Curation, Linking and Content Theft

The Planet Money cover photo.
The Planet Money cover photo.

Last night I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Planet Money, and it provided me with some good food for thought. Episode 904 was about Joke Theft. It explored the traditional joke theft on the stand-up comedy circuit, but also the modern social media aspects. What happens when someone with a larger audience steals your meme? And is it just curation1 when one republishes a funny picture.

While this episode was about joke theft, it did make me wonder about content theft versus curation. The thing is I do a lot of curation on this blog. A little back of the napkin calculation tells me about 20% of this site’s content consists of a post linking to an article on another site. Is my site built off the backs of people actually writing content?

Is curation wrong?

I believe curation is not wrong, with a few provisions. Curation is informing my audience of content on other sites that is of interest to myself and may be of interest to them. It’s me collecting things that I find have value from other sources and representing it to my audience.

I suppose the answer is up to your opinion. I believe it’s okay to curate so long as:

  1. you make it clear this is not your content, and attribute the author.
  2. you only include a snippet and you link to the original content.
My SEO settings for a curated post.
I’m hoping you find this article when you search for BuzzConf, and then decide to read the rest of my site. Analytics tells me this almost never happens, but I keep hoping.

In addition, I often make commentary based on the article I’m linking to. Reasons why I find it useful, interesting, helpful. Or perhaps why I hate it and disagree with it entirely.2 That said, often my commentary is thin, and I probably should work on this. There should be more additional value for my audience.

For example,this article by Sharon Lehman that I linked to in February has quite a bit of additional context. But this article about BuzzConf that I linked to three years ago has almost none.

But – full disclosure there – for both articles, I tweaked the settings for SEO with the hopes that I’ll be found when someone Googles BuzzConf or learning designer. Am I stealing Google Juice from Sharon and the Guardian/BuzzConf?

The ethics of “nofollow”, “noopener” and “noreferrer”

I should be specific here; when I link the original topic, I believe it’s ethical to send some Google Juice on to the original source. I’m no SEO expert, but I somewhat understand the differences between nofollow, noopener and noreferrer. I could add links to the source articles as nofollow, and this would tell the search engine bots not to follow the link. I think this would be uncool. The original article is useful, that’s why I blogged about it. I think useful articles should float to the top of Google3 and I’m happy to play my part.

That said, I do kind of have a strategy to keep visitors on my site. You might have noticed this, but all external links on my site are set to open in a new tab. People might find this kind of annoying, but my thinking is that I’m opening to another site you might find useful, but I’m keeping you here too. I would like to hear opinions on this, so please tell me what you think and/or do in your blog.

I also am very much aware that my linking to another person’s blog could potentially give me a pingback. It would be great if these pingbacks get published; I’d love it if their audiences check out my site. Pingbacks, at least in WordPress, automatically have a nofollow tag; I’m fine with this, given how much comment spam is out there. And I do publish pingbacks on my site.

The Past and Future of Curation on Scott.Technology

I have over the years developed a pseudo template for linking to other articles. This has been more evolution than intelligent design. Currently, curated articles:

  • Start with “Link: ” in the title
    • This is my attempt to show the article originated elsewhere.
  • Usually do not contain a featured image
    • Mr. Yoast does not like this, but I guess I don’t care.
    • I could try to find a suitable image (and I have in the past).
    • I could steal borrow the article’s featured image, but I’m lazy, and that feels very unethical.
  • Contain a quote from the article.
    • I have, at least once, placed a suitable image in the quote, in an attempt to break up the monotony.
  • Included a “Source: ” and a full and clickable web address on the page.
  • Placed the post in the “Link” category.

I also tend to add the author’s name as a tag, but you might of noticed that any time I mention anyone in an article, I add their name as a tag. Check it out; I’ve mentioned Sharon Lehman4 in this article, and she has a tag page5 on my site.

Dealing with Syndicated Content

When I was writing the occasional article for Pukunui’s blog, I would syndicate the content on my site. So, for example, the article Are you going to Edtechposium? from Pukunui’s blog should read very similar to my Are you going to Edtechposium? It’s very clear on my site that I’m reprinting something I wrote for them. I was able to do this easily because the RSS feed contains the full article.

Is Syndication ethical? I believe it is when I’m the author of the content. I’m resharing what I wrote there for my audience. I’m also very careful to make it clear that this content originally appeared somewhere else:

In addition, there’s a text widget on the right sidebar that only shows up if the current article is in the category “Syndicated from Pukunui.com”. This widget, hopefully, explains this content originated on Pukunui’s blog, and you can read more great content there.

The Visibility options for a text widget in WordPress
Setting the visibility of Widgets is one of the most underrated features of WordPress.

And I’m going to admit something here: this is me being lazy. I’m slow to write content. I actually have content about how slow I am to write content. So if I have to write something for work6, I figured I should get the most bang for my buck.

I tried to replicate this exactly when I started writing for ElearningWorld.org. I wanted to be a bit more cautious about this, as I’m was guest writer here and I was more conscious about pulling eyeballs away from the site. Turns out, I needn’t worry as I found out with my first article that the RSS feed for the site only contains a teaser. I’ve had to adapt a new style with subsequent articles, and I like this style better. I think it’s more clear to the reader, and more fair to the original site.

Bringing this back to Curated Content

While my mind wandered last night thinking about joke theft, I wondered if it’s clear that my curated content is something I like rather than something I own. Recently, I curated an article by Thais Gomez Gascon on the Blockchain in Education. I did not like how my post showed up in my LinkedIn feed.

How my recent blog post was shared on LinkedIn. It doesn't accurately show that I wasn't the original author.

It’s not clear that Blockchain in Education – Possible Applications of this Technology is not mine. If you click the link, and read my post, it should be come clear. But how it appears in my LinkedIn just isn’t sitting right with me.7

I also found something unexpected when I first republished; when writing the article in the new Block Editor, pasting the link started to embed the article in a block rather than the text link I was expecting. Perhaps there’s some new way to present that I can explore with embedding.

It probably time to explore better ways to present curated content to be fair to the creators. I think I am on to something with the way I’m presenting content syndicated from ElearningWorld.org; I especially think it’s high time for a Link category conditional widget.

Stuart has written an article based on one of mine at ElearningWorld.org; I’m going to experiment with curation with that article tonight and tomorrow so we’ll see what I come up with.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this – is content curation the same as content theft? Where is the line? What are the SEO ethics of curation? Let’s start a discussion!

Computer Image by andreas160578 on Pixabay

Note

  1. the selecting, organising and presenting content
  2. I must admit I do more of the former than the later. I tend not to draw attention to articles I disagree with, although this is probably more unconscious than deliberate. It’s more of ambivalence than malice. Perhaps I should try to post more dissenting views.
  3. or Bing. Ha. Ha ha. Haha hahaha hahaha hahahaha. Ha, Bing.
  4. Sharon, I’m sorry I’ve used you for so many examples in this article. I’ll stop, I promise.
  5. Some of my tag pages are very fleshed out. I know this is insane but I will eventually do this for every tag I use. I’m insane. I know it.
  6. I didn’t have to, Dom and Vinny let me.
  7. It’s a good article, please read it and give Thais some kudos.

Scott

Kenneth “Scott” Huntley is a Learning Designer with TAFE NSW (Technical and Further Education, in New South Wales in Australia) and WordPress instructor with The Parramatta College.

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