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Ethics and Blogging: Attribution where due

Ethics and Blogging: Attribution where due

Duncan Riley> Nearly as long as there has been a blogosphere there has been debate on blogging ethics, from disclosure through to fact checking, and lots of bits in between. Whether there is a right or wrong on many of these questions is subjective, but blogging ethically is not as difficult as it may seem. Today I’m going to start a series of short ethics tips that I hope most will enjoy.

Tip 1: Attribution where due.
In the beginning there was a handful of blogs, and they linked to each other. This linking meant that those with similar views or interests could discover new blogs, and from this a community developed.

Yes, its sounds somewhat biblical, but the development of the blogosphere as we know it today came about in large part due to the practice of linking, that whilst not unique to blogging, was fined tuned and developed to new extents by it.

Linking in blogging comes in two forms, inline and blogroll. Inline refers to within a post, whilst blogroll means within the side or navigation bars. Most bloggers have a blog roll of some type, and given that a link in a blogroll to another site is simply a matter of like or relationship, the content is not bound by any major ethical consideration. Linking inline is.

There is nothing more that annoys me when parts of my posts or breaking stories are stolen by another blog, or website without attribution. Aside from the legalities of breaching my creative commons license, its simply unethical.

A question of ethics you may well ask? If you were writing a College or University paper and quoted without attribution another’s work, it would be plagiarism, and in most tertiary institutions this would result in instant dismissal from the course. We accept that plagiarism is unethical, then so is stealing the content, or a report or idea, in part or whole, from another blog without attribution.

The solution is simple: provide attribution.

If you are going to quote part of a post from another blog directly, provide direct attribution with inline link, for example, for a direct quote:
Threadwatch reports that “At the start of the week Danny Sullivan exposed Google’s underwear” or
Darren Rowse at Problogger stated “I would also add that it helps with the search engine optimization of your post”

for an indirect quote go this way
Robert Scoble asks a good question as to how much Yahoo! paid for Flickr
I’d note of the inline link that the link can be either on the name of the author, or on the short reference “a good question” or the long part “how much Yahoo! paid for Flickr”. There are no strict rules on where to base your link on an indirect reference.

Ideas or seeds are the most often ignored form of attribution. Simply, if you’ve read a post about a topic on one blog, then are inspired to write in a similar vain, provide attribution at the end. For example
(via Radio Free Blogistan)
(in part via Scripting News)

if you want to be even safer, you can double refer or more
(ref: via SMH)

See Also
aged domain blogging

There’s no hard and fast rule as to the methodology either, “via” is the most common term used, although “ref” for reference can be substituted, or even “from” or “link”.

The core idea here for the use of direct, indirect and ideas is the giving of attribution, and the examples simply demonstrate ways this can be done. Perhaps you provide it in a slightly different format? As long as its inline there is nothing wrong with this at all, its the thought as opposed to the exact detail that counts.

I’d note though that there is 1 exception to the attribution rule, and that’€™s media releases. This would only really affect news blogs, but I often receive media releases directly from firms which include direct quotes from the CEO and others: these releases are designed to be used in full or part without attribution as they are about getting a story out. The only time attribution is required for a media release is if the media release has been taken directly or in part from a blog.

Providing attribution is an ethical consideration all bloggers should consider. Many of you reading this already will, but you may be surprised how many don’t, and the higher up the blogosphere you go, the worse it gets. Think of it this way: you put your heart and soul into a post and half a day later, somebody posts nearly exactly the same thing, you cant prove the link but its more than coincidence, and you’re either heartbroken or angry. You don’t like it happening to you, so be ethical and don’t do it to others, you might be surprised: many bloggers like to see who is linking to their posts, they may well see yours and then all of a sudden you’ve got a link back…see the picture: do the right thing and good things may come from it.

Giving attribution is ethical, not giving it is unethical.

View Comments (10)
  • I would add, on the subject of things like news releases, that bloggers should in fact say that’s where the information or quotes came from.

    In general, I try to note where bits of my information came from, whether it’s from another news outlet, or a release, or a piece of email, telephone call, or in-person conversation. I think, in the long run, it’s worth exposing to readers just where each piece of information originated.

  • That’s fair enough, transparency is always important, and I’d suggest this is a good call, noting that a media release received by email is difficult to link to, but can certainly be referenced.

  • What’s your opinion about the rel=”nofollow” tag and (to a lesser degree) “_blank” tag?

    In all cases I use the latter tag so the link opens in a new window. That way my visitor can surf around the other site and I’ll still be there when they eventually close that window…

    And it’s the only tag I use if the source site is a blog, but if it’s an online newspaper article (or something of that caliber) I sometimes will add the ‘nofollow’ tag too. That way it’s attributed and viewable by my visitors, but it doesn’t get any “Google juice”. :)

    I had a problem last year where I published a bunch of articles on my niche site, and on the next Google update those very same articles I linked to popped up ahead of my website in the rankings for my primary keyword! Since online newspaper sites already have a high PR, I don’t want to give them any extra help by linking to them in any way that helps their rankings for my KW.

    ..any ethical thoughts about the ‘nofollow’ tag..?

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