Creative Commons...I think you're doing it wrong
June 17, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Instructables.com moves to a "pay to see" model Instructables, the community craft blog of the handy set, has moved to a closed pay-only model, and the timer is ticking for legacy accounts. After 90 days from implementation rollover, people who do not pay for an Instructables "Pro" account will have their accounts "crippled". Non-paying accounts will no longer be able to view entire instructables at once, print out projects or get a PDF, have a "favorites" list, and most perniciously, people won't be able to view "secondary" images in instructable steps that have multiple images. (Even if you happen to be the person that created it.)

Some creators suggest that this new pay model breaks the Creative Commons license that most writers used on their projects, but Instructables says that creators don't understand that the CC applies to everyone *except* the site where the content is published.

(Disclosure: I've had some fairly well trafficked projects on instructables. However, I've removed my projects because I believe that even if this doesn't violate the letter of the CCL, it certainly violates the spirit.)
posted by dejah420 (60 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of course, it only applies to the site where the content is published if you had some arrangement where copyright was assigned to the the site. You know those terms and conditions in small print? Sometimes it helps to read those.
posted by pwnguin at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2009


So if I understand this correctly, Instructables members without pay accounts will soon have to DIY... by themselves.
posted by Spatch at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Let's start a pool... I'm guessing 6 months...
posted by HuronBob at 12:25 PM on June 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Well, that's too bad. It was a useful, if imperfect site.
posted by graventy at 12:27 PM on June 17, 2009


In an Internet filled with sites of user-created content without a fee structure, you think they would have figured some other option out.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:28 PM on June 17, 2009


Someday site owners will figure out that the whole "Pay us money to give us content" doesn't work so well.

"Give us content" works out okay, if the place to post the content is well-managed. "Pay us money for content" is the classic, of course, and can work well too. But when you mash the two together, you tend to get an exodus.
posted by MrVisible at 12:29 PM on June 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


I predict a replacement site in days.

That's one thing a lot of sites/projects don't really seem to grasp, is it? They don't have a monopoly on the internet, or how to set up an interactive server. They don't own the community created content. All they have is a semi-monopoly on their aggregate traffic and relative notoriety - which was built and grown because of a welcoming policy of openness.

Doing shit like this just cuts off control of that aggregate traffic. It's like autoerotic asphyxiation. It might get you a quick, cheap charge but in the end it's just cutting off your oxygen supply and it'll probably eventually kill you.
posted by loquacious at 12:30 PM on June 17, 2009 [32 favorites]


Instructables was already a cluster f. Every time I realized that I was following a link there, I prepared for word salad and squinty what-the-fuck pictures and was rarely let down. Now they want people to pay for that? Eat a bucket, Instructables.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:34 PM on June 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


I agree with the above sentiment; charging for content you don't write alienates the people who would write that very content.
posted by LSK at 12:35 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I stopped going when they crippled it so that I couldn't view all steps in one page. So theyt'll lose a lot more people over this, but I guess it makes sense - people who contribute money are probably worth more to the site than those who contribute instructibles, and if you can lose a lot of the later to gain a few of the former, you're coming out ahead.
In the short term, at least.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:36 PM on June 17, 2009


It's just step-by-step photos for building shit, right? can't the whole site be replaced with a few Flickr tags?
posted by bondcliff at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someday site owners will figure out that the whole "Pay us money to give us content" doesn't work so well.

"Give us content" works out okay, if the place to post the content is well-managed. "Pay us money for content" is the classic, of course, and can work well too. But when you mash the two together, you tend to get an exodus.


It seems to work OK for Flickr.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2009


I visited the site not-too-long ago, and was already put off by the fact that you had to register to view the instructions, which I recall was not the case before. Registration was crappy enough to push me away from the site, but now that they want me to pay?

They're dead to me.

If I really need to know how to do something and my google-fu fails, well, there's always this.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:43 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


The only thing you pay for on Flickr is more hosting space. Right? I don't have to pay to see anybody else's pics, whether they have a Pro account or no. This would be like if they let me upload pics, but charged everyone else to see them, then didn't give me a cut of the profits from my pics.
posted by spicynuts at 12:45 PM on June 17, 2009


Pay-per click, as it stands, is unsupportable. Google is pretty much the only one making enough money to thrive in either direction from online ads. That said, Instructable's new pay model is almost as stupid as the way they're rolling it out.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:46 PM on June 17, 2009


The real problem with instructables is that, well, it embraced Sturgeons Law like a long lost brother.

