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April 28, 2008

What Orphan Works Could Mean to Bloggers

The orphan works legislation, last seen in 2006, now has the attention of Congress again with two similar bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. These bills, should either of them pass, could have a drastic impact on copyright holders both within and outside of the United States.

But what should bloggers expect from this bill? How can Internet-based authors work to avoid having their work becoming “orphaned”?

The answer depends heavily on the kind of work you do and how much protection you want for it. However, what is clear is that at least some bloggers have a good reason to be concerned and should consider taking steps now to avoid a problem down the road. read more

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April 14, 2008

The Shyftr Saga

Weekends are typically slow times for copyright news. With the courts closed and most Web hosts gone for 48 hours, very little usually happens.

However, this weekend was a definite exception. It saw a veritable blogstorm over the RSS aggregation service Shyftr and its republishing of RSS content. Some bloggers, such as Robert Scoble and Louis Gray came down in favor of the service while others, including Tony Hung and Raoul Pop were firmly against it.

In the end, Shyftr backed down and changed its policy but not before drawing a vast amount of unwanted attention and dozens of angry blog posts.

However, now that things have died down some, we can take a look back at what happened and what it may mean for both bloggers and for other companies that may want to enter a similar market.

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April 7, 2008

Copyright Infringement: The Most Common Outcomes

It seems that a large number of bloggers run their sites with very little thought about copyright law. Though they don’t plagiarize content or scrape feeds, they grab images, copy large blocks of text and embed media without much thought to the original author or whether their use is truly “fair use“.

It seems that many bloggers simply want to share what they find interesting. But while that is a noble cause, some make the mistake of not merely linking to what they like, but wholesale copying and pasting it.

Though many don’t mind their works being copied, others do. It only takes one angry copyright holder to cause a great deal of headaches for a site, especially a small one, and many are caught off guard at exactly how much trouble a copyright dispute can be.

“But what is the worst that can happen?” Many bloggers ask. The answer, unfortunately, is quite a lot.
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March 31, 2008

How to Help Immunize Your Site Against Scraping

Scraping is one of the most annoying things that bloggers have to deal with. It can hurt their search engine ranking, cause confusion among readers and cause them to unwittingly help spammers line their pockets.

Nobody likes being scraped but it seems that some sites are able to survive it relatively unscathed while others are bumped clean out of the search engines, almost instantly replaced by the spammers that take their content.

So how do you ensure that the damage caused by scrapers are kept to an absolute minimum? There is no secret formula, but there are a few tricks that seem to work very well.

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March 25, 2008

Blogging is About Writing – and Not

Blogging is about writing. That is a fact. You can video blog, podcast, and do all kinds of fun things with your blog, but it is the writing that makes or breaks a blog. What you say in the blog posts, descriptions of visual and audio elements, and what words you offer search engines for their indexing to help people find your blog.

However, blogging is not just about the writing, albeit it is a large part. Blogging today is about so much more. Are you ready? Do you know all the things you have to know about blogging before you start blogging? Or after?

Whether you are a new blogger or long time blogger, these are the things you are going to have to learn about in order to blog in today’s world.
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March 24, 2008

Why Not to Switch to Partial Feeds

When people first discover that their content is being scraped, they often overreact. When they do, their first action is usually to alter their feed to change it from “full” to “partial”, thus turning off the flow of content to the spammers.

However, in doing so they also turn off access to their site’s content to their legitimate subscribers and, generally, wind up doing more harm than good to their site. Worse still, though they do limit the impact some scrapers have, they don’t stop the problem itself and fail to mitigate against a whole slew of others that are repurposing their content.

In short, truncated feeds are not just a great way to turn off readers to your site, but an largely ineffective way to solve the issue of content scraping and spam blogging.

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March 17, 2008

How Spam-Friendly is Your Niche?

No one wants to attract spammers to their site. They scrape content, post junk comments and turn search engines off to your site.

Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that all blogs, regardless of age, topic and readership, will attract at least some attention from the purveyors of junk. That is a simple byproduct of having a blog and publishing an RSS feed.

However, to spammers, all blogs are not created equal and some sites are going to attract far more attention from spammers than others. But while many of the elements that will attract spammers may be unpredictable and outside of our control, others are not.

One of the biggest indicators of how much trouble a blog will have with spam is the niche that it is operating in. This is because, by in large, the niche a blog is in will determine the keywords most commonly associated with it and those keywords, in turn, determine which sites the spammers latch on to.

The question then becomes, which niches suffer the most at the hands of spammers.

The Usual Suspects

If you want to know whether your niche is a popular target for spammers, you need to look no farther than the spam folder in your email box.

Whether or not Web spammers and email spammers are often the same, it is clear that they share many of the same targets. Keywords and topics that are popular targets for email spammers will, often times, be targets for Web ones as well.

As such, blogs in known spam niches such as gambling, prescription drugs, contests, travel, adult content and financing, are going to be frequent targets for spam blogs.

Of course, the catch is that it is not necessarily a matter of your blog promoting the same products or services as spam blogs, it is a matter of it being within the same broad topic. Spam bots, much like search engines, can not inherently tell the difference between favorable and unfavorable posts. As such, a news report about a crackdown on online gambling is just as likely to be scraped as a blog offering tips for for winning at poker.

In short, if your site routinely has keywords that are familiar to email spam, odds are you’ve already seen more than your fair share of trouble from dark side of the Web. But even if you don’t meet those criteria, there is still a good chance you could, unwittingly, be attracting the attention of spammers.

Unexpected Surprises

Of course, not all Web spam deals with the same topics as email spam. Since Web spam is driven by many different factors, it is inevitable some categories will show up on the Web that don’t in our inboxes.

One such factor is the amount of money a spammer can hope to make off of a single click. When one takes a look at the most expensive Adsense keywords, they find that the list is top-heavy not with traditional spam topics, but legal searches.

Since many spam blogs only earn a few clicks before being shut down, having a keyword that generates a decent amount of revenue is critical. As such, spammers are drawn to topics such a Mesothelioma, dwi/dui, personal injury and insurance simply because they are terms they can hope to make approximately fifty dollars a click from. Though these terms are not as heavily targeted by spammers since they are less likely to be searched for than the traditional spam workhorses, cost definitely plays a factor.

On the flip side, search frequency also plays a role. Looking at the top search terms gives you an idea of what people are searching for and where the spammers are likely to follow. In that regard, celebrity news is a frequent topic of interest with technology and television shows also making an appearance.

Though these terms might not be as valuable per click, they can make up for that in sheer quantity. Simply put, spammers are guaranteed not just a constant stream of potential viewers, but a ready supply of sites to latch onto. This approach may be better for spam sites less focused on earning clicks on ads and more interested in using spam to pump the rankings of another site.

Still, of all the potential indicators, it appears that search volume is the least helpful. The amount of Britney Spears spam, for example, remains remarkably low for the term and seems likely to stay that way.

But like the other factors, it is worth being aware of as it can give you a clue as to the problems that may be coming down the road.

What It Is Bad

None of this is to say that you should change your niche simply because it is targeted by spammers, just that having a topic targeted by them can create additional problems for your site. All in all, there are at least three reasons you should take note if your site does happen to fall in a spam-friendly niche:

  1. 1. Increased Scraping: Perhaps the first repercussion of having a spam-friendly niche is that your content will be scraped much more heavily than it would otherwise. This can even be the result of just sending out one post on a targeted keyword and is only amplified the more often such posts are made.
  2. 2. Increased Comment Spam: Though comment spam is more random in nature than scraping, there is an element of it that is keyword based. Posts and sites with popular spam keywords are more frequent targets for comment spam and sites that routinely deal with such topics may want to take extra anti-spam measures. Also note, in conjunction with the increased scraping, there will also be a rise in the amount of trackback/pingback spam.
  3. 3. Increased Confusion: If your site is in a spammy niche and users are likely to have seen many spam blogs in that area, you are going to have to work harder to ensure that users realize your blog is genuine. Likewise, there is an increase in the likelihood that search engines will confuse your product with spam or that your site will be dealing with strong search engine competition from its spam counterparts. All in all, setting your site apart from the spammers will be a much greater challenge.

