This past weekend felt like deja vu with an online reading service drawing negative attention for redirecting their shared links away from the original site and instead pointing them to their own servers.
In light of this I thought it would be helpful to make clear my views and decisions on issues like this.
Some of the trickiest decisions I’ve had to make while building Feed Wrangler aren’t technical or related to the business of running an RSS service. They are more fundamental choices about where the lines around the tensions of copyright and data access are drawn.
I have a long list of features that I could (but never will) add to Feed Wrangler that would allow me to ‘streamline’ and ‘enhance’ my customer’s reading experience.
- I could automatically convert all truncated RSS feeds into full text feeds by scraping the article body from the publisher’s site.
- I could automatically strip out advertisements from both the feeds and article bodies.
- I could automatically remove sponsorship messages during podcast playback within Pod Wrangler.
- I could cache copies of content from behind paywalls and present it instead of truncated articles within a protected feed.
- I could make sharing links go to a custom page on my site with the articles content rather than to the source site.
- [Updated] I could hijack the click tracking within your articles.
Many of these would raise all kinds of legal/ethical questions about copyright. In all cases, however, the apparent enhancement is coming at the expense of the publisher’s relationship to their readers. I would be artificially inserting myself into the experience the writer had decided to present to their audience.
My role is to facilitate as best I can the connection between a writer and their readers. I aim to make it easier for readers to find and enjoy the articles and content they want most. I’m trying to build the best venue for reading the content that publishers include in their RSS feeds, whatever that may be, not to decide for myself what those feeds should include.
I am not, nor should I be, in the business of making unilateral changes to the chosen business models of content publishers. As a reader I love it when publishers provide full-text, unencumbered feeds for all of their articles. I understand, however, that not all publications choose this route. When they don’t, I believe my responsibility as a reading service is to respect that choice.
While this just feels like the right thing to do it is also good business for me. The value of a service like Feed Wrangler is entirely driven by the abundance of quality content that my customers can subscribe to. If I’m making choices that make it harder for writers to make a living I’m ultimately just shooting myself in the foot.