Last week I wrote about the company Snip.ly and it’s URL-shortening service that raised, in my mind, significant legal and ethical concerns.
To be brief, Snip.ly is a URL shortening service that, instead of simply redirecting the visitor to page they wish to share, they’re instead directed to a special version of the page with the target URL in a frame. On top of that target URL is an ad for there person who shared it, including their logo, some text and a call to action.
This overlay appears to be a part of the site, especially to the untrained eye. There is no current way to opt out of Snip.ly other than installing frame breaking technology, which I discussed in detail in my previous post, and no indication that the advertisement isn’t endorsed by the original site.
However, it appears I wasn’t the only one thinking about Snip.ly and the possible issues with it. Over at Google Plus, Carol Lynn Rivera and Ralph M. Rivera started a lengthy conversation about Snip.ly that already has about 170 comments and includes dozens of people, including many marketers. Also active in the conversation is Christopher Bowal, one of the Sniply’s founders.
Through this and other dialogs, a lot has happened so I wanted to take a moment and provide a quick update on what is new, what has been learned and what is likely to happen in the story of Snip.ly.
The Google Plus Conversation
First off, if you have an opinion on Snip.ly and it’s practices, the conversation on Google Plus is a great place to have them heard. With a representative for Snip.ly, namely Bowal, in the thread and responding, albeit not to my satisfaction, it’s a great place to discuss the service and the concerns you may have over it.
The team over at Warfare Plugins, the makers of the popular Social Warfare social plugin for WordPress, were outraged by Snip.ly enough not just to create an angry video about it, but to develop Sniply Buster, a plugin for blocking Snip.ly on your site.
Best of all, Sniply Buster is available for free to anyone using the standalone version of WordPress. The feature is also now a baked-in option to the paid plugin.
I haven’t tested Sniply Buster myself as the ScrapeBreaker plugin I’m using is working well enough. I’ve also asked them for more information about how the plugin works and if it blocks other framing sites, but I’m yet to hear back. I’ll update this section when and if I do.
Snip.ly’s Size and History
Through the course of the conversation(s) on Google Plus and elsewhere, some confusion has risen about the size and background of Snip.ly.
As Patrick O’Keefe pointed out in the Google Plus thread, Bowal makes a reference to being a small team of three. Yet, Snip.ly’s “Team” page lists 13 people, including the three co-founders. This is in addition to the 12 “Mentors, Advisors, Champions” also listed on the same page or 32 “Sniply Evangelists”.
However, the three person team claim is backed up by other media accounts, including a Globe and Mail report on the company from August of last year. However, whether Snip.ly is still just three people five months later is unknown.
That article was written almost two months after Snip.ly had issued a press release saying it had purchased two separate companies, Hoverpost, a company that converted outbound links to embedded content when possible, and Headsha.re, a Snip.ly-like company that added a custom header to any outbound link.
The founders of both of those companies are currently listed in the “Mentors” list on the Snip.ly team page.
So even if Snip.ly is a small team, it’s become clear that it’s strong enough to buy out relevant competitors and they have been around for nearly a year, having had plenty of time to think about many of the issues at hand.
In the thread and elsewhere, the SEO impact of Snip.ly is being debated. According to Bowal, the company uses Link Response Headers to tell the search engines. While this means the canonical tag is not visible in the Snip.ly page, Bowal says that this is Google’s preferred system.
However, Snip.ly links have been showing up in Google by the thousands, creating a duplicate page at a new URL. While the use of canonical headers should mean Google knows which page is the original many will understandably be uneasy about seeing duplicates of their content indexed in Google.
Further, as others have pointed, by keeping the user on the Snip.ly domain, third-party traffic trackers will only see Snip.ly receiving the traffic, not the actual site. This can harm ad revenue and hurt the site in other ways.
Changes and Proposed Changes to Snip.ly
In the Google Plus thread, some of the anger about Snip.ly came from the fact that users were unable to delete their snips. Though they could archive them and remove them from their dashboard, they couldn’t be completely deleted.
However, if you’re a Snip.ly user who is now regretting their involvement, Snip.ly now offers an easy way on their dashboard to delete a their account. Upon deletion, all of the accounts snips simply redirect to the source, no overlay or framing.
In the thread, Bowal also discussed the idea of adding disclaimers to snips, distancing them from the original content.
Finally, Bowal also added that they do have protections in place against spamming, where they review acount that send out a large number of snips or has a low response rate. However, the company is debating and discussing the possibility of an RSS feature, that would allow it to automatically snip and share posts once they are published.
However, as Ian Anderson Gray noted, that could be a serious problem if the Snip.ly user was grabbing a feed from a site that they didn’t control. Since the conversation about RSS appears to be early on, there’s no word how and if they will block that.
Bowal and others with Snip.ly have talked a great deal about listening to feedback. However, of the most part, the feedback has been clear – A service like Snip.ly should be opt-in, not opt-out.
Even if Snip.ly blocks all of the spammers, stops all misuse by competitors, adds a clear disclaimer and offers a simple opt out, they are still running advertisements on and over the content of others without permission and, in doing so, are covering up and blocking calls to action and features on that site.
If Snip.ly provides the benefit they claim it does, then webmasters will be eager to sign themselves up. However, judging from the reactions of webmasters, it seems that many feel Snip.ly isn’t just providing no benefit, but that it is actively harming them.
While Snip.ly seems ready to negotiate and make all sorts of changes to appease webmasters, they aren’t going to make the single one that would fix the problem, moving to opt-in. That would make Snip.ly untenable.