Its a victim-less crime, Bobby!
March 5, 2004 9:55 AM   Subscribe

A good amount of bloggers are outright thieves. Researchers at Hewlett-Packard Labs found that a vast amount of popular bloggers stole ideas, topics, and content from lesser-known weblogs without any sort of attribution or crediting. The researchers created a new ranking algorithm called iRank to track the source of new ideas and topics, which you can play around with here.
posted by Darke (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Topic stolen from /.
posted by Darke at 10:01 AM on March 5, 2004

posted by dabitch at 10:07 AM on March 5, 2004

Odd, I just cut and pasted the url from my addressbar, I wonder how that happened. Maybe a bizzare Firefox bug?
posted by Darke at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2004

Exhibit A
posted by y2karl at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2004

Guess what - Bloggers are not the only thieves. Mainstream mass media now trolls the net for stories and ideas as well. Right here on Metafilter, in fact, and elsewhere.

This is a typical predatory food-chain dynamic.

Class acts acknowledge attribution, especially in the very early stages as a story is breaking.

But I'm very appreciative for the link - a cool tool, indeed.
posted by troutfishing at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2004

The data is based on crawls from May 1-21, 2003 and includes ~37k blogs. The visualizations show which blogs mention the URL and possible/likely routes of "infection."
What does Technorati index? Somethingl like two million blogs? It'd be nice to see this technology applied to a more up to date crawl...
posted by dmd at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2004

"What we're finding is that the important people on the Web are not necessarily the people with the most explicit links (back to their sites), but the people who cause epidemics in blog networks"'

Sure but - are there obscure bloggers who consistently generate infectious new ideas? Or are the top bloggers really good aggregators of ideas from the lower levels, which generally come from new sources every time?
posted by lbergstr at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2004

Blogs act as conduits between diverse communities. Thus, this "copying" passes information and resources to a wider audience than would otherwise be possible without a vast marketing budget. And given that I would say this copying is the best thing to happen to society in a long time.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2004

Are these just people looking for trends? Designers looks for trends, they pull parts of ideas from others' works. I guess it's not exaclty the same thing, but similar.

It's all about where the line is drawn between stolen ideas and just following a trend. Sometimes the line is pretty blurry.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:17 AM on March 5, 2004

Guess what - Bloggers are not the only thieves. Mainstream mass media now trolls the net for stories and ideas as well. Right here on Metafilter, in fact, and elsewhere.

Exhibit B
posted by norm111 at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2004

As troutfishing said, the mainstream media rips off internet sites more than anyone. For example, one April fools day, I posted a story on my news site that was vaguely true sounding, but not at all true if someone bothered to check their facts or contact any of the people involved. That morning, the story was picked up - unattributed to us - by mainstream music sites.

Seeing as the story was completely made up, it seemed a little suspect to me that so many other people had "discovered" the same story.

(The story in question was here if anyone cares)
posted by aubin at 11:38 AM on March 5, 2004

My first journalism job was in 1991 in Ireland, trawling Usenet for "US Pop Culture" story leads for a national daily.
posted by meehawl at 11:42 AM on March 5, 2004

I don't get it. Are you saying that webloggers are morally or ethically required to attribute sources for memey links that they include in their sidebars? If I want to link to the "comparative subway" meme that's been going around, do I attribute it to, to, to Anil's site, to Metafilter? Or do I e-mail Jason Kottke to ask him where he found the link?

How is this "thievery"? If one person finds a cool site, do they own the linkage to that site?

I can understand that for some things attribution is polite. But once a meme reaches a certain critical mass, is attribution really necessary any more?

Personally, I provide attribution on a rather haphazard basis. If I link directly to another weblog entry, I always provide attribution. But, if I'm just posing something I found on Metafilter, or something that I know has been (or will eventually) make the rounds, I don't bother.

Of course, I'm nowhere near a "popular blogger". I'm just an average joe. :)
posted by jdroth at 11:42 AM on March 5, 2004

Isn't theft the wrong word to use here? After all, in academic lit reviews, I am obligated to cite Jane Q. Genius if I choose to quote or comment on her work. I'm not obligated to cite the database, or the conference paper that led me to her work (unless I'm quoting or commenting on that database or conference paper specific source.)

It may be a courtesy to drop a nod to the person who brought it to your attention, but it certainly is not theft or plagarism if you fail to do so.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2004

Another thought: Why is it theft to comment on a article or website found on a blog, but not theft to comment on an article or website found through google. The big advantage I see to weblogs is that they function like an annotated biblography.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2004

Yeah the use of "theft" and "stole" set this story up on the wrong path. Indeed, this is somthing we want more of and to encourage, shareing and distributing ideas. Theft is not somthing you want to encourage.
posted by stbalbach at 11:56 AM on March 5, 2004

Everytime I watch Keith Olberman do his countdown, I see stuff I've written about days before and he never attributes them to me.

He was a better sports guy anyway.