The top 20% were good, sometimes great - then there were a lot of "tape things together with tape" projects and a bunch of adolescents explaining how you could do something that said adolescents were smarter than to actually try (but they could talk a good game) or or to make a gun out of K'nex.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:59 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This bespells doom
for Instructables.
posted by caddis at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Make Blog is more fun anyway.
posted by caddis at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I was almost done with my step-to-step manual on how to create a self-help website. No idea what to do with all these notes and diagrams now.
posted by ardgedee at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2009


I suspect that Boing Boing won't be linking to them too much in the future.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:08 PM on June 17, 2009


Arghh. There dies quite a few links from my craft FPPs. But then I didn't use Instructables that often. There are so many, many craft blogs out there that I don't often use the same ones. Craftzine.com is perhaps the only blog to supply a significant percentage of my links.

And I agree with those who say that the Instructables owners are making a mistake, that their users will depart in droves, and that similar sites will be launched/start to flourish pretty much immediately. In such a well-populated, flourishing field, anyone who thinks they've got a valuable and distinctive blossom that people will pay to see it are almost guaranteed to be wrong.
posted by orange swan at 1:09 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only thing you pay for on Flickr is more hosting space. Right? I don't have to pay to see anybody else's pics, whether they have a Pro account or no. This would be like if they let me upload pics, but charged everyone else to see them, then didn't give me a cut of the profits from my pics.

Of course you're right about how Flickr works. But I was responding to the comment that "pay us money to give us content" doesn't work. That is literally what Flickr has people do: pay them money in exchange for the right to fully utilize their site. I pay Flickr $26 a year for the privilege of uploading my own work to their site. And that's not all I do as a Flickr customer; I also spend a lot of time looking at other users' photos. As you said, I could have done this for free. But I didn't just randomly choose to give Flickr, rather than one of the numerous other photo sites, my money. I chose Flickr largely because of how popular it is with other users, particularly serious users who also have paid accounts. While I don't directly pay money to see those photos, their overall system involves constantly building themselves up through money paid to use a user-created site. All I'm saying is: Flickr is an example of how that kind of thing can work.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It shouldn't be too hard to set up a planet, and simply require contributors to provide an RSS feed from their own blog tagged with instructables. Dozens of free blogs out there are available without fees.

The hard part is simply filtering and spam.
posted by pwnguin at 1:21 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, it only applies to the site where the content is published if you had some arrangement where copyright was assigned to the the site. You know those terms and conditions in small print? Sometimes it helps to read those.

The terms you're thinking of -- the same boilerplate, present-pretty-much-everywhere, cover-your-ass-when-accepting-user-content terms which get hauled out every few months by BoingBoing et al. as "OH NOES THEY BE STEALIN MAH COPYRIGHTS" -- do not "assign copyright to the site".

What is in the terms of pretty much every site which accepts user-submitted content is a clause that grants the site a broad license to copy and distribute that content. Note that "grant a license" is not the same as "assign copyright to" -- for example, Linus Torvalds grants you a broad license to use his Linux operating-system kernel, but he still owns the copyrights to it after he does so.

And the reason why every site has this is the simple fact that voluntarily uploading your (blog post | photo | video | whatever) to such a site does not imply that they have any right to, say, show it to other people (that's copying and distribution, and without an explicit license it's infringement of your copyright). And since the whole point of such sites is to let you upload stuff which then gets shown to other people, they need to secure a license which allows them to do so.
posted by ubernostrum at 1:22 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I pay Flickr $26 a year for the privilege of uploading my own work to their site

You could have a free account and still upload images, just not as many and not as large. The alternative to paying for Flickr is paying someone else to run a fast webserver farm that will host your gigabytes of images. I don't think there'd be much opposition to instructable's pay model if each how-to required hundreds of megs of webserver space.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2009


CDDB/Gracenote's big fuck-you begat freedb, so I'm hopeful this one will lead to something better than instructables.
posted by aerotive at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


It seems to work OK for Flickr.

