Rethinking Article Embedding

Repost LogoLast month, I wrote a review of the service Repost.us in which I said that I loved the service (which I still do) but that I felt it and the entire notion of embedding articles had a tremendous uphill battle.

In short, I laid out the graveyard of companies that had come before Repost.Us, including noting that the “launch” of Repost.Us was actually a relaunch of the service, which actually began life under two other names.

Basically, though embedding media content, such as YouTube videos, has become mainstream, several companies have tried to do the same with text works but, so far, had failed.

Shortly after I posted the article, I received a message from the heads at Repost.Us who wanted to schedule a time to talk. They felt they could convince me otherwise and I happily talked with them about the subject.

While I can’t say that my mind has completely changed on the subject, I have to admit that they made a few points I had failed to consider.

So, let’s take a few more minutes to look at the issue and see if maybe article embedding really has a chance…

Where Article Reposting is Already Successful

WordPress LogoWhile article embedding may not be widespread across the whole of the Web, there are at least a few places where it has found traction, Tumblr and WordPress.com.

Both of these services offer “Reblog” features that make it easy for others on the same network to repost content. These systems are done with permission and always include proper attribution with every reblog.

Though it’s easy to not think of these reblogs as being examples of article embedding, they are very similar to “retweets” in terms of functionality, they do at least inch webmasters closer to it. After all, reblogging has trained many to not copy and paste content they want to share, but rather, took for automated ways to integrate it.

Still, reblogging has the advantage of being easier than the manual alternative and that’s not something that can really be said of Repost.Us and article embedding in general. While it’s easy to streamline the process across a single service or platform, it’s much harder to do so across the entire Web.

However, that doesn’t mean embedding is pointless on the Web at large.

Carving Out Communities

NJCommons LogoThough Repost.Us has made its tools available for all that want to use it, the service has focused its energy into building targeted communities built on its service.

One example they highlighted for me was New Jersey News Commons, an effort by Montclair State University to bring several different New Jersey news outlets together in one place.

The idea is fairly simple, bring together sites that are in the same niche and make it easy for them to use content from one another through article embedding. Each site can fill holes in their coverage while the sites they pull from get revenue from embedded ads and, according to Repost.Us, a higher clickthru rate on embedded links (averaging 6% on embedded articles vers 1-2% on regular attribution links).

This also opens up the possibility of full-content aggregation sites that offer a real benefit to both readers and the content creators, giving something more compelling than a mere collection of links to visitors and, likely, a better deal for the original authors.

That, in the future, could make for some very interesting sites and raises the possibility of cross-site cooperation like never before seen.

Seeking a Broader Reach

So if reblogging and article embedding work well on a shared platform or across a dedicated community, can it become a default practice like embedding a YouTube clip?

Probably not.

Even Repost.Us acknowledges that this is going to be an uphill battle. There’s a lot of inertia there and, even if a site has article embedding enabled, which the vast majority don’t, it’s still easier and more common to copy relevant portions and place an attribution link.

Still, there are areas where article embedding could be very useful and more widely used. If Repost.Us is able to convince more mainstream media outlets to enable embedding, longer-tail sites, such as “hyperlocal” ones could use it to bring in relevant content they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Likewise, mainstream outlets might want to use embeds to bring up longer-tail content that, while might be worthy of inclusion, doesn’t make sense to write or report on themselves.

However, once again, these are relatively niche uses. Though YouTube and Soundcloud have definitely gotten webmasters used to the idea of embedding media on their site, it doesn’t seem that article embedding will reach that same level of commonality.

Even if it is what’s best for both the original author and the person wishing to use their content, there’s simply too much inertia to overcome right now.

Bottom Line

So do I still believe article embedding has an uphill battle? Absolutely.

However, I do see a path for relevance for the idea. Rather than trying to change the behavior of the Web at large, Repost.Us, and any other service hoping to enter this field, may have better luck at finding relevance by building communities and enabling relationships between sites that couldn’t exist before.

While this is a niche use for the technology, it could be a very important use, enabling a new type of content aggregation and changing the way news is shared online.

So while I don’t see your average blogger seeking out an embed code to reference an outside article, article embedding could be an important part of the Web if Repost.Us is able to reach out to key sites and build communities around it.

It may still be something of a long shot, but at least this approach doesn’t have a graveyard of dead companies to warn me a way from the idea and Repost.Us has a working example community to showcase.

That’s already more success than other ventures in this area have had.

sauce