April 11, 2008

Should Fractured Feed Reader Comments Raise Blog Owners' Ire?

One of the more frequently mentioned suggestions for avid Google Reader users is the addition of comments to the service, so RSS readers could respond to blog posts, either directly from the reader and back to the originating blog, or within the Google Reader community itself, in effect, becoming a social network. But while Google Reader has not yet enabled comments, other services are, and it seems the excitement of adding this capability is hardly universal - and its opponents have gone so far as to call it "outrageous" or "theft".

While the discussion around where a blog's comments should reside has raised its head before, especially around services like FriendFeed, (See: Sarah Perez of Read Write Web: Blog Comments Still Matter) it flared up again this afternoon when I had (innocently, I thought) highlighted how one friend's blog post from earlier in the week was getting a lot of comments, and had become the most popular story on Shyftr, a next-generation RSS feed reader that enables comments within its service.

While I had hoped the author (Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist, who I highlighted on Monday and like quite a bit) would be pleased to see his post had gained traction, the reaction was not what I had expected. He said he was uneasy about seeing his posts generate activity and community for somebody else. Another FriendFeed user called it "content theft" and said "if they ever pull my feed and use it there, they can expect to get hit with a DMCA take-down notice". (See the discussion here)

I can see how content creators can feel threatened or wary of services who leverage full RSS feeds, or might actually have a case if they have publicly asked for no repurposing of their content, via Creative Commons or other methods. But I also see that the whole idea of reading feeds in isolation, without engaging, is going to soon be something of the past. AssetBar, Social|Median and Shyftr have been among the first to add comments in their site. Fav.or.it, via Disqus, offers the ability to post comments to the originating blogs. FriendFeed, RSSMeme and many, many others offer links to the content but contents on their site. And that's not even touching on the social news sites like Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, etc., where comments and community are generated, essentially through leveraging third party headlines.

As a blogger, I am a content creator. I don't want my content stolen, or reposted without attribution or under somebody else's name. But I am also a huge advocate of RSS and continuing to adapt where the conversation is being held. Just as my blog's RSS views have undoubtedly eclipsed my blog page views, I would not be surprised to see that more comments on my posts might eventually live outside of my blog. It would behoove me and other bloggers to be aware of the other places the conversation will be taking place, and to engage there, in my opinion, rather than railing against the continued evolution of how we're consuming content and engaging online.

Even the conversation about this issue has escaped the blogosphere. Eric, on FriendFeed writes, "It's slightly troubling that this conversation is taking place here instead of on one of our blogs," but it's not so much troubling in my mind, but instead requires a changing mindset.

The Web as a whole has clamored for full RSS feeds, not partial, so we don't have to return to the originating site. Some of us have just as loudly asked for comments and conversations to enter the world of the RSS feed reader. Now that we're starting to see what it's like, maybe it's not what we had fully anticipated. But it's the way things are headed, and rather than label innovators like Matt Shaulis (Twitter | FriendFeed) and Dave Stanley of Shyftr (Twitter | FriendFeed) as outrageous or possibly illegitimate, we should engage and speak up about what we think is right. As for the developers who enable these services, there are definitely ways they can help raise the visibility of the practice - through e-mail alerts, trackbacks, or even giving the option to opt out. But we'll be seeing this more and more going forward. I promise you that.


  1. there are two issues: one comments, two traffic. You can love social networks all you want and if comments via social networks bring you personal value, groovy.

    But worrying about comments in the context of traffic is ridiculous because as a percentage of people who will read something, the % who will comment is tiny. On most blogs, it's less than one half of one percent of readership.

    I think it's better to focus and worry about the other 99.5%, but that's just me. Then again, I'm part of the few, the proud, the .05%!

  2. Actually I think the issue is more one of being part of the conversation. Now, when I post something to my blog, not only do I have to keep an eye on and be active in the comments there, but also on "X" number of these social sites that are aggregating my full feed with their own comments. Of course, that means that I have to sign up and be a member of that site, or risk not being involved in conversations about content I created in the first place. Simply put, that's too much freakin' work!

