Structured blogging as Web 2.0 colonialism

by greg on December 14, 2005

“Profiting off user-generated content is Web 2.0 colonialism.”* That sums up how I feel about the much-praised (and widely backed) Structured Blogging initiative, which makes it easy for bloggers to use microformats to mark-up specific genres of blog posts – reviews, classified listings, and so on. Microformats make blog posts machine-readable, which in turn allow them to be used by applications. Jeff Clavier sees Structured Blogging “eventually pushing blogging into richer types of applications – and enabling new types of aggregation.” Indeed – if adopted, it will. Which is what irks me. Structured user-generated content, especially aggregated reviews, is very valuable. Case in point – the del.icio.us purchase. Since del.icio.us’ functionality is easily replicable, the deal was all about the value of user-generated content. You’d think with content being worth so much, the Structured Blogging initiative would contain a way for the content providers to indicate, in a machine-readable fashion, just how they would like to be reimbursed for the commercial use of the content they’re providing. Not so – at least not anywhere I can see. One can indicate which Creative Commons license one would like to use – which might prevent unauthorized commercial exploitation, if everyone abides by the rules – but I don’t believe there’s a way to say “hey, I love commercial exploitation – just as long as I get my cut.”

In my more pessimistic moments, I suspect that the omission of a payment mechanism is deliberate, and that the biggest proponents of Structured Blogging are just looking for new ways to aggregate a lot of content, use it to build up a valuable userbase, and sell, generating nothing for us-plain-folks but ‘a bigger megaphone.’ Now, I’m not insisting I get paid for everything I do online. I’m generally happy to contribute to sites I use – del.icio.us made a mint off my bookmarks but I get a lot out of del.icio.us. I’m usually not opposed to getting informally paid in traffic – that’s why I’ve got Technorati tags on my site. And in some cases, like job postings and classified listings, if I can fill a position or sell my junk that’s more than reward enough. But I really don’t want to be placed in a position where I get nothing for my small part in someone else’s eight-digit payday. I don’t want to come across like too much of a tool, but if I’m going to structure my content, I need better ways to control its commercial use.

Ultimately, I just want an acknowledgement that no ‘Web 2.0′ company is anything without the contributions of its userbase. We should be treated as partners, not as a resource to be exploited – by giving something of value, we should be able to get something of value back in return. So far, Structured Blogging enables the giving but doesn’t provide for the getting, and until it does I’ll be wary of it.

* I wish I’d said this myself but it’s actually something Paul Mooney wrote in a comment on another blog.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Griffin December 14, 2005 at 5:23 pm

One of the better posts about structure blogging I’ve read today. Thanks. Explains some of the issues others don’t seem to be adressing.

I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I sorta get what structure blogging can do. I guess I don’t exactly get what happens and where my content goes eventually. Is it just drifting out there to be plucked by anyone who can create a neat aggregator type service or do I have some control over who eats it up?

Suppose I should read more.

Jeff Clavier December 14, 2005 at 7:55 pm

An interesting standpoint Greg.
A flipside argument is that users of a del.icio.us or flickr get to access a lot of functionality for free, and get personal/group value out of the service. So one could argue that the win-win is already baked in ?

Peter Caputa December 14, 2005 at 9:09 pm

I think you have to look at certain types of content a bit differently. For example, if I publish a job opp or a classified listing on my blog, then it is certainly something that I want to be syndicated as much as possible. The majority of events are the same thing. The more people, the merrier. So, the more I can get it out there, the better.

Things like reviews, I’d agree, that there isn’t a huge direct incentive for the ease of syndication of that content.

All that said, I get your point. A big chunk of the companies “behind” the formation of structured blogging are all aggregation plays. The more intelligently they can aggregate content, the better their business. However, it is the publishers and the content creators that will need the incentive to actually make structuredblogging happen.

Bernard Moon December 15, 2005 at 4:30 am

Good post. I honestly didn’t think about the negatives of this initiative since we’ve been focused on building our company/platform and letting Marc integrated his sideprojects into it. Thanks.

Salim Ismail December 15, 2005 at 8:21 am

All good comments… but Greg, doesn’t Google today profit by ‘aggregating’ and indexing your blog?