People paying for Flickr aren't paying to see content, which is the only reason to pay for Instructables. They're paying for the use of storage and management tools.
posted by mightygodking at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


On one hand, this is certainly disappointing, since Instructables has some really interesting projects that I'd like to eventually get around to. True, most of them are mirrored elsewhere, but it's nice to have them in one place so I can access them quickly.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Instructables content seems to be projects like How To Cook a Hot Dog or How to Build a Crossbow out of Office Supplies, which I can happily live without.
posted by lekvar at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2009


0xFCAF: "You could have a free account and still upload images, just not as many and not as large. The alternative to paying for Flickr is paying someone else to run a fast webserver farm that will host your gigabytes of images. I don't think there'd be much opposition to instructable's pay model if each how-to required hundreds of megs of webserver space."

With a Flickr free account you can upload as many pictures you want (under the monthly 100MB bandwidth limit) but only the first 200 can be seen. Instructable's pay model would allow premium accounts to see those hidden pictures even if the uploader can't.
posted by Memo at 1:37 PM on June 17, 2009


0xFCAF said: I don't think there'd be much opposition to instructable's pay model if each how-to required hundreds of megs of webserver space.

If the 'structables new business model had been: "Pay the Pro fee, and the content YOU created will be available to everyone for free, in accordance with your CC license.", I would have paid the pro fee. I don't object to supporting sites that I use, or that I think offer a valuable service. But if all the "Pro" fee does is let me use the site the way I've always used the site...there's no value add. No new features were added, unless you count a vanity tag next to your user icon, and a special "pro only" forum....whoo?

I feel as though materials that I created for the common have been kidnapped and put behind the garden wall where the audience for whom it was intended cannot see it without paying ransom.

Hence the reason that I deleted my instructables that had less than a couple thousand lifetime views, and the ones that average 20k plus views per week, I've deleted the content, and put a message up saying that if anyone wanted a PDF of the project, to message me and I'd email them one, but that I wasn't going to allow my IP to be put behind someone else's pay wall.

It's a pain in the patoot, but I'll just recreate the instructables on my own blog, while I try to figure out if there is another 'structables type site that actually holds true to the CC ideals. Or maybe I'll gather the disaffected and we can start our own "hey look what I can do!" type community. Heh.
posted by dejah420 at 1:40 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


And since the whole point of such sites is to let you upload stuff which then gets shown to other people, they need to secure a license which allows them to do so.

Obviously I missed the distinction between copyright and license to distribute in my comment, thanks for the rectification. I was under the impression that people were placing instructions on the site under CC-BY-NC-* (or whatever), and the site was claiming the license didn't matter because they owned it. Clearly, they just have a prenegotiated license of a much wider kind.

It's an interesting problem; people grant the site the right to distribute with the expectation that it will be distributed as widely as possible. When Instructables chooses to exercise that right selectively, it's not what authors had in mind.
posted by pwnguin at 1:40 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dear Internet,
It's not you, it's me. We've just grown apart. You keep sending me traffic and fans, 
but I just want to be left alone to build stuff in my basement. I think it's time we call it off. 
It will be better for both of us. I'm taking my instructions and going home.

Sincerely,
Instructables Q. McFunnyFace
posted by blue_beetle at 1:42 PM on June 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


ubernostrom's right, users didn't assign their copyright, they granted a limited license to Instructables, and the pay wall plan might exceed that license. Under the TOS, specifically 7d, users grant Instructables a license to reproduce "solely for the purposes of providing and promoting Instructables." Neither party thought of Instructibles as a subscription service when they entered into this agreement, and the TOS all but defines the service as ad-supported in section 4.

The license also says that it extends only to material submitted "for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Instructables." I don't know that "behind a pay wall" is "publicly accessible." Similarly, the license grants the right to "distribute," but does that extend to distribution by sale? The TOS isn't specific, and neither party intended this to be the meaning when they entered into the agreement.

