Blogburst Backlash

When Pluck, the makers of the well-known RSS reader, unveiled their new Blogburst back in February of this year, many bloggers were very excited and, like myself, very curious.

The service, which calls itself “a syndication service that places blogs on top-tier online destinations,” was designed to act as an intermediary, promoting content from selected blogs in major online newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Gate and the Washington Post.

While the lure of gaining exposure in the Washington Post was very compelling to many bloggers, others, including the staff at Medgadget have taken exception to many of Blogbust’s policies and have waged a campaign against the service.

While it’s true that nearly every popular service has its share of detractors, those critical of Blogbust have uncovered several serious problems with the service that, at the very least, should give bloggers a long pause before signing up.

How Blogburst Works

The theory behind Blogbusrt is that bloggers provide access to a full RSS feed for the service. That feed is then provided to the various major publishers that the service works with and those publishers, in turn choose which entries to print in their newspapers and on their sites.

Advertising revenue from the published articles are shared between both the media outlet and Pluck, with possibly some revenue in the future for the blogger, and every republished article comes with a byline to the original blogger that includes both a text link and a small image.

This attribution and reuse of content, according to Blogburst, could result in a massive amount of exposure for the blog and its creator while providing the media outlet with fresh content and Blogburst with advertising revenue.

In theory, Blogburst is a win-win-win.

Trouble In Paradise

Earlier this month
, Medgadget pointed out that ordinary newspaper readers are not going to be compelled to follow up on the creator of an article, especially if the entire piece is already available to them.

Though Blogburst has reported that the click through ration (CTR) is between 15-30 percent other bloggers have reported a 1% CTR and other traffic indications provided by Medgadget also provide a even more bleak outlook on Blogbusrt’s CTR.

While some may be excited about the possibility of a 1% CTR, especially when it is coupled with significant mass media exposure, others are less thrilled. As the list of sites complaining about Blogburst has grown, so has the list of complaints.

Hot Images

Another discovery from the original Medgadget post was the determination that Blogburst was, perhaps accidentally, stealing bandwidth.

For reasons that are unclear, images that are contained in the reused posts are not mirrored by Blogburst or the outlet using the content. Rather, they are hotlinked from their original source. An example of this can be found on the San Francisco Gate. The article, which is originally from the blog Shortcut, contains an image which is linked from the domain sodazitron.blogger.de. Other examples can be found in a later Medgadget post.

What this means is that every visit to that page drains a little bit of bandwidth from the source. While users with a large amount of bandwidth may not feel a pinch from this, those who use free services with limited bandwidth, such as Photobucket, might wind up either having to pay extra or have their accounts frozen and images broken.

Blogburst, for their part, has addressed this issue and agreed to find a solution soon. However, in the meantime, posts with images are being reused and are draining bandwidth, often from unsuspecting sources.

The Derivative "Trap"

However, what has gotten the most attention has been the Blogburst Blogger Agreement, which was analyzed in-depth by Amygdala. Of particular concern to many is a passage in the agreement that reads as follows:

you grant to Pluck and its affiliates a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, make derivative works of, perform, display, disclose, and otherwise dispose of the Work (and derivative works thereof) for the purposes of (a) modifying the Work without substantially changing its original meaning, and (b) distributing the Work (and derivative works thereof) to Publisher electronic web sites or corresponding printed editions, whether now known or hereafter devised.

This license has worried many because it is perpetual, offers no compensation and allows derivative works so long as they don’t substantially change the meaning of the piece.Theoretically, Pluck obtains nearly all of the rights granted by copyright law with no promise of compensation of any variety.

On the other side of the coin, Blogburst does make it clear in their FAQ that bloggers retain ownership of their content but have to sign some rights away in order to enable their work to be reused.

In that regard, they might have a point. A non-perpetual license would create problems for Blogburst. It would require that all of their partners remove Blogburst-referred content automatically after X number of years and have a system in place to deal with bloggers that change their mind. A license requiring payment would demand a financial infrastructure they do not have in place.

The infrastructure to handle a more blogger-friendly license is not available right now and would be far less likely to be adopted by major media outlets. Chances are, for better or worse, this is the best license that Blogburst can offer at this time.

Also, it’s worth noting that licenses are usually written to cover all possibilities revolving around a contract, not the intended use. While the language is unnerving to many, it may not represent Blogburst’s actual intentions. Only time can tell that.

Personal Experiences

Personally, I only had one article be reused during my time with Blogburst. It generated a modest amount of traffic but apparently was never highly viewed. I can’t comment about my CTR as the sample is too small and Blogburst’s own statistics are unclear.

Apparently, my niche just wasn’t well suited for Blogburst’s target.

