April 13, 2008

Shyftr Responds to Critics, Alters RSS Commenting Strategy

Friday night's discussion around the fragmenting of comments between blogs, FriendFeed and RSS readers grew well beyond what I had expected. While the issue of comments and where they should live, relative to the original blog, has come up before, new entrants to the market, like Shyftr, Plaxo and AssetBar made some uncomfortable about how their full feeds were being utilized. After a few days of some high-profile trashing, as well as some supporting posts from people like Robert Scoble and myself, Shyftr has capitulated, by pulling full feeds where discussions are taking place, while retaining full attribution, in hopes to quell fears about stealing the conversation away from bloggers.

In a post this morning (RSS Feeds, Community, Publishers, and Revisions), Shyftr's founder, Dave Stanley, reiterates the key goal of Shyftr, namely:

"Shyftr was developed to help people find and subscribe to publishers that they otherwise would have never found on their own, through the community and network of friends. Having a community where people can share and discuss the feeds they read helps to facilitate this goal."

But, as mentioned, not everyone liked Shyftr's plan to have full discussion on the full feed, so given some of the feedback, Shyftr has adjusted their approach. Stanley's post shows that for those feeds which enable discussion, Shyftr will no longer show full feeds. He writes:

"We have decided to revise the format around our discussions. We will only display the title, author, and date of an item where discussions occur outside of the reader. We deeply respect content publishers, and it is not our intention to cause unease."

You can see how this has changed by looking at some of the commented posts within Shyftr, including one from Tony Hung (Fine, I'll Say It: Shyftr Crosses The Line), another from Mashable (Shyftr: Good, Bad, and Potentially Quite Ugly) and mine from Friday. (Should Fractured Feed Reader Comments Raise Blog Owners' Ire?)

I made my opinion clear on Friday that I personally had no problem with what Shyftr was doing. Sarah Perez's initial coverage of Shyftr on ReadWriteWeb (Social Feed Reading With Shyftr) didn't bring up fractured comments as an issue, nor did my coverage back on March 4th. (Shyftr Offers Social RSS Reading, Including Comments, Rankings). Corvida of SheGeeks was the only one to bring up the issue prior to this weekend, that I can tell, in her review: Google Reader Trumps Shyftr.

Unlike some have speculated, Shyftr is not on the dark side of the Web, a content scraper or a splogger (spam blogger). Instead, the service is trying to grow and find a niche where friends can share and comment on feeds, and over the last few months, I've grown to like the service and respect the individuals behind it, so I hope they can overcome this blip and work with the blogosphere.

I expect that over time, the RSS community will band together and find a great way to cross-pollenate comments from Readers to bloggers, and all will be one. You can see Nick Halstead's post on the Fav.or.it blog (Fractured Commenting - Again) where he offers Shyftr use of the fav.or.it API to do just that. I don't think we're all that far away from getting this issue solved. Luckily, Shyftr is listening and already making change. The question is, will these changes be enough? If you had issues with Shyftr's approach, let me know what you think about their update.

You can also find me on Shyftr here: http://www.shyftr.com/profile/louisgray


  1. Just showing the title, link, and excerpt makes a huge difference and places shyftr into the range of services that delicious, digg, etc. provide.

    However, I find the language from Shyftr somewhat unclear -- sounds like they may show full feeds sometimes, or show the full text until someone leaves a comment on the shyftr side, perhaps?

  2. I also had no qualms about shyftr's practice, and do really like the service, but they have handled this perfectly.

    They took (and obviously actually read) people's concerns, made a solution, and executed immediately. The best part is the changes do not affect the actual function of shyftr one iota. So many egoistic companies would have handled this differently (... fav.or.it?)

    Well done shyftr team!!

  3. Eric, I believe this means when you read it passively, as your RSS reader, it's a full feed, but the "discussion" area would show the link and excerpt only. Dumbing down the reader to not show full feeds would have been a killer.

  4. I feel this is a good move for them, as it's not a good idea to bite the hand that "feeds" you (pun intended) meaning if your service profits from content creators, you better be respectful of their desires for the content - as misguided as it may be.

    And as for the "dark side" of the web - YouTube profited enormously from upload of copyrighted content uploaded by users. I don't think that was right either. A lot of Web 2.0 services get away with borderline behavior in the name of garnering traffic and I don't think sites should get a free pass just because they're startups and we are in love with the romantic ideal of small businesses that struggle to succeed.

  5. Ok Shyftr, to my opinion this was the wrong move. Have a look at my comment on Louis last post and tell me why you didn't just implement trackbacks for comments? Everyone would have been happy, because it would have been exactly the same and established practice that is in use for blogs since quite a long time...

  6. I just read Tony's post and I think that his major concern is not as much fragmented comments as it is the "publishing" of full posts without the approval of the author of the content.

    I think that Tony is raising an interesting discussion...but there might be simple solution to all this: publish partial feeds. I am curious as too hiring why tony does not use that solutions.

    I think that the bigger problem behind this discussion is the creation of a simple compensation model that would allow talented people who write great content to be financially rewarded when their content is syndicated.

  7. @Louis -- let's be fair.

    I have compared them to scrapers only because they were grabbing and reposting full posts (from feeds) -- which are what scraping services do.

    I think any service which does this is what it is.

    I'm happy they've changed things, and all the best to them in their future endeavours for that.

    t @ dji

  8. Thomas, I appreciate how you feel. We took a lot into consideration before making this decision. If a publisher is offering full text feeds, you can still read the full text in the reader.

  9. Shyftr got caught stealing people's blog posts and now people praise them for removing the stolen content quickly. Amazing...