Let me make two more important points…
1) Today, people go to Monster, fill out a form to ‘publish’ XML, and pay for the privilege! One can argue that all walled gardens (eBay, Craigslist, Autotrader, epinions, etc) are storing CGM – they’ve just managed to get the consumer to go there and hand over their information to that site. In the new world, you put that on your blog, it gets syndicated, AND, as the content creator, you the blogger retain copyright ownership of that information.

2) Whereas some services may aggregate your data (but won’t get to own it), at PubSub, we don’t store data, we simply match newly published information against users’ requests and point them back at content that interests them…

Phillip Pearson December 15, 2005 at 9:23 am

Note that the license selector also includes “All rights reserved”, if you want to let people know for sure that they’re not allowed to do anything with your work, and “Unspecified”, if you want to be vague. So it’s not just “free for all” creative commons stuff :-)

Greg Yardley December 15, 2005 at 1:46 pm

Griffin – from what I understand you wouldn’t have control over who scraped it up unless you specifically banned their crawlers in your robots.txt file.

Jeff – yes, I’d agree that win-win is baked into del.icio.us and Flickr. You can dicker about the amount of the win for each side but in general, no prob. Correct me if I’m wrong, though, but Structured Blogging would allow any folks with a scraper to reuse content, including services I might never want to use.

Peter – nothing to disagree with here!

Bernard – appreciate your comment and want you to know I wasn’t trying to be a tool; I really think the magic juice for this sort of application is going to be easy sharing-back to the content providers.

Salim – yep, Google profits (and how), but they also give me traffic in exchange. Without that traffic coming in, I’d probably modify my robots.txt file – I did this a while back to some crawlers that were getting a little too greedy, switching it back only last month. Good point on the copyright ownership, but how to I capitalize on this?

Phillip – thanks for the clarification. Good to know I can reserve rights should I want to. Like I said to Salim, now how do I capitalize on this?

Kenneth Stein December 15, 2005 at 6:16 pm

One need only look to the method by which this effort is being forwarded to sense the lack of sincerity. This is a test to the bloggers out there to see how keen they are to attempts at manipulation.

In essence, this is a 3rd class attempt at an implementation of the semantic net. If these companies want to aggregate, let them devise a method by which the aggregation contributes to the discovery of meaning at the intersection of various blog entries.

Christian Schade December 15, 2005 at 10:20 pm

Now, what we are facing here is nothing but the balancing off of forces. The market is required to pay for the party and the rebels have to be there to move the market. I think that seeing web 2.0 as a new, free, democratic movement is a big mistake. What is actually happening is that we are about to remove the concept of “the website”. The idea of context control, user and space management is rapidly devolving. Business will adapt to that or die. Users will support this new biz (or not). But it will not be more “democratic”, “free”, “true” or “whatever” than before….

Jeff Clavier December 16, 2005 at 5:17 pm

Yes, by using structured blog posts, you will make it easier for scrapers to extract your content, but it is already the case today by the sheer fact that you are publishing an RSS feed, or even are putting content out in HTML format.
Structured Blogging will help service providers extract and distribute the content that you have bothered formatting with higher semantic value. How it in turns brings you benefit: sale of something, references, traffic, etc. will depend on the business model of the service that is reproducing your content.

Bob Wyman December 16, 2005 at 8:02 pm

Structured Blogging is valuable to bloggers and publishers even without applications that “scrape” their sites. We’ve proved this already. One of the things that I insisted on when we released our first Structured Blogging WordPress extensions last Winter was that we build NO applications that use the data. I felt that we needed to prove that people would use the tools even if there were no applications that aggregated their data. Only if we could show real value to the publisher — without leveraging the value to aggregators — would we be sure that Structured Blogging would be successful.

Take a look at http://incredibooks.com/. This site is filled book reviews created using our original SB extensions. The authors of this site have been filling it with structured reviews for months — yet, no aggregators exist to consume the data. Clearly, the authors have chosen to use the tool because it makes it easier for them to produce a site that communicates well what they have to say. Also, note that each of their reviews includeds links to Amazon with their Amazon affiliate code. Thus, the authors can use their site to make some money. If they had posted those reviews on Amazon itself, or on some other review aggregator, then their affiliate codes wouldn’t be there and they would get no credit for the sales they generate… A Structured Blogging review is not only better formatted than most other “reviews” on blogs, it is also much more valuable than reviews posted in wall-garden review aggregator sites.

Kedrosky is wrong. Structured Blogging won’t flop. It has already succeeded.

bob wyman

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