The good news is that, with work and awareness, most of the problems that come from being in a spam-friendly zone can be overcome. by using known anti-scraping tools, taking anti-comment spam measures and clearly distinguishing yourself from the spammers, it is possible to thrive in these niches, as many blogs do.

Conclusions

It is far more important to write what you know and what you love than it is to avoid being in a spam-friendly niche. Spam attacks can be overcome, but there is no overcoming a lack of ambition or love for one’s topic.

But it is still important to be aware if your selected niche is a likely target for spammers. Doing so gives you the chance to take counter-measures and prevent the spammers from latching in too deep. It also gives you the chance to proactively search for and protect your content, block comment spam and work to separate yourself from the junk.

In short, being aware of the spamminess of your niche is the first, and most important, step in overcoming the drawbacks it brings. Fortunately, that is easy information to obtain.

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March 4, 2008

Breaking Trust: How Not To Link to a Plagiarist

David Peralty’s article on Amazing Women BloggersI haven’t been through my incoming link statistics in a while, so I was delighted to find an article highlighting “15 Amazing Women in Blogging.”

I learned a big lesson with that one incoming link. One you need to learn, too.

It was posted on a blog subtitled An Iranian Woman Bloggerm which added a thrill when I found I was included in the list. To know that I’m making an impact in a country where women suffer so much, my throat started to close and my eyes tear a bit as I read through the article. The comments about each woman blogger were wonderful and included some fellow bloggers I didn’t know. The beautiful words made me want to get to know them.

I eagerly copied the link and a blockquote to my text editor to compile a blog post for my blog. There have been a lot of articles highlighting women bloggers, but the way each one was described and recommended, it was truly from the heart and distinctive from all the rest of the articles. This one I wanted to honor on my blog as it celebrated the achievements of women bloggers.

After writing up the post in my text editor, I went back to check the article for any last minute things I could add. I also wanted to say thank you for my inclusion in such a powerful list of female bloggers and show my appreciation for introducing me to some I’d not heard of…when I found David’s comment.

He warned the blog owner to remove the content as it was a copy of his own.
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March 3, 2008

How Creative Commons Can Protect You

The majority of bloggers that choose a Creative Commons License do so for altruistic reasons. They want to encourage sharing of their work, within certain guidelines, and willingly sacrifice some of their exclusive rights to allow the rest of the world access to their content.

But what most Creative Commons users don’t realize is that, by applying a CC license, they are, potentially, providing themselves with important additional protections.

Simply put, by having a well-written, legally-sound license for their content, they eliminate many of the uncertainties that non-CC users face and can provide both themselves and their readers with copyright stability in a very tumultuous climate.
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February 26, 2008

Thou Shall Not Blog

Bloggers Rights graphic by Lorelle VanFossenOver the years, as blogging has grown from fad to trend, I’ve traveled the world talking to other bloggers, many sharing stories of how they were confronted with new job contracts, agreements, and policies that state: Thou shall not blog.

My first response is always, “Why not?” Oh, I get an earful. It ranges from business practices to government limitations, and everything in between.

Here are some of the reasons why many people can’t blog.

Violation of Non-Disclosure

Let’s face it. We’re human. We make mistakes. We go forth with the best intentions and screw up. Often without thought. Knowing this, many businesses won’t risk the slip you may make as you free-wheel your thoughts publicly and disclose some of their proprietary information. Fear of disclosure is a huge issue for companies, a big incentive to bring out the papers for signature, banning blogging.

And there can be big money in such disclosures, too, an incentive for those to blog trade secrets.
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