    Louis, I'd also really be curious to know what you think about this. You're right, users spent forever clamoring for full RSS feeds, why is there suddenly a rush to use Friendfeed, when it takes my full feed and turns it into a headline-only feed? Why would anyone voluntarily subscribe to that instead of my blog feed? I've written about this on my blog and no one really had a response. Or maybe the rresponse was posted on one of those sites I'm not a member fo? ;)

  3. It can be challenging to "chase down" the different sites that can feature your content. Just in the last three months or so, we've seen Yokway, BlogRize, Social|Median, Shyftr, and AssetBar debut, as well as RSSMeme, ReadBurner, Toluu, MergeLab and LinkRiver. I'm having a hard time remembering to visit all these places myself, and I feel responsible to do so, in addition to FriendFeed and Google Reader! With that said, there will always be issues where different sides have opposing viewpoints, and this might be one hard to find a middle ground for.

  4. Louis - this is something where FriendFeed and other aggregators potentially hold more power over the content apps than has been realized. Once they take feeds from the various sources, they really can set up their own ecosystems, such as the Shyfter app, or even FriendFeed.

    I've looked at it from the user's perspective, as in giving users more power to switch their social apps and remain plugged in to their social network on FriendFeed (http://tinyurl.com/29cu6k). But this is the other side of the coin - the content or app producers losing control.

    All because of RSS and APIs.

    I love FriendFeed, and I want everyone to use it plenty - I learn so much. It does seem a reasonable question can be asked about the effect of a FriendFeed on the content producers and application makers. May ultimately be resolved as a non-issue, but worthy of a conversation.

  5. It should not been so hard to integrate comments in a feed reader with those on a site.

    Wordpress can display track back links right along with comments.

    It would seem you could easily build a standard and just have an rss reader ping the blog to add the comment.

    personally I can't wait for google reader to have integrated comments. As long as I can get notified in some way that there is comment action for my blog on google reader I'll be a happy blogger.

  6. It's been frustrating seeing comments scattered to hell and back all around all these sites. To participate in the conversation, I spend more time chasing it around or figuring out which site I need to use to follow it.

    A couple of things will happen. I'll either a) give up or b) close comments and just be more magazine-y.

    Sure that's against the sacred Rules du Blog, but I don't know.

    Also, RSS is by its very design able to be slurped up by anything that can parse it. Maybe that's why we make so much noise on all these social nets-- so that we can cement and emblazon our 'personal brands' in your head (and of course Google), that there will be no hesitation who made the content.

    Then we can set it free (mentally, anyway, it always has been free).


  7. Here's another great example of a site that does full RSS with comments: Plaxo Pulse.

    Who Owns This Conversation?

  8. i'm kind of interested to see this 'blog from your reader' service, so i might have to try it out.

    i'm curious - should everyone who comments have to read all previous comments, first - as a matter of common courtesy? some blogs have 200+ comments on a post - many of which are brain-dead - should i have to scroll through them, reading them all, or should i just be able to post my comment and jet?

  9. For Disqus comments inside Google Reader check out the gReader Comments Firefox extension I put together: http://www.sixteenseven.com/gReader

    It links up blogs that have Disqus so you can join the conversation right inside Google Reader.

  10. It just exacerbates a problem that always existed anyway. It's nice to want to be part of all the conversations your work might generate, but even in the best circumstances you can't.

    some people will e-mail about it. You won't see it. Some people will discuss it on forums you've never heard of, etc.

    Do you actually have a responsibity to track down the conversations on ten different sites (and that seems to be growing) or just the desire to do so?

  11. Robert, I was going to mention the e-mail example in the post, but didn't. If my grandmother sends a chain e-mail that started with my blog, how do I manage to be part of that conversation? What if it's verbal? :-)

  12. well... you can paint me disappointed in the amount of bloggers with a "digg this" button on their site who are raising such a ruckus about commenting outside blogs...

    to see shyftr compared to scrapers is heartbreaking to me as a devout lover of web 2.0 (buzzwords and all)... the only advertisements you see there are provided directly from the feed publishers themselves from feedburner, pheedo, etc...

    what others see as comment fragmentation i see as comment liberation... i see a lot of new people with voice standing in an unfamiliar and changing environment (i've been addicted to the web since 1995)...

    to the bitchmemers of the weekend: lose the digg buttons and the technorati reaction links (both begging for external interaction) before you start to get too loud... attempt to embrace the culture YOU are trying to run a business on... a business that can ONLY exist on republishing that culture (albeit with your own "comments")... i don't know... a lot of mirror looking needs to happen over the weekend. it's never fun to see guilty fingers pointing.

    great post louis!

