Shyftr: Feed theft or social news reader?

by Mathew on April 11, 2008 · 52 comments

I checked into Twitter this evening to find a message from Louis Gray — who seems to be everywhere in social-media these days — about Shyftr, a new community for sharing RSS feeds. Cool, I thought. Maybe it’s like a new version of Google Reader, or FriendFeed. So I went over there and the first thing I noticed was that you can’t import an OPML file, so you have to add feeds one by one manually (Dave Stanley of Shyftr says the service will be adding the OPML import option soon).

Then I noticed another Twitter post from Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist, asking whether I would be upset to know that Shyftr was creating a community around my feed, with comments and so on. My first response was “I don’t care, as long as they’re reading” — but then I started thinking about it a bit more, and reading through some of the comments on FriendFeed (ironically enough) about the service. One commenter, Raoul Pop, said that it was “content theft,” and that if his feed showed up there, the site could “expect to get hit with a DMCA-takedown notice.”

That reaction seems more than a little extreme to me. After all, an RSS feed is designed for people to read, right? Whether they read it in Google Reader or Bloglines or on their iPhone is irrelevant, really. If you don’t want people to be able to read all your posts without coming to your blog, then you can always offer partial feeds, although many people hate them — including me. Still, the idea that Shyftr.com is taking a full feed and posting it on their site and building a business around it, seems to cross a line (Louis thinks it is a natural extension of social media).

I seem to remember a couple of other cases like this — including one rather notorious one involving Top Ten Sources, which was (ironically again) started in part by copyright expert stalwart John Palfrey. The site pulled feeds in holus bolus, and while it didn’t have comments at the time it sold advertising based around the content, and there were howls of outrage. The site eventually changed its focus and began asking bloggers for permission before reposting their full feeds. I think that’s probably the best way for Shyftr to handle it as well, as does Eric.

Upate:

My friend Tony Hung has a longish and typically thoughtful post on the topic. The Scobleizer says bloggers essentially have no control over their content any more and should get used to it. Eric Berlin’s thoughts are here. And Frederic from The Last Podcast says he’s cool with the fact that his content can be used anywhere, and that pushing out an RSS feed implicitly gives such sites permission to use your feed.

I’m not sure that’s the case, however. I think RSS gives people the right to read your content — but not to build a business around it. If they want to do that, I agree with Tony that the least they could do is ask permission. As my friend and fellow mesh organizer Mark Evans notes, part of this is about page views, but part of it is also about common courtesy. Ross Dawson has some thoughts on it as well. I’ve got an email in to Dave Stanley of Shyftr and I’ll update this when I hear from him.

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