Basically, people agreed to let Instructables distribute their content on one set of terms, and now Instructibles is significantly changing the terms of the agreement. dejah420's comment is indicative of this - users agreed to one service, and then Instructables changed that deal in a pretty significant fashion.
posted by factory123 at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, how long until we a site-rip offered via bit-torrent by someone with a legacy account?
posted by oddman at 1:54 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who's a good candidate to create their own version of Instructables? Make Magazine. They already have a blog that links to other people's projects, and many times these link to interesting Instructables stuff. It would be an appropriate entity to take over for such things, plus could drive a large amount of traffic to their magazine in turn increasing subscriptions.
posted by JibberJabber at 1:56 PM on June 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Instructables.com moves to a "pay to see go out of business in a month" model ...
posted by odinsdream


If they currently have a "go out of business in a week" model, that's an improvement.

Look, I have no idea what the finances behind this website look like, but if we're going to have a thread about every media outlet, online or offline, trying to make money this year, there will be little less on Mefi. They are all in deep shit, and a hundred million internet people yelling about losing their free stuff aint gonna change that.
posted by mr.marx at 2:19 PM on June 17, 2009


users didn't assign their copyright, they granted a limited license to Instructables, and the pay wall plan might exceed that license
I would love to see a Creative Commons copyright lawsuit filed on this basis! The thought of it kind of makes my head spin.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:21 PM on June 17, 2009


www.instructables.com/id/Set-up-your-very-own-Web-server/
posted by rokusan at 2:26 PM on June 17, 2009


mr.marx: "They are all in deep shit, and a hundred million internet people yelling about losing their free stuff aint gonna change that."

The problem is not Instructable trying to make money. The problem is that they are trying to make money by charging for stuff that was intended to be free by their authors.

It would be like blogger suddenly started to charge for the privilege of being to be able to see more than one post per blog and having access to RSS feeds.
posted by Memo at 2:33 PM on June 17, 2009


FU2, instructables. You can "convert" my account right now because I'm not coming back.
posted by DU at 2:51 PM on June 17, 2009


Make Magazine has the resources and rep to make an Instructables replacement, but I'm not sure they will jump on that too fast. They've been pretty cozy with Instructables until now and it might take a while for their (presumably personal) relationship to sour.
posted by DU at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2009


Metafilter: "Pay us money to give us content"
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:58 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


That joke being made, the comparison between Metafilter & Instructables is nothing like such a false equivalence, but interesting on its own merits.
Metafilter              |         Instructables
-free to (fully) read   |         -not free to (properly) read
-not free to post       |         -free to post (I gather?)
-paid: Music downloads  |         -paid: pdf downloads
-paid: fewer ads        |         -paid: fewer ads
-paid: Marriage ability |         -paid: social stuff (forums)
Roughly the same feature set, with a few extra benefits in Instructables that wouldn't really apply here. The difference is that they switch around the casual user's ability set, from reading as it is here to writing. However, writing is definitively something that a person invested in the community will do. A drive-byer won't want to post, but to read. If they like what they read, they'll read more. And then see something to respond to, and join.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:59 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]




Good. I've always hated their interface, and once they started requiring registration to see photos I started ignoring them altogether. Maybe this will spark the creation of something better.
posted by echo target at 3:15 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who's a good candidate to create their own version of Instructables? Make Magazine.

Make has always seemed way too expensive in magazine form ($35 for 4 issues, by subscription), so I doubt they would be the saviors of free content.
posted by smackfu at 3:40 PM on June 17, 2009


Something similar happened with the very popular MacFixit.com website back in 2001 or 2002. They started hiding content behind a pay-wall, regardless of the origin of the content. Many thousands of people who contributed regularly to the site--offering Mac tech support, tips, and tricks--were suddenly being asked to pony up for a Pro account just to be able to see the content they helped to generate. It did not go over well and Ted Landau eventually sold the whole kit to CNET and the site has been deteriorating ever since. I don't know their numbers, but it's certainly not the "go-to-first" site it used to be.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 3:41 PM on June 17, 2009


You could have a free account and still upload images, just not as many and not as large. The alternative to paying for Flickr is paying someone else to run a fast webserver farm that will host your gigabytes of images

Storage isn't that expensive anymore. You can host files on Amazon's S3 for ten cents a month pre gigabyte. $26/year would get you 21.6 gigabytes of storage.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Make has always seemed way too expensive in magazine form ($35 for 4 issues, by subscription), so I doubt they would be the saviors of free content.

