Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Aggregate Me

A few of my food growing blogs have been cut and pasted from here into other websites without my permission - word for word and omitting only those words that make up my name. The tracts have been reproduced in places where they could actually make someone some money - where the ads are plentiful and substantial.

And so the dreaded aggregator has been round to visit my blog, departing with plenty on his paste board. Where once a blogger like me might have volunteered his tracts eagerly to the aggregate man - in the post Huff Post sell-off world, the bloggers are not willing and the aggregators have resorted to the sharp practice of the pressgang.

Because this blog is a flight of whimsy I won't lose too much sleep over it. But it would have been different if they'd stolen my book - which took me a year of late nights to put together. I wrote the book to help people to learn about food growing, but also for the purpose of selling it.

Wikipedia had a blackout last week against US government regulations. Wiki and Jimmy Wales stand for free and unfettered circulation of information. It's all very well until you ask: Who will produce reliable information if we expect it all gratis?

There's a place for free info in this world and a place for "paid for" info. To get that balance right we will always have to fight for the rights of the former to exist but also to protect the financial rights to the intellectual rights of the latter. It means we have to penalise people who steal protected content.

If there is no financial reward for producing good verifiable information, and no legal protection for the intellectual rights of those who do, then in our brave new Wikiworld, who will produce that information to a standard and quality and level of verification that we have come to demand? A great big colony of altruistic info monks who live off donations and fresh air? It's a nice idea.

Would you take instructions for your bungee jump from Wiki? No? Work your way down the scale so - investment advice from Wiki? Advice on how to dye your hair? Te he. Why not?

Food growing is a sideline for me and this blog is a hobby of sorts. Otherwise by day I'm a journalist in a fast shrinking profession which is seeing more and more of its trained members leaving newspapers, tv and radio every day - all over the world -  to go over to consultancy and PR. They're moving from pasting politicians and uncovering scandals to selling you toothpaste and bookie brands. It's happening because people don't want to pay for reliable information anymore, particularly online.

Like many print journos, I studied for it in college, gained a journalism qualification and then trained in the industry, starting at the bottom. Since then I have been paid by various outlets to produce content. If I drift from the discipline on here it's because I enjoy the freedom to be sloppy and because its my blog - I can do it. If you're still reading then that's your lookout. But we both know that a blog is a flight of fancy and expect no more from it.

 But the training ensures multiple checks from multiple sources to verify everything I write for the day job. If you think newspapers write nothing but lies and get away with it, then go get yourself libeled, go sue them and see how much you'll make. Suing newspapers pays far more than writing for them.  Newspapers are liable for untruths and being properly liable for what you do in the realm of information provision costs lots of money.

 On the other hand aggregators of a certain type send kids out at 5am to buy the newspapers and then type their entire content into their web sites - stealing information and selling their own ads on the back of it. They pay the kids a pittance and tell them that they're journalists. The newspaper buyers stop buying and turn instead to the free aggregator. This is how aggregators kill industries. And when newspapers are good and dead (whether they're online or offline organs) then the aggregator will detach from the corpse and go leech off something else.

However much it likes to dress itself up, Wiki is an aggregator - albeit a not-for-profit one - for now. The Huff Post also aggregated "free" content remember?

But when jurisdictions move to protect intellectual rights online in the exact same way that they already protect it in the realms of music, movies and print -  that's when you hear the wails. That's when the aggregators cry foul, human rights abuse, censorship, skull and bones, alien abduction et al.

While many journalists have a calling,  unlike Jimmy Wales, most don't volunteer their work for free. As George W once observed, people need to put food on their families. So whether online or elsewhere, the dosh needs to come from somewhere for reliable information to continue.

Without that cash paid over, you're left with anonymous rantings, meanderings, venom, bellyaching and invective of the sort that has collapsed numerous online bulletin boards and chat rooms by rendering them worthless. This is a blog, so it too falls into the non verifiable, dreamy, floaty and farty info category.

Wiki has its place, like this blog has its place. But Wiki has also taken all the information which humanity has built up over centuries and based on paid for science, paid for exploration, paid for academia and paid for journalism - and then sprinkled the whole lot through with rumour, prank, pomposity and uncertainty. You'd be shot by an editor in a newspaper or an academic professor examining if you lifted information from a wiki piece without verifying it elsewhere. So what if you really did have absolutely nowhere else to verify from? Because that's where we're heading.

You'll get noble aims perhaps, a big pot of rumour soup most likely and lots of Wales for donations for sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment