyISAM tables over InnoDB tables was the performance of counting rows with count(*). Conventional wisdom says if you do count(*) with InnoDB you’ll see much slower results on large tables than if you use MyISAM.

I hadn’t ever noticed that difference. In places in my apps where I do count(*) InnoDB seems to be just as fast as MyISAM — even on tables with millions of rows. MySQL Performance Blog has an explanation.

It only applies to COUNT(*) queries without WHERE clause. SELECT COUNT(*) FROM USER … will be much faster for MyISAM. SELECT COUNT(*) FROM IMAGE WHERE USER_ID=5 … will be executed same way both for MyISAM and Innodb.

Since most real-world usage of count(*) is in determining how many rows are returned by a query, not how many rows exist in a table, most people won’t need to concern themselves with this performance “issue.”

ThinkFree -- making it hard to sign up

December 1, 2006 :: 0 comments

ThinkFree is an online office suite that promises one thing that others don’t — collaboration. I’m working on a set of Powerpoint slides with some other people and thought it would be nice to try an online tool instead of emailing the file around.

But they sure don’t make it easy to sign up. Trying from my Mac in Firefox 2, I filled out the signup screen and was greeted by a useless form error message. “Permission Denied”

signup error screenshot

No explanation of why. No suggestions how to fix it. Are they perhaps limiting the number of people who can sign up? Or did I make a mistake when completing the Captcha? There’s no way to know. They should read Simplified Form Errors.

The help files don’t mention the problem. But I notice in hte system requirements for OSX that Firefox 1.5 is required. I swap my user-agent string so the browser reports itself as Firefox 1.5 and try again. Still no dice.

Over to the Windows machine to sign up via IE7. This time it works. But the confirmation email that comes in is a multipart message with both text and HTML versions. Only the text version is blank, meaning my text-only email client can’t see it.

email confirmation screenshot

I’ve got to view the source of the HTML version to get the activation URL so I can start using the thing.

If it’s this hard to even sign up, how can it possibly be easy to use?

Sun likes it

November 29, 2006 :: 0 comments

When I posted the pricing for Startup Essentials, I was a bit concerned about how Sun might react. It’s not against their TOS to do so, but I still didn’t want a bevy of Sun lawyers breathing down my neck.

Imagine, then, my delight when I saw that not only was Sun okay with it, CEO Jonathan Schwartz endorsed it by linking to my blog. Same with Tim Bray.

Sun Startup Essentials pricing

November 28, 2006 :: 3 comments

I was accepted into Sun’s Startup Essentials program today (nearly a month after I applied). As promised, I’m blogging the pricing.

The discounts on hardware are pretty good. There’s one low-end server that has no discount, but most products are in the 30%-50% off range. One server, a $70k behemoth, is a whopping 66% off.

Only servers and workstations are offered as part of the program. If you’re getting a workstation, you can add on things like monitors at a discount, but you can’t buy the monitors directly. That’s too bad, because a $995 24-inch LCD is only $470 under the program. Sun should consider selling these by themselves. What a great branding win it would be to have developers at startups everywhere sitting behind dual 24inch monitors staring at a Sun logo all day.

Enough analysis; here’s the pricing.

Read more »

Frank Demmler archives at Texas Startup Blog

November 25, 2006 :: 1 comment

A friend of mine was asking about how to raise money for a startup. I pointed him to some stuff at a number of VC blogs like Brad Feld’s Term Sheet series. I also wanted him to read all of Frank Demmler’s essays on Alexander Muse’s Texas Startup blog. But the excellent essays aren’t tagged consistently and the archive pages don’t show the post’s author. Knowing that the blog is powered by Wordpress, I hacked the URL for the Frank Demmler archives.

Amazon Shipping indicator

November 25, 2006 :: 1 comment

Back when I was doing a half dozen ecommerce sites a month, the question that often came up was, “what does Amazon do?” I found myself constantly reminding people that while we could look to Amazon for guidance on what probably works well, they have by no means solved every UI problem. There’s always room for improvement and simply copying Amazon on everything wouldn’t result in the best possible site.

Today I noticed an example of an area where Amazon could improve. Amazon’s free Super Saver shipping and Amazon Prime are two ways customers can save on shipping costs. But when looking at items in some departments — Home and Garden for instance — not all products are shipped by Amazon and thus aren’t available for Prime or Super Saver. You have no way of knowing if the product’s available for cheap shipping until you open the product detail page.

To find the one product among dozens of similar ones that has free shipping, I have to go through the list, clicking on each product, going back, and repeating the process. An indicator in the search results that showed me which items qualified for Prime and Super Saver would be very helpful.

