Goodbye to Splogs and Feed-Driven Blogs

Example of trackback splog comment spam

After much soul searching and internal debate, I’ve decided that I’m done with splogs and feed-driven blogs generating content from my blogs. Aren’t you?

Here is the scenario.

A trackback comes in with the following starting off the “quote”, followed by the start of your blog post content:

  • […]admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt[…]
  • […] Jim Phillips wrote an interesting post today!.Here’s a quick excerpt…
  • […] Novak wrote an interesting post today on 100 bloggers worldwide collaborate to benefit charityHere’s a quick […]

Example of trackback splog comment spam

Notice the similarity? These all involve the words “wrote an interesting post today” and “here’s a quick excerpt”.

I’m considering adding these two phrases to my banned commenters list, but it’s a difficult decision as many use these words perfectly innocently. I wish there was a way to put them in the filter using all of the words without kicking out the innocent usages.

It’s that, or teach all bloggers to never introduce a blockquote using those phrases.
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Copyright Cases to Watch: X17 v. Perez Hilton

As part of a new mini-series here at the Blog Herald, I will be profiling ongoing copyright cases that have the potential to drastically impact bloggers and other small Webmasters. I’ll take an in-depth look at the case, where it’s going, what’s at stake and what’s likely to happen.

The first case involves two of Hollywood’s most loathed entities, a gossip blogger and a paparazzi photo agency. Though they were set on a collision course due to a combination of fierce competition and deep pockets, their west coast brawl could have major implications for copyright law all over the country and, through proxy, the rest of the world.

However, it’s not just one of the most important copyright cases currently ongoing, but also one of the most entertaining. Not only does this case involve photos of celebrities in compromising situations, but the case has also reached a level of vindictiveness rarely seen in copyright law.

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Newsletter to Blog: Quoting, Referencing, Citing, and Not Copyright Violating

What do you stuff in your newsletters? Hmm? Is it only information about what your group or business is doing? Or do you throw in articles or information you find here and there along your information highway travels?

And how do you cite the information you include in your newsletter? Do you give credit where and when credit is due?

As we worked on the process of converting the newsletter into a blog, I stumbled across numerous articles included in the newsletter for tips, how to, techniques, and information written by people not members of the association. While some of this content was available for free use in print newsletters, not all of it was licensed for publishing on the web.

This brought up several issues.

  1. How to check to see what the licenses and copyright policies were for moving the content from print to web.
  2. How to get permissions to publish the content on the web (or whether or not to include it).
  3. How to cite the original source of the content if permissions allow it to be published on the blog.
  4. How to cite references, quotes, and other content properly for inclusion in the new blog in the future.
  5. What about all the photographs, images, and graphics use in the printed and emailed newsletter?

Everything Printed or Published is Copyrighted

This was a great opportunity to teach this team of business women about copyright law. Everything printed, published, recorded, or “fixed” in a permanent form is copyrighted. That’s the international law and standards, simplified.

This applies to words, photographs, graphics, images, audio, and other visual media.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t copy and use the content. It does mean you can use it under certain restrictions and guidelines. Here are some tips for dealing with potential copyright protected content when converting from a newsletter to a blog.

  • Free-to-Use: Free-to-Use typically means that while you are free to use this however you want, it may not mean you can just do whatever you want with the content. There may or may not be conditions on that use such as private and personal use, not commercial, not on sites with ads, not for resale, and must include link credit back to the source. Check the copyright policy or ask to determine what conditions they have on “free-to-use”.
  • Buy-to-Use: Content, including photographs, can be purchased for use, but what are the conditions of that purchase and use? Does it mean one time only in a specific usage? Or repeated usage in any way, shape, or form for as long as you both shall live? Find out the fine print before you buy so you use it properly, as a purchase agreement can be interpreted as a contract.
  • Which Usage Permitted? How is the content meant to be used? Is it only for print, within newsletters, or can it be published on the web as well? Some content may have restrictions on how and where you can use it. Just because you got permission to use it in a newsletter does not mean the content has permission to be published on the web.
  • If You Can’t Use It, Can You Link to It? If you cannot use the full content, you do have other options if you want to still point readers and members to the source. Under Copyright Fair Use guides, you may “quote” from a small portion of the content with a link citing the original source. This is commonly called “blockquoting”. Or, you can describe the content and include a link to direct readers to the source.
  • Copy-cat Plagiarism: On the web, as in real life, copy-cats, copiers, and plagiarist are not welcome. Plagiarists caught after the fact tend to reflect poorly on the entire parent organization, not just on the plagiarist. Don’t risk it.

Yes, it meant that all those cute cartoons, comics, graphics of working women, children, cats, and dogs, all had to be checked to see if they could be used on the web. Tedious, but if they wanted to use them, they had to check. Otherwise, they could not be used on their new blog.

Getting Permission to Publish Content on the Web

For this particular association, the non-original content on their newsletter came from a wide variety of resources. Flyers and brochures found at conferences, conventions, classes, and business training offices, online sources, books of all ages, and from other newsletter sources.