You have confused free beer with free dom. Not that I want to hagiographize Make (and disclaimer: I'm a subscriber), but they are pretty good about opening their content up. For instance, all their MakeTV episodes are up on LegalTorrents. And a lot of their content goes up on their site. I know how much or how soon, because I always skip those posts, having read them on paper the first time around.
posted by DU at 4:19 PM on June 17, 2009


Yeah, the site's toast. People post guides to sites like Instructables so they reach the largest possible audience. With a pay site model, that's no longer true, and you'd do better posting to your own personal blog or another site, so people will do that instead. Probably in three months the only people posting guides on that site will be people who are desperately trying to keep the place alive and justify their investment, and in six months, nobody.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:30 PM on June 17, 2009


So did they lose a bet to eHow or something?

(and if someone doesn't "upgrade" their account in time, will that mean they can't even view the articles they've written to delete them?)
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:40 PM on June 17, 2009


Kellydamnit said: (and if someone doesn't "upgrade" their account in time, will that mean they can't even view the articles they've written to delete them?)

No, they'll still be able to see projects, albeit not all the steps on one page, and they won't be able to see secondary pictures on steps, but they can still edit and delete projects.
posted by dejah420 at 10:21 PM on June 17, 2009


When I read the word 'instructables' I think of a fine paté made of ground teachers, packed into a lunchbox-ready plastic cup. That gives you bowel cancer.

That is all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:49 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


You pay Flickr for server space and other features, you're paying for a service that allows you to store and share photos.

Having to pay to view other peoples photos would be way different. It would be like they were saying

"Okay everyone, thanks for all the uploads, we have so many now we can start phase 2: Flickr as a stock photo site. Thanks for the content, this is great."
posted by Napierzaza at 5:12 AM on June 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


I actually needed some instructions from instructables a few weeks ago, and noticed the new restrictions. Then I questioned whether they'd always been there, because I honestly couldn't remember. In the end it didn't matter. The plans I got had the wrong quantities/measurements anyways. Common Sense carried the day.

Still, as someone who didn't use it often, I found it could be an all right resource when you were looking for specific things. Too bad, really.
posted by indiebass at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2009


MetaFilter:"t might get you a quick, cheap charge..."
posted by aldus_manutius at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2009


I've just gotten a letter from instructables telling me that they'll make my instructables free for everyone to view, if I'll take my "Hey, did you know this site is now pay per view"? down from my heavily trafficked, google ranked #1 bath bomb instructable. In other words, quit making waves and we'll make you an offer.

Which is nice...I mean, it would be cool to have my stuff all open-source, like I had it, but that doesn't solve the overall problem of everyone else's content. So, I think I may stand on principle on this one.

I'm sure, because of the sheer amount of traffic on that one, that they want me to go away so they can put content at that url. They've got a staffer who has been furiously trying to learn how to do bath products after they saw how popular my bath bomb 'structable got. (Well, I say staffer...she's not on the staff list, but she told me that instructables was buying her all the materials for her bath products instructables...)

So, I think this is just a warning shot to tell me that if I don't play ball, they'll just remove my instructables and replace it with their own, at the same url, so they continue to make ad revenue from all the legacy referrer links.
posted by dejah420 at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow, that's some seriously uncool behavior from the Instructables people, dejah420.
posted by lekvar at 1:03 PM on June 19, 2009


Indestructibles was already a pain in the ass to try to use BEFORE this. I teach a class on T-shirt reconstruction and periodically would look through there for possible projects for my class to look at, and they were such a PITA I would rapidly click away in frustration. And now you won't even be able to share your work with others on the net? Bugger that. Sorry, my students definitely won't be looking here now.

I will pay money if the service you are offering is useful, which theirs is not so much. Plus it's making you pay for the cat after it's already out of the bag.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2009


dejah420, that totally blows and is really underhanded of them. (I actually just left a comment on your blog about your post before I came here to see what MFi's are saying, and lo, here you are.) I really hope someone shows them how to do it better. Wankers.
posted by lobakgo at 7:33 PM on June 19, 2009


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