Shyftr: Feed theft or social news reader?

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 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.


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.

52 thoughts on “Shyftr: Feed theft or social news reader?

  1. Interesting problem – and could be tricky for copyright/IP purposes. It does concern me that part of the “social media” game is about rallying commentary in a single place (in theory), so that all can participate. Take that participation and fracture it into dozens (or more) of various reading/sharing services, and it's difficult to have cogent conversations.

    Then again, commenting is largely broken on blogs – it is far too painful to track the threads you want, on most blogs. No doubt why you've integrated Disqus, and I've gone for Intense Debate.


    • It is a problem, Dan — and one that just keeps getting worse, with
      more and more places like FriendFeed where comments appear and you
      can't see them even if they're talking about your content. I hope
      some day that won't be a problem. If I could click a button and have
      FriendFeed comments integrated into Disqus I would do it in a second.

      • Now that would be cool.

        FriendFeed is waiting on Disqus to offer a write-enabled API. We're working on that and this will soon be a reality.

  2. I hear you – and if Disqus was easier (i.e., widgetized), I'd be wiling to give them a run for the money on my TypePad hosted blog.

    The nice thing about the rate of innovation in social media these days, is that (with any luck) neither one of these issues should take all that long to work their way out as solutions.

    And where is CoComment? Seems to be lying dormant..

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  6. this will clearly be this weekend's fun – while i may have a longer response, let me begin by saying that if “asking for permission” is what seems to be recommended, it won't work. Why? Because scoble, arrington, cashmore, macmanus, eldon, etc. will say “fine steal my shit” – and then the rest will be forced to follow.

      • To second that, the fact that they don't' care either way — as a commission of silence — means that they're doing it anyway.

        Whether or not such things mean anything, its the principle of the thing, certainly, as I have neither the strength, energy or resources, to do anything about it other than blog about it (sad or pragmatic — I'll let you do decide! πŸ™‚

          • what will happen is simple – small bloggers who are trying to earn a living blogging will be forced to quit – the few at the top currently will remain there indef. because they have already passed the mark where they can't drop below, the “safe level” – but only a few blogs in each category will reach this mark.

            i think today i will take the 2 new developer books i received this week – both are about 2500 pages (c++ and vb 2008) scan each page and put them on my developer site – and put some ads there too.

            why not right?

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  12. Interesting though if you think about it, there are how many posts on Techmeme on this subject?…. but really, no one place to aggregate the conversation. It's one conversation conceptually but it's happening on 8 different blogs. A service that can bring those together in one? What's not to like about that….

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  14. When I have a conversation with my brother about Alicia Key's new song do I have the right to track where he takes that conversation?

    A few years ago when some newspapers were trying to stop links to there content didn't most people realize they were crazy?

    Holding on to anything is futile.
    Even on the net.

    The real conversation should be about attribution. Really.

    • Chartreuse, I think you are right about the conversation — and
      believe me, I am in favour of letting it happen anywhere, which is why
      I have a full-text feed to begin with. But I think it crosses a line
      when someone uses my content to create a business around. If someone
      recorded you talking about something and then sold those tapes or put
      advertising on them or whatever, how would you feel about that?
      Attribution is part of it, but I don't think it's the whole solution.

      • I think some people are missing the new dynamic, or at least or not happy with it.

        If someone wants to go through the trouble of taking my blog posts, promoting them, all so they can get ad money from them, I really wouldn't care. really. As long as I get credit it's all good.

        It actually makes me more valuable, right?

        How am I diminished in any way? Unless there presentation is crappy. But then they won't be around long anyway.

        I guess I don't believe in the one sized pie theory. Creating a bigger audience for my work is good to me.

        From what I've seen, the biggest complaint is about diminishing pageviews. In my opinion writers shouldn't be paid by only pageviews anyway. As a writer that forces me to pander to the audience instead of writing from my gut. And that just brings out crap.

        If your content is really valuable folks will probably go to where the author is so they can bounce ideas off of him/her. If you are adding nothing to the conversation but a fact about a particular thing then your information isn't really valuable because facts aren't that valuable. Facts can be gotten anywhere.

        I'm rambling. Sorry about that. (So use to letting pictures explain things!)

        There are a lot of issues here. Some more important than others. The bottomline though, in my view, is that if someone wants to build a business on my content, increasing my audience, does me no harm. In fact they are just making me more powerful without any extra work on my part.

        People provide full feeds so the audience can get what they want, how they want. Not doing that in this case is a tad bit hypocritical to me. The writer is still in control.

        Just build a wall. Stop full feeds. And see popular you really are.

        • I think in the big picture you are probably right — provided the
          attribution is there, it is effectively marketing your content. And if
          the attribution isn't there, people will quickly figure it out anyway.

        • @chartreuse I spent a couple of hours trying to understand both sides of this story and I think that your comment was definitely one of the bests out there: a great way to step back and look at the big picture. kudos!

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  20. @chartreuse I spent a couple of hours trying to understand both sides of this story and I think that your comment was definitely one of the bests out there: a great way to step back and look at the big picture. kudos!

  21. I have to agree that this isn't so much about pageviews as it is courtesy. I also agree that RSS feeds are meant to be read, but I also feel, as you do, that what Shyftr is doing, or rather, was doing, went beyond merely reading.

    It showed great disrespect to the bloggers they used the feeds from and I'm glad they changed their policy.

    On that note, until we get a court ruling about the implied license with RSS issue, these matters will continue to pop up. Fortunately, even if there is one, which most lawyers I've spoken with think is unlikely, it will be trumped by an actual license, such as a CC one.

    In the end, what is truly needed is more clear licensing for RSS feeds and a system of use that is similar to what we currently have with robots.txt for search engines.

    • Mathew, I don't know why you would characterize my actions in protecting my copyright and hard work as “extreme”. I've had no success in asking the people at Shyftr to remove my feed from their site via email. They're not responding. And don't let this latest policy change fool you. My feed is still <a href=”″>on their site in its entirety, with all posts displayed unabridged, in full.

      I for one don't care what they call their service, or how they want to couch their actions in words that make it seem less outrageous, but to me, what they're doing is simply theft. It's illegal, and it's copyright infringement. I keep full copyright on my work, and on my site, it's clearly marked as “All Rights Reserved”. What part of “All Rights Reserved” don't they understand? How screwed up do they have to be to think they can build a business around my content (and others' as well) without paying for the right to use it or even asking permission, or allowing people to opt in?

      I have no other recourse but to submit a DMCA take-down notice. I'm not going to let them get away with wholesale copyright infringement.

      • Raoul, I think your position is at the extreme end of the spectrum
        simply because you publish an RSS feed, which sites like Shyftr (or
        Google Reader, or FriendFeed) can capture quite easily — and by
        publishing it, I think you are effectively encouraging sites to do so,
        perhaps not in a strictly legal sense but certainly in terms of
        perception. If you don't want them to take it, you could always
        publish a partial feed, or even an invitation-only feed.

        As for the link, I'm afraid Disqus doesn't let me edit comments —
        only you can do that.

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  24. Its absurd to think that on the something as huge as the world wide web there is the possibility of keeping a conversation to yourself. Once you write it, it is open to discussion, anywhere. People should not profit from your ideas, but at the same time, they can take them and discuss them where they wish. There are enough people on the internet that conversations can occur redundantly (meaning in multiple places). The strongest motivator to stay on a blog author's site is the possibility that he might respond.

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