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Feedburner Fights Splogging and Scraping

If you’re a blogger, it can be very difficult to know who is reading your feed. Fortunately for us, Feedburner stepped in and gave us all a simple way of finding out exactly how many people were reading your feed, how many of those people were clicking on items and which items they were following up on.

It’s an extremely useful service that’s well worth the pittance they charge for their premium service (their basic service was and still is free) and Feedburner is a site that I’ve been a paying customer of since the day I took Plagiarism Today live.

However, Feedburner is now using both its position as an RSS go between and feed tracking technology to help bloggers in a whole new way: By detecting and pointing out people that may be illegally reusing your feed.

Not only is this, potentially, a major blow against sploggers and scrapers of all varieties, but it could easily showcase a whole new side of RSS, something few have been willing to talk about though it’s likely been affecting almost everyone.

Uncommon Uses

Feedburner has always been able to help users find out who has been reading what on their RSS feed. For a long time it’s been able to tally up your subscribers, tell you how many people visited which items, what RSS readers they’ve been using to do it, including most Web-based ones, and which bots have crawled your feed.

However, when looking at classic Feedburner stats, a large percentage of them would be deemed unknown or unidentified. These hits could have been, literally, anything. From a lesser-known RSS reader to an RSS search engine, these hits on the feed could have been just about anything on the planet, save the better-known RSS uses.

Feedburner, as part of a recent upgrade of their service, decided to no longer leave these uses nameless. If they couldn’t tell you what the use was, they decided to show you where it was being used so you could decide for yourself. Like a bloodhound sniffing out a potential thief and pointing its master the right way, Feedburner tracks the use of your feed and alerts you when there’s something fishy about it.

This goes a long way in the battle against splogging and scraping as, for the first time, bloggers don’t have to rely on search engines or dumb luck to find people reusing their content. Instead, they get a neat report of all suspicious activity, complete with links to follow up on. For the moment at least, the guesswork is gone.

What it Showed Me

While some, including myself, might find the name “Uncommon Usesâ€? a bit tongue in cheek considering how common splogging and scraping can be, it’s clear now that the vast majority of RSS users are legitimate. On this site, there were less than 12 Uncommon Uses of my feed, of which only two were truly suspicious and only one of those turned out to be a bona fide splogger.

While one splogger for a moderate-sized site such as this one might be a decent percentage, it’s not a sign of the rampant splogging plague many had feared. It’s clearly enough to worry about, but not enough to panic over. In the end, it may be the the drastic steps some have taken, including eliminating or truncating their RSS feeds, might be overkill.

This viewpoint is echoed by Feedburner CEO Dick Costolo when he said, during the beta testing of the new features, that “Very interestingly, we are so far finding that people’s content isn’t being repurposed as widely as they’d feared.â€?

Nonetheless, knowing is a lot better than not knowing and Feedburner’s new stats make it easier than ever to find out what your feed is being used for. That alone is wonderful news for people concerned about content theft online.

Limitations

Despite its usefulness, it’s important to note that the new Feedburner features to nothing more than notify you of suspcious use of your feed. It does nothing to actually protect your work or prevent people from using it illegally. Instead, it falls upon you follow up on and stop any illegal use of your feed using whatever tools you have available to you.

The reason for this limitation becomes obvious once you log into your Feedburner account. Many, if not most, of the “Uncommon Uses� of your feed are actually legitimate, some even well known. For example, my page included a link for the Google Toolbar as well as several pages legitimately using my content either through my Creative Commons License or through BlogBurst.

Simply put, if Feedburner restricted access to your feed to all “Uncommon Usesâ€? of it, far more legitimate uses would be stopped than illegitimate ones. No matter how good Feedburner is at recognizing new RSS readers and keeping on top of the world of syndicated content, they will never be able to recognize every potential legal use out there. Thus, it’s always up to human eyes, namely the content creator, to separate the wheat from the chaff and pursue those violating their copyright.

However, given how much help Feedburner is now offering in the war against content theft, I think that it’s a small price to pay.

Final Thoughts

I want to take a moment to thank Feedburner for letting me in on the closed Beta testing of their new stats. I greatly enjoyed using the stats this past week and am finding it a great relief to finally be able to write about them.