DRM, vinyl, and the future

November 22, 2006 :: 0 comments

At Startup Camp Enric played some Bob Dylan MP3s for me. Turns out he had started the process of converting all his old vinyl to mp3s. The quality was fantastic, which was surprising given that it came from 25 year old LPs played on a consumer-grade turntable and recorded by running a cable from the headphone jack of the stereo to the mic in jack on his laptop. He hadn’t listed to his vinyl in years — he even had to go buy a needle for his turntable so he could do this conversion.

Twenty-five years ago, no one could have foreseen digital music like this. The idea that you’d be able to fit thousands of songs on a device the size of a deck of cards would have amazed the people creating and selling music. But because that music was stored in an open format, anyone with a record player can still use it. You don’t need a particular brand of record player. You don’t need complicated tools. Enric didn’t need to use the same record player he owned when he bought the music. He could pick up any turntable and play the record. It doesn’t matter if the LP’s publisher is still in business.

Enric has the freedom to listen to the music that he purchased in any way he wants, on any equipment he wants, any time he wants, as often as he wants.

Much of the music sold today doesn’t have these same freedoms. With DRM, music you buy today might not be playable a year from now, never mind 25 years from now. If the technology that was used to encrypt a DRM file is no longer available, you won’t be able to play it. This can happen if the company behind the DRM goes out of business, or even if the company just changes their DRM scheme. Music bought with Microsoft’s PlayForSure technology can’t be played on Microsoft’s new Zune media player — Microsoft changed to a new DRM system. Your media is now obsolete as soon as the player is. You can’t buy music from the iTunes store and play it on your Linux computer, your Zune, or your non-Apple music player.

The publisher of your media now chooses how and when you can use it. That choice has been removed from your hands.

Most people think that because they’re not planning on pirating music and movies that DRM doesn’t effect them. Of course, 25 years from now when they want to convert their iTunes music to the popular format of the day, they’ll be out of luck, because that’s not how Apple wants them to use their music.

For more on how DRM is harmful, read the excellent summary Top 10 Arguments Against DRM.


Graffletopia is a directory for OnmiGraffle stencils. Yummy.

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High volume subscriptions via IM

November 21, 2006 :: 1 comment

Deane’s getting overwhelmed by high-volume feeds in his reader.

I find with these that whenever I open Bloglines, there are a couple dozen posts. I don’t have the time or inclination to read them all right then, so I leave them. Then, next time, there are more. Eventually Bloglines tops out at 200 unread posts, and I click on the blog title just to get rid of the unread and start over.

It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I’m finding that the best way for me to keep up with high-volume feeds is to get them out of my reader and into Feed Crier. This is especially true for those feeds that you skim but don’t read every item in depth.

A trick I learned long ago for dealing with high-volume email lists was to eschew the digest version and ask for individual messages. Route them to a different mailbox or folder if you don’t want to crowd the inbox, but make sure you get single messages. That way, you can skim the subject lines and mass-delete items that you aren’t interested in. If you get the digest you’re forced to read — or at least find the end of — every single item.

The same tactic is helping me manage high volume feeds like programming.reddit.com, the Tailrank front page, and Dzone. As the items are posted, I get an IM with a short summary of the item and at a glance I can tell if I want to read more or not. (You need to be a Feed Crier Pro subscriber to get summaries.)

With these same feeds in my reader, instead of making several small decisions each day about items I want to read, I’m faced with spending one big chunk of time skimming through all the posts in a feed, most of which are irrelevant to me.

Give it a try. Right now Feed Crier is allowing unlimited feed subscriptions per account, so you can experiment with this all you want.


Textmate for Windows? Not quite, but pretty darn close.

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Adam Kalsey

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Content Republication (Dec 4)
Several sites are using my feed to republish everything I say onto their site. What can be done?
ThinkFree Office (Dec 1)
Despite my early problems, ThinkFree's office suite looks like a winner.
count(*) in InnoDB (Dec 1)
Conventional wisdom about the performance of this query is misleading.
ThinkFree -- making it hard to sign up (Dec 1)
Signing up for ThinkFree is a hassle.
Sun likes it (Nov 29)
Wherein Sun's CEO links to the Startup Essentials pricing I published.
Sun Startup Essentials pricing (Nov 28)
Here's the complete price list for the Sun Startup Essentials program.
Frank Demmler archives at Texas Startup Blog (Nov 25)
Easy access to Frank Demmler's financing essays.

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