Getting responsibilities straight

Jeff Jarvis thinks that aggregators like Yahoo, Google, Pluck, Newsgator, etc. should be responsible for letting publishers of RSS feeds know how many times those cached feeds are read. He offers a "fundamental principle":

I have a right to know when what I create is read, heard, viewed, or used if I wish to know that.

Although it rarely happens, this is one of those cases where I absolutely disagree with him.

This is an exemplar of one of those Web 2.0 mentalities that drives me batty — There’s an idea that in the new new world of free media that everyone is supposed to behave in an idealistic manner, even if there is no business reason to do so.

Does an aggregator have the right to scrape your non-RSS page and run it on their site? No.

But when you publish a feed, you relinquish control. If you don’t like what others do with that feed, cut the feed, or alter the feed so that it behaves how you want it to behave.

Jeff uses the following analogy:

Do newsstands refuse to tell you how many copies of your publication
they sell? Do they cut out pages and give you only covers? No. Online
distributors should operate by similar rules of the road.

There’s a major difference here. Newsstand distributors report such data only because there is a financial transaction that depends on its accuracy. They are selling content to the end user, and are in almost no way a part of the advertising business, which is where the aggregators are (or are trying to get).

A more accurate analogy is that asking an aggregator to provide such feed data is tantamount to asking a library to report every time someone checks out your book.

That’s not to say that technology can’t enable such a report. Jeff makes a perfectly reasonable suggestion that the aggregators let content providers set permissions on their feeds. I think they’d be smart to do so, but they have no obligation.

The responsibility lies with the feed creator, companies like Typepad, or perhaps with companies like Dallas-based SyndicateIQ (who is working on these problems).

It’s tempting to assign responsibility to companies just because they’re trading north of $400 a share– but all of the magic of Web 2.0 doesn’t create completely new sets of de facto rules, whomever is making them.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.