  13. I've taken a look at Shyftr and, from what I can tell, there is very clear attribution to the source of the content. So the main issue here is that comments on the content are fragmented, making it hard for the content owner to see feedback in one place. I'm confident that someone (Disqus?) will come along and provide a plugin that pulls comments from these various conversation areas (Shyftr, FriendFeed, etc.) back to the comment area of the source content. For now, I just think that content creators need to accept the fact that discussion will be spread around on different sites. Hasn't this been the case for the past several years with sites like Slashdot and Digg?

    I'm more concerned about cases where someone scrapes content from another blog without clearly attributing it to the source content. This happened to me earlier this week ( http://snurl.com/2478s ). A blog with a very similar URL (Twitter related) started pulling in my content (via RSS) to their tumblog. The posts included links back to my site but, at first glance, it looked like the content was created by the site that was doing the scraping. Tumblr staff resolved the issue in less than 24 hours and the guy who was scraping the content is no longer pulling in the feed.

  14. Did Seidman say groovy? :) Louis... Well, actually tuned in a few minutes this morning (technically still on vacation?) and noticed this post of Robert Scoble's shared feed. Are 'we' ahead of the curve? Will Friendfeed, RSSMeme, a new ReadBurner, etc change the landscape? You bet ya. It's a good thang and nobody should be worried. We should be delivering content that matters even if we occasional cross out of our niche, whatever that is. Do we need to be talking more about the economy (worldwide). Yep.

    Blogs can be a relection of our true thoughts, news, businesses, gossip or all of the above.

    The well written and informative sites will rise to the top, just as the most informative or most entertaining websites did.

    Great stuff (and having a little fun! :)

  15. Guess I should have swallowed the coffee first (re above). Make that 'on Robert Scoble's feed ...' and 'it's a good thing' ??

  16. I think what we are really talking about, fundamentally, is content as currency, or wealth. After the NYT article which details how bloggers have to slave to (try to) make a living, it is easy to understand why the fruits of one's labors would be so highly guarded and protected. But the question arises, what is truly protected and what interests does that ultimately serve? Is being an isolationist in which few people are exposed to your content really enabling your work? Is letting others "steal" it giving you a wider audience? The optimum benefit for content creators may well lie someplace in between. We want to provide a large audience for our work, within the context of some reasonable protections.
    Alex Hammer

  17. everything existing all at once everywhere is what tech is trending towards

    just like the privacy thing, everyone can know anything about anyone

    omniscience in form is the future

  18. There is a service, uberVu.com, being developed that will send content you generate to sites of your choice and search sites for comments about your post. That will get very hard when the comments are on a site different from the post, but it is another step in the direction of integrating the conversation that goes beyond simply the comments to a single post.

    It is a move to integrate 'around' the person rather than the sites on which the person 'appears.'

  19. I wrote about this same issue this week. (But my post didn't make it to Techmeme!) ;)


  20. Louis you're rocking it man! Keep up the great work. I touched on this topic recently as well...

    Ladies and Gentlemen, The Conversation Has Left The Building - http://tinyurl.com/3xg7ra

  21. I would firstly say is that fav.or.it is the only and first service that meets your first requirement, that of posting comments back to the blog, btw disqus has nothing to do with this, they are just another partner who support our platform (along with 40+ million other blogs).

    Secondly because our platform is open - our API allows third parties to distribute comments - so if 'shyftr' want to come talk to us so that their comments go back to the blog - thats fine with us.

    For me it is about the customer and not the blog owner, we need remove the barriers involved in all our wonderful 'technology' and make commenting as integrated and simple as possible, this means long term making all services interconnect (dataportability.org) - so that all services allow the original content owner to get the attention it deserves.

  22. If commenting were more accessible, maybe more than .05% of people would leave positive feedback.
    Also, I think commenting can lead to community. It seems unfortunate that part of a blogs community would be on FriendFeed while another part is on the original blog and other parts are scattered about and they can't interact with each other. There should be some central base for comments (which seems a logical role for the original blog to fill) and if others want to pull comments from them / push comments to them, great!