Online content can be easy to search for to find their copyright policy. It may say yes. Printed material, however, may involve looking for a policy statement in their copyright notice, or calling or email them for permission. The same applies to schools and training offices which provide educational material.

One such pamphlet the newsletter editor typed up and posted in their newsletter came from a training office. “They were handing them out free, so why can’t I publish this?”

Just because you picked it up for free doesn’t mean you have the right to publish the material. You have to have permission.

If you cannot get permission, then you have these options:

  • Don’t publish it.
  • Use a small quote or reference and give them credit. Do not use the whole thing.
  • Rewrite the whole thing in your words, citing them as your “inspiration” and source of material. Don’t just change the words. Write it as if it was new from the start.

Privatizing Content: What Can and Can’t Be Published Publicly

For content from their national headquarters, the original source made it clear that the information was for reprinting, but didn’t specify which media form. A phone call to the main office on another question concerning the blog brought this issue to the fore, causing a bit of distress and excitement.

The 70+ year old organization had only considered members publishing this information in printed or emailed newsletters, not publicly on the web. The group assumed that since it would be okay for print and email, why shouldn’t it be okay for the web?

It turned out it wasn’t okay for their new blog. The national headquarters owned the copyrights. Their intent was to allow this information to be disseminated to their members only through their individual chapters, not to the general public. If they wanted it on the web for anyone to read, they would publish it on their national association site. In other words, they didn’t want the information published on several hundred chapter newsletter blogs and websites, creating a ton of redundant web pages.

The newsletter editor said, “But if you won’t publish it on the national site, and we can’t publish it on our site, how are we going to get this information to our members?”

They said, “Print it or email it to them.”

I said, “This is a waste of time and technology.” The whole point of moving this particular newsletter to a blog format was to make it easy to access all the information in one format, saving time and money, not to mention a few trees.

An alternative to not publishing the content would be to publish it on the blog in a way that kept the viewers limited to only “subscribers”, to those given permission to login to the blog.

There were a lot of WordPress Plugins to try and they are still experimenting with their choices. These either restrict access to specific content or specific categories (or both).

How to Quote, Reference, and Cite Content Sources

Another lesson in basic blogging arrived with how to quote, reference and cite content sources, especially online sources, in the new blog.

To reference a link in a sentence, the newsletter editor had to rewrite the sentence to include a link.

In Top 10 Internet Home Business Ideas You Can Start and Run in Your Underwear, Wendy Piersall lists top business-at-home ideas to help you stay at home with your family while earning money.

To reference a quote from an online source, you can quote an excerpt from the content and then cite it in several ways.

To cite it with an introductory sentence, and then wrap the quote in the blockquote HTML tag, such as:

In Top 10 Internet Home Business Ideas You Can Start and Run in Your Underwear, Wendy Piersall lists top business-at-home ideas to help you stay at home with your family while earning money.

Can anyone make money online? I do believe so. But not everyone WILL make money online, because as I have said before, making money on the internet takes a long time to learn, and most people give up because it can be extremely frustrating.

My one piece of advice for starting an internet home business is this :: Don’t expect to make any real money for 365 days (or so!) . Although I will add that service-based businesses tend to bring in revenue faster, I would still allow for a full year to replace your outside-the-home salary.

To include the citation within the blockquote, wrap the link source in a <cite> tag within the blockquote:

Can anyone make money online? I do believe so. But not everyone WILL make money online, because as I have said before, making money on the internet takes a long time to learn, and most people give up because it can be extremely frustrating.

Top 10 Internet Home Business Ideas You Can Start and Run in Your Underwear by Wendy Piersall

You can style the cite tag with CSS to make it italic, bold, or a smaller font, or just wrap it in a italic or bold HTML tag.

The citation must be close to the quote and infer that the quoted and referenced content comes from another source, not the post author.

Who Owns the Copyright of Our Newsletter to Blog Content?

Learning about copyrights and how much they had been violating the copyrights of others, the question came up as to who owns the copyrights of the material they were publishing, both in print, email, and through the new blog.

The content produced in this group’s newsletter has two options for copyrighting the content. They can decide that the content belongs to each individual contributor, leaving it up to them to protect and defend their copyrights in case of plagiarism and copyright violations, and help support them. Or they can write up a copyright policy that states that everything published on their newsletter and/or blog becomes the property of the group as copyright owners.

Either way, they needed to have a clear copyright policy which defined what their copyright licenses and usages were, and who owned what. Jonathan Bailey’s “Writing an Effective Plagiarism Warning” pointed to Alderman’s Copyright Notice Creator which helped them write a very basic copyright policy on their blog, which will evolve over time and usage.

Controlling Copyrighted Content

When the newsletter team decided to convert from print to blog, they had no idea how complicated and involved it would become. It wasn’t just a matter of technically transferring the content between mediums, it has become about changing policies and practices to become better journalists, writers, business women, and people.

The idea of protecting the rights of writers and artists who work hard to write and produce images and graphics in print and on the web became a very important lesson to these women, some of whom had fought for their own rights as working women for the past 50+ years.

In the next issue of this ongoing newsletter-to-blog conversion series, I’ll introduce you to a blogger’s best friend: the text editor.