Regardless, I decided, after much debate, to terminate my membership. I don’t mind the reuse of my content, even with limited click through rate. This is natural to me as a supporter of the Creative Commons movement and as someone that writes to raise awareness about an issue, not for my personal well being. Still, however, Blogburst, as it exists today, does not sit well with me.

My decision was made because it goes against my CC License, which forbids commercial use of my work. I switched to a non-commercial license some time ago to stave off sploggers and I felt it important to license my work under one unified set of terms and deal with exceptions personally on a case by case basis.

In short, I was not comfortable with Blogburst deciding what was and what was not acceptable commercial use of my work for me until the end of time.

Still, that is only my personal opinion and may not fit everyone.

Conclusions

I am not convinced that Blogburst is evil or predatory. They do have license terms that should give bloggers pause to think about if Blogburst is right for them, but that does not mean that they are necessarily doing anything wrong. (I do reserve the right to change my mind on that in the future, should new circumstances arise.)

Most bloggers will likely find that Blogburst’s terms are just too extreme. Anyone attempting to blog for profit or other kinds of personal gain will almost certainly want to shy away. Despite that, others, including those trying to raise awareness or are blogging under very loose licenses, might find Blogburst userful.

Either way, it’s important to know exactly what one is getting into when delving into such a service and bloggers should take the time to read the agreement carefully and not get too caught up in the excitement about possibly being included in the Washington Post.

Remember, content is the reason we create and read sites. If we don’t treat it with care, our whole reason for participating in the Internet might just disappear.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Blogburst, Pluck, Hotlinking[/tags]

11 Responses to Blogburst Backlash

  1. Eric Newman says:

    Thanks for the balanced assessment. Just a bit of clarity around some of the click through rate issues.

    Two different topics here when it comes to CTR and hence two different numbers. For explanation’s sake, there are three steps in the process we’re describing:

    - Headline impression – This is the fair use content for a blog: headline + abstract + blog name. These are shown 1-20 at a time on publisher pages in a “headline widget”
    - Post view on the publisher site representing the full post content + full attribution a reader sees if they click on a headline
    - The original blog visit which results when a reader reads a post on the publisher’s site and clicks on the attribution or other links to visit the blog

    The 15-30% number represents the Click Thru Rate of people who see a blog’s full post on the publisher site and click through to the original blog. We emphasized this number at the moment because some bloggers expressed concerns here that no one would bother to click from a full post on a publisher site to visit the original blog. While the data is anectdotal, gathered from a few bloggers with pickup on our publisher sites, we are encouraged by this result as it shows that a sizeable percentage of readers visit a blog to learn more after reading a post on a publisher’s site. We are working to track this globally as part of blogger reporting so we have something more conclusive going forward.

    The 1% number is accurate as well. It represents the CTR from headline impressions on publisher sites all the way through to a visit to the original blog. While this number is low right now, if the 15-30% CTR from post view to original blog holds true as we scale, then the the goal should be to get more online newspaper readers to click on a headline and read a post on the publisher site as the CTR from the post to the original blog is already strong. We are working on a number of ways to improve this number for everyone’s benefit.

    Stay tuned for more info a http://www.burstblog.com. We are making additional changes to smooth out the process and requirements for the service and will have updates on stats, etc going forward.

  2. Eric Newman says:

    Thanks for the balanced assessment. Just a bit of clarity around some of the click through rate issues.

    Two different topics here when it comes to CTR and hence two different numbers. For explanation’s sake, there are three steps in the process we’re describing:

    - Headline impression – This is the fair use content for a blog: headline + abstract + blog name. These are shown 1-20 at a time on publisher pages in a “headline widget”
    - Post view on the publisher site representing the full post content + full attribution a reader sees if they click on a headline
    - The original blog visit which results when a reader reads a post on the publisher’s site and clicks on the attribution or other links to visit the blog

    The 15-30% number represents the Click Thru Rate of people who see a blog’s full post on the publisher site and click through to the original blog. We emphasized this number at the moment because some bloggers expressed concerns here that no one would bother to click from a full post on a publisher site to visit the original blog. While the data is anectdotal, gathered from a few bloggers with pickup on our publisher sites, we are encouraged by this result as it shows that a sizeable percentage of readers visit a blog to learn more after reading a post on a publisher’s site. We are working to track this globally as part of blogger reporting so we have something more conclusive going forward.

    The 1% number is accurate as well. It represents the CTR from headline impressions on publisher sites all the way through to a visit to the original blog. While this number is low right now, if the 15-30% CTR from post view to original blog holds true as we scale, then the the goal should be to get more online newspaper readers to click on a headline and read a post on the publisher site as the CTR from the post to the original blog is already strong. We are working on a number of ways to improve this number for everyone’s benefit.

    Stay tuned for more info a http://www.burstblog.com. We are making additional changes to smooth out the process and requirements for the service and will have updates on stats, etc going forward.

  3. Gary Farber says:

    “It would require that all of their partners remove Blogburst-referred content automatically after X number of years and have a system in place to deal with bloggers that change their mind. A license requiring payment would demand a financial infrastructure they do not have in place.”

    This is actually not remotely a problem, as witness the contract offered by competitors such as TexTile, which I’ll get around to blogging about.

    And their excuse about not having money upfront is nonsense. The whole point of a royalty is that it isn’t money upfront. It’s money that is a percentage of profits earned. No profits into Blogburst, no outlay by them to bloggers.

    Claiming otherwise is a lie.

    The point of a royalty is that it calls for a percentage of profits, not a percentage of income (this can cause problems and a need for audits of dishonest publishers, but I won’t go into that here).

    But claiming that it’s a strain to not grant royalties, a grant only of a share of deserved profits, and not income, is blatantly dishonest, given that it glosses over this basic fact.

    If there’s no profit to the company, in this case Blogburst, they have no outlays to make, and no problem.

    What they’re objecting to us sharing profits, not income. That’s the Big Lie they’re making. And that makes me doubt their good faith (though possibly they’re simply completely clueless).

    I’ve updated my post to link to yours.

    I’ll probably get around to expanding on this in a while, though I expect to be busy and not blogging much for a couple of days.

    Incidentally, recent posts on plagiarism include this not quite example by Ron Fournier, this about William H. Swanson, chief of Raytheon, and this, amongst various others in the past.

  4. Gary Farber says:

    “It would require that all of their partners remove Blogburst-referred content automatically after X number of years and have a system in place to deal with bloggers that change their mind. A license requiring payment would demand a financial infrastructure they do not have in place.”

    This is actually not remotely a problem, as witness the contract offered by competitors such as TexTile, which I’ll get around to blogging about.

    And their excuse about not having money upfront is nonsense. The whole point of a royalty is that it isn’t money upfront. It’s money that is a percentage of profits earned. No profits into Blogburst, no outlay by them to bloggers.

    Claiming otherwise is a lie.

    The point of a royalty is that it calls for a percentage of profits, not a percentage of income (this can cause problems and a need for audits of dishonest publishers, but I won’t go into that here).

    But claiming that it’s a strain to not grant royalties, a grant only of a share of deserved profits, and not income, is blatantly dishonest, given that it glosses over this basic fact.

    If there’s no profit to the company, in this case Blogburst, they have no outlays to make, and no problem.

    What they’re objecting to us sharing profits, not income. That’s the Big Lie they’re making. And that makes me doubt their good faith (though possibly they’re simply completely clueless).

    I’ve updated my post to link to yours.

    I’ll probably get around to expanding on this in a while, though I expect to be busy and not blogging much for a couple of days.

    Incidentally, recent posts on plagiarism include this not quite example by Ron Fournier, this about William H. Swanson, chief of Raytheon, and this, amongst various others in the past.

  5. JB says:

    Gary,

    Just to clarify, the infrastructure I was talking about is the infrastructure to pay bloggers. Currently, when you register for Blogburst, there’s no requirement to input your SSN or any other financial information. I’m forced to assume that, if they had a payment structure in place, they would be taking that information in advance

    Also, I don’t know how accurate BB’s stats are and if they can determine how much profit they gained from each individual blogger. That’s an interesting question that I regret to say I have not posed.

    Such an infrastructure does take time and money to impliment and, while it might be fair to say that they should have had it in place before going live, if they don’t have it now, it’s going to be a while.

    Just my thoughts on that…

  6. JB says:

    Gary,

    Just to clarify, the infrastructure I was talking about is the infrastructure to pay bloggers. Currently, when you register for Blogburst, there’s no requirement to input your SSN or any other financial information. I’m forced to assume that, if they had a payment structure in place, they would be taking that information in advance

    Also, I don’t know how accurate BB’s stats are and if they can determine how much profit they gained from each individual blogger. That’s an interesting question that I regret to say I have not posed.

    Such an infrastructure does take time and money to impliment and, while it might be fair to say that they should have had it in place before going live, if they don’t have it now, it’s going to be a while.

    Just my thoughts on that…

  7. [...] Previously, I posted about the backlash to Pluck’s Blogburst service, which is designed to help bloggers get their entries places into "top-tier" mainstream media destinations such as the San Francisco Gate and The Washington Post. [...]

  8. [...] BlogBurst, the blog syndication service that became the subject of controversy back in May has announced a new rewards program to pay bloggers that have their works syndicated through their service. [...]

  9. [...] When BlogBurst first appeared on the scene, it generated a great deal of controversy for some of its policies. However, as the service has evolved, it has answered most of those initial concerns and even instituted a payment system for its members. [...]

  10. [...] Plagiarism Today [...]

  11. [...] It is especially refreshing to see how far BlogBurst and Pluck have come after their previous licensing issues. [...]

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