In the end though, I think that this is a very powerful tool that will go a long ways in the fight against content theft. Though it can do nothing to help protect against the more traditional forms of plagiarism, it definitely goes a long way to helping bloggers fight RSS content theft.

I have to thank Feedburner for not only coming up with the idea, but also dedicating the time and resources into making it a reality. It will be interesting to see what revelations this new service brings about in the blogging community and I, for one, will be dying to bring you the news.

It should be a very interesting few weeks ahead of us.

esbn ESBN 58316-060302-500298-29

[tags]Feedburner, RSS, Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement, Copyright, Splogs, Splogging[/tags]

16 Responses to Feedburner Fights Splogging and Scraping

  1. Mashable* says:

    Feedburner, aka The Splog Slayer…

    As a quick followup to my last post about ESBN and splog prevention, you probably noticed that Feedburner rolled out some new features on Tuesday. The best one? The ability to check for “uncommon uses” – this could allow you to track w…

  2. Mashable* says:

    Feedburner, aka The Splog Slayer…

    As a quick followup to my last post about ESBN and splog prevention, you probably noticed that Feedburner rolled out some new features on Tuesday. The best one? The ability to check for “uncommon uses” – this could allow you to track w…

  3. [...] As a quick followup to my last post about ESBN and splog prevention, you probably noticed that Feedburner rolled out some new features on Tuesday. The best one? The ability to check for “uncommon uses” – this can tell you whether sploggers are reprinting your feed without your permission. Darren Rowse and Plagiarism Today are both justifiably pleased with this, but I really wish it was accessible to all bloggers, not just people using the Feedburner service.* [...]

  4. [...] That’s what I learned when I first started playing around with Feedburner’s new Uncommon Uses feature. [...]

  5. Eric Newman says:

    As a note on BlogBurst. It seems as if there is greater concern about having your feed splog-napped if it is a full post feed, which we require for blogs joining the BlogBurst network. We typically recommend that bloggers set up their full-post feed as a second feed in FeedBurner that that they potentially do not publish on their blog. Then they can submit that full post feed to BlogBurst and still keep it out of the hands of sploggers.

  6. [...] Eric Newman of Blogburst left a comment on one of my most recent posts that got me thinking about about other ways in which Feedburner can help one protect their copyright. [...]

  7. [...] Though Feedburner’s "Uncommon Uses" feature provides a very powerful tool to fight RSS scraping, it’s far from perfect. [...]

  8. [...] Feedburner is an incredibly useful service. In addition to providing valuable metrics and user data, it also provides some of the best protection against feed scraping available. [...]

  9. [...] Use Feedburner: Feedburner is a great service for a lot of different reasons. It provides effective metrics and other usage information for your feed. but it also provides excellent protection against abuse of your feed. Feedburner’s “Uncommon Uses” feature helps to detect scraping and splogging of an RSS feed, one of the greatest content theft threats affecting bloggers. [...]

  10. Peter says:

    Hey, good idea using the numly-service – but it does not work as you implemented it. Check out for leading’esn’ – it seems to be the problem.

  11. [...] The first key was to use Feedburner. Though I joined Feedburner for the metrics, its ability to protect a feed from scraping became obvious. It’s uncommon uses feature can detect scraping, even before it shows up in search engines, and its copyright notice feed flare prevents outright plagiarism. [...]

  12. [...] However, as blogging as advance, new tools and services have emerged to help deal with feed scraping. One of the more popular services, FeedBurner, has been one of the best tools for both generating feed statistics, but also detecting scraping . [...]

  13. [...] already offer an uncommon uses feature that tracks non-conventional feed subscribers and offers a feed flare service that can help track [...]

  14. [...] more importantly, their “Uncommon Uses” tool allows you to track and follow up on suspicious usage of your feed. Since FeedBurner [...]

  15. [...] case for FeedBurner was further bolstered in March of last year when it released its “Uncommon Uses” feature. With that upgrade, FeedBurner also become the most powerful tool available for fighting [...]

  16. [...] I found out about one of the scrapers via FeedBurner’s Uncommon Use feature. When you’re checking your feed stats in FeedBurner, make sure to keep an eye on the Uncommon Uses section to see if any sites you’re not familiar with are showing up. Jonathan Bailey from Plagiarism Today also has a detailed post on this subject. [...]

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