Converting a Newsletter Into a Blog Series

Give Credit When Credit is Due: Skip The Middle Man

I often stumbled across some blogs who specialize in handing more blockquotes than original content, which is fine for them and their blogging style because, for the most part, their posts point to valuable and related content.

What incenses me is their credit line:

Story provided by digg.

You can replace Digg with, Tumblr, Technorati, Stumble Upon or any of the other social bookmarking services.

I’d like to point out for the ignorant that social bookmarking services do not provide original content. They do not write articles (except on their blogs) nor generate content. They only provide placeholders for article links and conversations about those article links. If credit is to be given, why not credit the person who originally submitted the recommendation with a hat tip? Then give credit where credit is really deserved – to the original author of the original content.

Why give Digg and the others the credit for what they don’t deserve?

Please, for the sake of all bloggers and writers who work hard on what they have to write, link to the original article.
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Protecting Your Cornerstone Content

Having your RSS feed scraped is bad enough. Spam blogs that republish your feed or unwanted aggregators reusing your content without proper attribution can not only siphon off your visitors, but damage your rankings in the search engines.

However, having your feed scraped is not nearly as damaging as having your cornerstone content plagiarized. This is the content that you build your site around, the content that stands the test of time and gives visitors a reason to come by your site in the first place.

But more importantly this is the content that gives your site true uniqueness, both in the eyes of human visitors, but also the search engines. Where a blog post might be forgotten in a week’s time, losing control over this content can have a negative effect for a long time to come.

So, while taking reasonable precautions with your RSS feed is important, it is at least as important to take steps to guard your static content against plagiarism. After all, given the time you spent crafting and creating this content, it makes perfect sense to take a few moments to protect it.

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Plagiarism in Your Ranks

In May 2003, a young reporter at the New York Times handed in his resignation to paper. The reporter, Jayson Blair, had already earned a reputation at the paper for inaccuracy, but it was the weeks prior that he had become the subject of plagiarism accusations that he had been unable to answer.

In the investigation that would follow, some 36 of his 73 stories would be deemed “suspect”, meaning they contained elements likely plagiarized from other sources. The scandal grew so large that, a mere month later, it claimed two more careers, those of two of the top editors at the paper, one of whom who was a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Though the purge was largely viewed as appropriate, it did little to repair the damage to the once-prestigious publication’s reputation. What was once a bastion of great American journalism had become mired in accusations of fraud and dishonesty, a problem they are still battling today.

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The Evil Linking of Sploggers and Scrapers Messing With Your Content

Spog uses buried links to direct visitors to porn sites in stolen content

The other day, I found a fascinating post on blogging programs that really held my interest, exploring why someone would stay with a specific program even when it made them unhappy. I noticed a reference to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, but the link wasn’t to his name but on the word “of”.

Splog uses buried links to direct visitors to porn sites in stolen content

I thought that was odd and noticed that other strange words were in links: her, the, in, about, and he. Very odd linking pattern.

A hover over the links found that they were links to porn sites.

Suspecting this was a splog, I wondered if the author had intended to write this interesting article and stuff it with the nasty porn links or if this was indeed a splog. I selected a block of text with unique phrasing and ran a search in Google for the phrase wrapped in quotes. Indeed, I found the original author and then informed them of the scraping and copyright violation as well as the nasty links.

Getting Scraped is a Compliment

Many feel that getting your blog content stolen and scraped by a splogger is a compliment. It means they care enough about your content to “spread the word”. Or they think that it won’t hurt them, but benefits them due to the trackbacks and link love.

This is crap. Loads of it. Piled very high.

It’s a load of garbage because few splogs give credit to the original author. In fact, they have programs which strip the HTML links and tags so they are free to insert their own with no good links getting in the way.

Google’s new PageRank algorithm now investigates and considers links and content in many ways. It’s about keyword matching and relative content linking.

If there is a credit link back to your blog, and the links within the blog post are not inline with the blog contents, on the blog and the linking blogs, the discrepancy is noticed and can score against you. If the content from two different sites match, and the links within don’t, it can score against you.

If you are worried about duplicate content, then be more worried. If the duplicated content is matched up with your blog, then your site may get scored low for such duplication. It isn’t just the duplication on your blog but the duplication of your content off your blog.

Many a blogger’s PageRank has dropped due to splogs scraping their content, so help stop scrapers and sploggers from stealing and abusing your content. If others abusing your content is a compliment, it’s a painful one.

How to Detect Plagiarism and Content Theft

Content theft is on the rise and the problem is spreading to more and more bloggers.

Many blogs, especially those with spam-friendly keywords, are scraped from their very first post. Those who avoid that fate, sadly, seem to follow soon thereafter as their sites receive links and gain the attention of blog search engines and content-hungry spammers.

When it is all said and done, it is not a matter of if, but when, your new blog is plagiarized, either via an automated process or by a human looking to fill the pages of their own site.

However, detecting such plagiarism can be a daunting challenge. With the Internet as vast as it is and growing every second, finding plagiarized copies of your work can seem to be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Fortunately, the very tools that spammers and plagiarists rely on to benefit from your work make it easy to locate them. It is simply a matter of knowing how to use the tools that are available.

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