Blogstamp: Certified Blog Timestamps

One of the biggest problems in dealing with content theft, especially when it involves RSS scraping, is verifying when the original work was posted. Since timestamps with blog posts are easily modified, they are useless when it comes to verifying authenticity.

Spam blogs regularly take advantage of this to game Technorati and other blog search engines, plagiarists are known to roll back timestamps to appear to be the original author and legitimate bloggers often post into the future to keep important posts at the top of the page. Timestamps, when it’s all said and done, are meaningless.

One service, Blogstamp, is hoping to change that.

Blogstamp offers “certified timestamps for everyone” and is designed to operate as a backend for blogging applications, thus giving bloggers a means to stamp their posts and readers a means to verify both the time and the content.

It’s an interesting system that, most likely, will appeal to many bloggers seeking out alternatives to Numly and other content verification systems, such as Registered Commons.

How it Works

In its current state, Blogstamp is nothing more than an API. To take advantage of it, one has to first install either the Drupal module or WordPress Plugin.

Once the plugins are installed, anything posted is then also submitted through Blogstamp’s Web site. Blogstamp, in turn creates a lengthy (156 byte) stamp of the file, comprised of the SHA-1 hash of the content, plus the timestamp and a digital signature,

The plugins then place a “Timestamp verified” link on every entry that it processes. When the user clicks that link, they are taken to a form where they can submit the information to Blogstamp’s site for verification. Once they hit the “validate” button, they are taken to a page on the Blogstamp site that verifies or denies the validity of the stamp.

If the timestamp is valid, then the date, time and content are all accurate as to when it was submitted upon posting. If it is invalid, at least one of the items was changed.

It is an easy and convenient way for bloggers to quickly prove the validity of their work and for users to verify it.

Lots to Love

There’s a lot of reasons to love Blogstamp’s system and even more reasons to consider using it:

  • Simplicity: Blogstamp is the pinnacle of simplicity. The API is extremely easy to use, simply submit the content of the post and then post a form with the timestamp, body and signature to verify. No complicated naming requirements or advanced programming needed.
  • Easy Verification: Much like PGP signatures, Blogstamp provides one-click verification of both the content and the time. Users who click the link get a quick thumbs up or down regarding the validity of the post.
  • Free: Blogstamp is, for right now at least, completely and totally free. There is no cost in creating or using a plugin. It can be added to your site today, without restrictions.

All in all, there are many good reasons for considering the use of Blogstamp on your site. However, there are a few problems with the service that may keep it from being the ideal solution it could later become.

Some Problems

For all of the things that Blogstamp does right, there are a few issues with the service that exist, at least at this early date:

  • Lack of URL: In the current version, there is no means to cache the URL the original content was to appear on. This means that there is nothing to stop a scraper or plagiarist from simply copying the “Timestamp Certified” link and then posting it on their site. This might actually help plagiarists in their bid to turn the work into their own.
  • Difficult Setup: Right now, Blogstamp requires a plugin of some variety to use the system. However, the WordPress plugin is more difficult than many to install, requiring manipulation of the templates. This can be very intimidating to many people who are unfamiliar with code.
  • No Reverse Lookup: The Blogstamp hash is some 156 characters, compared to the 17-digit Numly ESN. It is almost impossible to display the hash on your site and, even if it were, it would do no good as there is no way to go from the hash to the original work.
  • Lack of Visuals: Though there may be art in Blogstamp’s simplicity, right now it won’t be winning any beauty pageants either. The homepage is basic HTML and the validate pages appear, at first glance, to be just garbled text. It lacks the visual elements needed to make this product mainstream.

However, all of these issues, save perhaps the reverse lookup, can easily be fixed in future iterations of the project. As it is right now, Blogstamp is the new kid on the block, formally announced on the 12th, and has a lot of room to grow.

Comparisons

Blogstamp is going to attract obvious comparisons to similar products, the most popular being Numly.

However, Numly, right now, is a much more well-rounded product. It offers reverse look up, complete file information, easy to use ESNs and can work with just about any media type.

Still, it does have a couple of edges over Numly. First, Blogstamp is completely free and Numly requires a paid account for more than a few ESNs per month. Second, Numly does not provide a “thumbs up or down” verification of a timestamp. Users have to look at the ESN page and decide for themselves.

Likewise, Registered Commons is a much more well-rounded service as well, but it also has the benefit of being free. However, it’s complexity pushes it out of the reach of most bloggers and relegates it to more targeted uses, such as registering a book or a piece of artwork.

All in all, Blogstamp seems to be ready to fill a niche for users that want or need a free version of Numly, but do not require all of the features. For Blogstamp, it is simply a matter of the most basic non-repudiation. How big that niche is will have to be seen.

Conclusions

Blogstamp is a very simple service targeted at a very specific problem: The inherent unreliability of blog timestamps. It deals with that problem very well and, with a few tweaks, could be an extremely useful tool.

However, Blogstamp needs to grow some before it is ready to replace existing services. Fortunately, it has a lot of room and time to do so.

Personally, I am very excited about Blogstamp and where it might go. If a service like this were to become a pseudo-standard on the Web, spam blogs would find it much harder to abuse search engines.

After all, an unbiased observer of the blogosphere is something that has been needed for some time. Whether or not Blogstamp will fill this void remains to be seen.

It has a long way to go, but it seems to be headed in the right direction.

Tags: Content Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Law, Numly, Plagiarism, Plugins, Registered Commons, Scraping, Spam, Splogging, Splogs, Technorati, Blogstamp

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