Open discussion in the blogosphere is an important element, necessary to promote change where change is needed. Sometimes, the way this discussion can be initiated will hit people the wrong way, making some believe that if you come down on the unpopular side of the issue, that it's personal, when that's not intended. And there's no doubt that the way I addressed a few frustrations I had with Mashable's coverage and attribution had at least one person seeing red, labeling me "arrogant, insulting, immature and irresponsible" in an e-mail.
But aside from their viewpoint, the conversation started up by last night's post has many thinking about how the blogosphere can grow up and take on traditional media "best practices" for linkage, research and attribution. Coming from a media background myself, I certainly have ideas in my head as to what are the right ways to go about reporting, linking and attribution, and while there's no way I'm perfect, I do the best I can to follow them - as no doubt, most people do.
To make it clear, I don't dislike Mashable, period. I don't dislike their writers or their management at all. In fact, I greatly enjoyed talking with Pete Cashmore last night and seeing his comments, as well as those of Adam Ostrow, and am pleased to see the team is going to rally and review their editorial linking policies after this kerfuffle, as he posted in the comments, and via e-mail.
I don't take the viewpoint that some others took that it was high time to unsubscribe from their RSS feed or to boycott them. I have zero proof, as others claimed, that the site has broken embargoes, and I strongly believe each of the people involved are well-intended, but may sometimes be feeling the pressure to post quickly, and needed something like this to make best practices a company policy.
So while Kent Newsome called this "Louis Gray vs. Mashable" in his notes tonight, that's not what I was going for. I was going for "Louis Gray fights in favor of best practices" where Mashable gets a one-time black eye that quickly fades... or something.
So how did the overall blogosphere take the conversation, after it unexpectedly hit TechMeme, putting it in front of the eyes of thousands? Let's take a look.
Peter Black said, "Although Mashable is a site I read religiously and link to frequently, I think Louis Gray's point is fair and well made" in a post simply titled: "Mashable" .
Todd McKinney said in "MS bashing may be fashionable", "It’s just sleazy to see the proliferation of internal links and content thievery among the commercial a-list in the blogosphere. These guys should be setting the standard here."
Mathew Ingram devoted an entire post to the coversation, in "I’m glad Louis Gray called out Mashable", saying, "... something has always kind of bothered me about the site, and I’m glad that Louis Gray finally wrote about it: Mashable often isn’t that great at giving credit to the blogs and writers who found an item first."
Ian Betteridge of Technovia called my post a "well-deserved kicking", saying "While everyone messes up an attribution every now and then, Mashable seems to have shown too much of a pattern to doing this for it to be anything other than editorial policy."
Prosthetic Device, a new blog to me, wrote, saying "If you create original content, you need to be mindful of your online presence," calling Mashable a "bigger online gorilla", in her post "Disintermediation and Web 2.0".
Joe Duck saw the discussion as "Another shot in the blog revolution", extending the conversation by linking the volume of stories to cold hard cash, saying, "I certainly agree that blogs are now doing what mainstream media has done for decades - sacrificing good quality reporting in the interest of monetization."
Backing up Mathew Ingram in Canada was Tris Hussey of Maple Leaf 2.0, who, in a post called "Cross-linking and attribution are critical to conversation and social media", said that "small blogs can be “discovered” when they are given the acknowledgement and props they deserve."
Frederic of the Last Podcast backed us up in a post called "No Attribution", and said that beyond money, the issue may be that there are just too many tech blogs out there covering the same thing, making researched reporting too dang hard. He writes, "There seems to be a lot more emphasis on breaking news today than delivering any sort of critical reflection about the news."
All told, the comments throughout the blogosphere, combined with many of those on last night's post, have me believing there is a serious amount of distrust of the biggest sites out there - and Mashable's not alone in drawing suspicion. Other commenters volunteered TechCrunch and Engadget as being skimpy with external links and attributing original sources for news. Regardless of who is to blame for questionable practices, I'm glad the blogosphere presents us with a platform to talk about it, and to actually make change. I am pleased with Mashable's near-instant response to the issue, and have faith that Pete and his team will work harder to be part of the continued evolution of the blogosphere as it grows up. Hopefully, I haven't burned so many bridges as to be left out of the process.
For additional commentary on the Mashable attribution issue, in other languages, try:
Blog En Serio: También los grandes pecan… y más de lo que pensamos (Spanish)
Porto Alegre: E Continua a Discussao (Portuguese)