To me, one of the most important developments of the past few years from a Web 2.0 perspective was RSS, the “really simple syndication” format that allowed any blogger and in fact any website period to become their own newswire, just like Associated Press or Canada News Wire. Sure, it’s plumbing, but it’s important plumbing. Which is why it’s important that we decide what people are allowed to do with RSS feeds and what they’re not.
For example, taking all of someone’s feed and putting it on a website and then selling ads around it is clearly wrong, it seems to me. This is called “scraping,” and it is flat-out stealing. Then there’s taking someone’s full feed and putting it on a site but not selling ads around it, and pointing people to the originating blog, which is kind of what Top Ten Sources got in trouble for awhile back (more on that here). That’s in kind of a grey area.
Then there’s what Robert Scoble is doing, which is using the “share” feature in Google’s Reader (which I also use) to highlight certain items in the feeds that he reads. Google gives you what amounts to an instant blog, or at least a distinct URL, where all your shared items show up (mine is here) and they are the full items from anyone who has a full-text feed.
That got someone named Andy Beard — whose website says he is involved in keyword research and affiliate marketing — kind of upset, because he said RSS is meant to be private and therefore Scoble was helping to ruin RSS. This makes no sense whatsover, of course, since RSS is by its nature a syndication mechanism. But in the comments on Scoble’s post, it became clear that others, including Duncan Riley of b5 media, think what he is doing is stealing.
To Scoble, however (and to me as well), it seems more like helping — since a link to a post in Scoble’s shared items is almost certain to drive people to the blog in question. Is that not a good thing? And there are no ads in the reader blog, so he can’t be accused of making money from it. And it isn’t a full feed, although it is full-text posts.
As Techdirt has written before, this seems like someone complaining because someone else made their content more valuable (be sure to check the back and forth between Mike Masnick of Techdirt and Jason Calacanis of Netscape in the comments on the Techdirt post). And Fred Von Lohmann of the EFF and others have pointed out that publishing an RSS feed implies a license to reuse that content.