And I nearly always attribute my links.
posted by fenriq at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2004

fenriq, please include a link to your "Keith Olbermann Preview" blog on your profile page...

and you misspelled his name... all 35 of his regular viewers know how to spell it...
posted by wendell at 12:19 PM on March 5, 2004

I don't know if I'd call it stealing, but I've noticed the basic idea for a while now.

I regularly visit several very popular bloggers, and not to mention names (none of them post on metafilter anymore), their links are basically a collection I've read at other smaller blogs and sites like metafilter. Once in a blue moon do they give any credit.

While lesser blogs seem to often give credit to the top blogs. I'm guessing to appease them and hopefully one day get a *gasp* return link.

I don't have a blog, but if I did, I don't think I'd worry about giving credit. No one else seems to.
posted by justgary at 12:22 PM on March 5, 2004

There's no point in giving credit for finding links unless you crave attention. Only those looking to up pagerank and popularity parade this item of "weblog ethics."

The only time it becomes a factor is when the weblog author has something interesting to add. If the linker passes off additional commentary as his or her own, it would be a more relevant thing to track. It still would not indicate whether or not "additional commentary"/ideas/memes were generated by any one person just because they were the first to write about it.

I'm sure that saying many bloggers steal ideas helps with the pagerank of the article.
posted by john at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2004

Guess what - Bloggers are not the only thieves. Mainstream mass media now trolls the net for stories and ideas as well.

Well, that makes it okay then. God knows we wouldn't want to encourage a little human courtesy in this community.
posted by jjg at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2004

I'd argue that a link in and of itself is a form of attribution.
posted by Slagman at 1:40 PM on March 5, 2004

Well, I didn't say it was OK. I thought the linked story needed the balance of noting that this is a common mainstream media behavior, so as to avoid heaping all the blame on unscrupulous bloggers.

It's sort of funny to watch certain stories working their way up the food chain. Some struggle up from below and almost get there - and then are blocked from going the final step or two.
posted by troutfishing at 2:02 PM on March 5, 2004

Norm111 meant Exhibit B...

Albeit B was not a slightly tweaked cut and paste of a post, let it be noted...
posted by y2karl at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2004

The solution to this is to write nothing in one's blog that anyone would ever want to steal. I'm brilliant at that. I can proudly boast I've never posted anything to my blog that anyone in their right mind (and most people not in their right mind) would want to claim as their own.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:17 PM on March 5, 2004

There's a difference between using the same *link* and using the same *text*. When blogger A rips off the content, i.e., the actual words, commentary, etc., from Blogger B without quotes or attribution, then it certainly is unethical.
posted by dejah420 at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2004

I think it is common courtesy to provide an attribution and hyperlink to the source. If they helped you find an interesting tidbit worth mentioning to others - it is the least you can do.

If anything, it increases the source's PageRank.
posted by cup at 8:21 PM on March 5, 2004

Thank You HP! We've got to make sure that people dont talk about the SAME boring shit.
posted by Satapher at 12:26 AM on March 6, 2004

Yea, this is spot on. It describes a certain aspect of weblogs that I've noticed when they started. I think it might be why I can't stand most of the weblogs other people praise.

Weblogs, almost by definition, are insular, cliquish and typically more jargon-prone than a Scientology meeting. Look into books like, which described atomization of political discourse on the web or chapter 5 of Linked. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (there are about nine accents in that name) wrote in Linked that a tiny minority of sites get the vast (vast, vast) majority of links. "[M]easurements on a sample of 203 million Webpages uncovered ... as many as 90 percent of all documents have ten or fewer links pointing to them, while a few, about three, are referenced by close to a million other pages." This is true on a large as well as small scale. So the weblog cluster of the web is going to have a tiny minority that have the most incoming links and the vast majority will be all but invisible.

Now you can debate why this is true. Perhaps the minority benefit from pioneering a new hub, maybe they're better at self-expression, or as the link reports, they're better at swiping ideas from the assembly of anonymous toilers.

Webloggers tell themselves a handful of mythologies -- or maybe they're new evangelicals -- about how the work they do is incredibly important and enlightening and revolutionary. Maybe that's true, personal expression can be therapuetic, maybe even spiritual. The problem is, that is a very limited sense of enlightening or revolutionary and not at all how they were orignally envisioned. As researchers learn more about Network Theory (or Emergence or whatever it's called this week) their findings seem to imply that weblogs follow a predictable path of network building. In other words, weblogs aren't revolutionary in almost every sense -- they're as predictable as almost every other social activity.
posted by raaka at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2004

Deja420 makes a good point. I don't mind - and why should I? - that other people link to same stuff I've been linking to, but the times I see them use quotes that I've called and gotten from people in the story, and not attributing anything to my site, I get pretty miffed. Double so If they use images that I've asked permission to use, without asking me (or noticing that my disclaimer says that's a no-no). Write your own text and make sure to get permission for images....
posted by dabitch at 5:09 AM on March 8, 2004

« Older F-Worded on the Radio   |   Big heads wobbling on wee necks?.... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments