Friday, February 1, 2008

Do These Blog Policies Make Sense?

A post on CNET news caught my eye a few days ago. I read Business Week online and in print. I’ve used their material in textbooks—with permission, which they are notoriously slow to grant). I’ve probably linked to their material on this blog. (No, I don’t ordinarily read user agreements.) I do, however, assume that online publications are happy to have links because they attract more people to the site.

So imagine my surprise when I read the CNET article which in turn referenced a post on the Gawker blog. This quote captures the issue perfectly:

Gawker points to the example of SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill, who writes in his blog that after being interviewed for a feature story in BusinessWeek, he was expressly told not to link to the story. "Yes, that's right, an ad-driven publication doesn't want us to drive traffic to them," he says in his blog. In addition, he was urged to review the company's user agreement. Mr. MacAskill also has critical words for the LA Times in his post.

Note how many links to various online publications have been generated by this dialog. As you well know, every time you follow one of these links you’ve upped their traffic and advertising rates. Why doesn’t any online publisher want that?

But I did check the user agreement and the Gawker post is exactly right. This is the item in the BW user agreement. Note that it does not say I can’t copy it (it’s well within the 100-word limit for direct quotes with attribution but without permission), but it does say that I can’t “deep link,” which is a link to any page except the home page. And every Internet marketer knows that if you want people to find things, you don’t just dump them onto your home page!

2. use or attempt to use any "deep-link," "scraper," "robot," "bot," "spider," "data mining," "computer code" or any other automated device, program, tool, algorithm, process or methodology or manual process having similar processes or functionality, to access, acquire, copy, or monitor any portion of, any data or content found on or accessed through, or any other information without prior express written consent of BW;
Source: BusinessWeek Online Terms of Use

The BW policy is even more ludicrous in the context of a subsequent announcement by editor John Byrne. He says BWOnline is going to use a new reader engagement metric, the ratio of comments to stories on the site. One assumes they can also use the metric for individual stores as one gauge of the most popular topics. So why would the publication shut off one source of traffic to their pages—and therefore potential comments? Beats me!

It makes about as much sense as this statement, attributed to Target:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets,” a public relations person wrote to ShapingYouth.

The owner of the ShapingYouth blog had complained to Target about an ad that it found demeaning to women. As I write this the original New York Times article (free registration required) has drawn 102 comments—pretty engaging! The comments show a fascinating divergence of opinion about whether blogs should be accorded the respect routinely given to traditional media outlets. Interesting and provocative!

Both Target and BusinessWeek Online seem to have policies that are counter to their best interests as a customer-friendly retailer and as an online publication that thrives on reader traffic. It might also be noted that the New York Times achieved a ratio of 102/1 on this particular article compared to the 23/1 average ratio quoted in articles about Byrne’s announcement. I did look on the Business Week site and couldn’t find a press release or other description of the policy—but then I couldn’t have linked to it anyway!

Enough bashing! There is a lesson here for all who participate in the new media space. The lesson is to be sure that all our policies are aligned in ways that promote our success instead of creating barriers to success.
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