  23. I can understand why bloggers are worrying about conversations stimulated by content they posted being fractured. I think readers are less likely to contribute to fractured conversations - it's a lot more difficult to follow comments across a bunch of sites than reading them in one place.

    I think it's time for an RSS read/write comments API. This would give users the ability to read and post comments through RSS readers without stealing content from the authors. I believe users would be a lot more likely to post comments to blogs if they could read/write them in place from within their newsreader of choice.

  24. Sorry guys, but I really don't get it: the solution is so dead simple that I really can't believe no one utilizes it! Let me explain my thoughts...

    Blogs have been built for decentralized discussion. Why? Because a blogger doesn't comment on another bloggers blog - he often prefers to do his own post on his own blog and let the originator know about it!

    Nobody has been complaining about this distributed discussion all over the web yet. In fact this was always seen as a big advantage.

    The technology to bring these separate strings of discussion together on the original blog is called Pingback or Trackback. It's prooven, it's reliable and there are lots of open source libs out there to implement it.

    The question is: why do these services don't use trackbacks anyway?

    Shameless plug: lifestrea.ms, our advanced lifestreaming service, was taking the trackback approach for comments from beginning on (meaning since Nov. 2007 :) ). Not only because sending trackbacks to the original source of content has benefits for bloggers, but also for the users / readers, because they surely wanna let the writer of a post know about their comment. For the user it makes no sense to hide his thoughts in an closed external network...

  25. I just want to say that I agree with your final point. We need to talk more about what is right and not just what is wrong.

    I think, more than anything, that is the crux of the problem. We need solid rules and ethical guidelines. These will come from the courts, and cases like these.

    Maybe soon we get back to creating content rather than just deciding what to do with it...

  26. RSS readers should just display the NUMBER of comments and link to the originating site for posting and/or reading those comments... These are readers, not writers, correct?

    Maybe they could feature a preview of the latest few comments, with no posting abilities. A one-way browser (rss reader) should not be creating content in isolation.

  27. Hi, Louis!

    My apologies for not commenting, earlier. And thank you for taking the time to respond to me over on Valeria's blog.

    I was wrong in my initial reaction; the technology that separates comments from the original blog post are simply an extension of the "newspaper" model. In our day to day lives, we comment on the activities of celebrities, politicians and others with enthusiasm. The informer of these shenanigans rarely gets to know what we discuss - unless they magically restrict who can comment, and where. As no one has figured out how to do that, we're left with the current situation.

    Which is basically that many of these comment companies have figured out how to make the web catch up to the conversations' people have been having for millennia.

    It would be nice if they did some sort of "traceback" mechanism - either popping the comments into the original post, or some sort of notification, but that's all it would be: nice. Polite, even. Implementing such shouldn't be too difficult a task for the bright folk running around the web, these days. :-)

    Carolyn Ann

  28. This is why I love Disqus.
    At the moment it doesn't solve the problem of other hijacking it at least provides a platform to potentially agregate all comments for a blog as well as giving the commenter a degree of ownership/tracability.
    If the API and platform opens up more so that these services can utilize the Platform as a Service all will be good.
    Of course then there's the issue of rival services (Intense Debate, CoComment etc) and monetization....

  29. I think content creators (and I include myself here) get a little too het up about owning all the interactions around their content. In reality all interactions around your content will only tend to attract more readers to your content, regardless of where people discover you. If the net result of this discovery machine (aka the network effect) is 10 or 20% growth in your readership, you're foolish to refuse that essentially free benefit. Sure you can be a hard ass about it and turn all your feeds into excerpts instead of full posts, and that will force people to go to your site to read and comment, but it will put just as many (or more) people off your content completely. Finally, we should all stop chasing this holy grail of everything talking to everything else, all the time. Linking every node in the social graph to every other node doesn't equal enlightenment, it equals chaos.

  30. Has anyone considered that it should be possible to integrate something into RSS that indicates permission? Just like how website owners can control with robots.txt, couldn't there be a setting on RSS to do the same for feed comments?