April 26, 2010
Update: Global Grind has now addressed these concerns. Please read the follow up.
Global Grind is a mix between social news site (like Digg) and blog network. According to the Rush Communications website, they fancy themselves as a sort of curator of information, calling Global Grind “the ultimate source for today’s media that matters to the hip-hop community” and “the hotspot linking you to web content that puts you up on things you need to know.”
According to CrunchBase, they have received $7.1 million in funding and Russell Simmons serves as the company’s chairman. Datwon Thomas, the former editor-in-chief at both King and XXL, is the editor-in-chief and COO.
Unfortunately, Global Grind has adopted a deplorable strategy that includes copying content from other publications in full, submitting said content to Google News and placing links to the original content behind frames.
On Mr. Simmons
Before I dive into this topic, I want to say that I have always had a lot of respect for Russell Simmons. Part of this comes from my respect for Sean “Diddy” Combs as Mr. Combs has always spoken of Mr. Simmons with great reverence. Even though I haven’t followed Mr. Simmons closely, I respect the level of success that he has achieved throughout his career.
I would say, as well, that it is also very possible, perhaps even likely, that Mr. Simmons doesn’t know about what I am about to detail and may not even have the technical understanding to have adequately made such choices. After all, Global Grind is but one of his ventures and the day to day operations of it likely fall to other people. So, in summary, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Simmons personally.
Scraping Content as a Strategy
I don’t confess to know the history of Global Grind in detail. I have been familiar with them for a while, being the author of Bad Boy Blog, but I have never been a regular visit to their site.
I believe I first came across them when they started sending a little bit of traffic to Bad Boy Blog. We had been listed as one of their sources, if I recall, and they started spidering some of our stories. They were republishing our partial text RSS feed. Partial text means that only the first 50 words or so of a story are shown. They would include a link to the post and also some crude scraping of our navigation, for some reason. It usually looked like this. This was fine as it was a partial quote and there was a link to the full story.
But, then, something happened. They shifted their strategy. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the last post that was displayed in the old format was posted on January 15 of this year. By the time they spidered another story, on February 26, they had adopted new, more aggressive tactics.
In so many words, they stopped displaying just the partial text feed excerpts and, instead, started displaying a full scrape of (most of) the text on the page. The full article, some random code, our navigation, etc. Very crude and unattractive, but the entirety of my writing was there, as you can see on their site. They had begun full fledged content theft.
Why Scraping is Bad
If you’re a web developer or a veteran online writer or editor, you probably know why scraping is wrong. But, just to outline a few of the main reasons here.
My content is my writing and the reason people visit my publication. If someone else is copying my content, it creates confusion and leads to people not visiting my site at all, which makes it less likely that I can continue to create content. Generally speaking, when someone republishes your copyrighted content of a moderate length in full, it is not fair use, it is copyright infringement.
It confuses search engines. Because my content is in two places, search engines can get confused and this can lead to my original article having to compete with the scraped article for traffic. Because Global Grind might have more incoming links overall, they may take precedent over me in the search engine rankings. Less traffic means less reason to write content.
Less traffic also means less revenue, directly impacting my quality of life. In this case, with Global Grind being a for-profit website, Global Grind is directly profiting off of my content and my hard work. It’s like I’m writing for them. The problem is that I am not writing for them.
In short, you write an article on your website or for your publication and someone copies and pastes it on their website. They allow search engines to index your writing and place ads around it. They profit from your work. As crude as their system is, it’s content theft and all of these reasons I cited threaten the long term stability of my publication and that is why this is an unethical and illegal practice. I must defend my content and my work.
What Made Me Take Notice
I didn’t notice that anything had changed until March 10. The night before I had stayed up late watching and recapping the party that Diddy held in honor of the 13th anniversary of the passing of The Notorious B.I.G. This ended up taking hours.
What I woke up to see was my entire article copied in full and featured on their front page as one of their top stories. Every last word. Now, this has happened before, numerous times – with other sites. But, usually, it’s some random forum poster or some very small blog. I was surprised to see it coming from Global Grind, an organization I felt had been playing by the basic rules of this space.
In any case, I did what I always do in this sort of instance. I contacted the person in charge. To my surprise and disappointment, this person was the same person who posted my article in the first place – Datwon Thomas. To be clear, I am not wishing to paint Mr. Thomas in an unfavorable light. Our correspondence about this matter has been pleasant.
I contacted him on March 10 and requested that he truncate the quote so as to not quote more than one quarter of the work, while maintaining a direct link to the full article. I did not hear back from him, but saw that the article had been edited to bring it in line with the guidelines I had proposed. You can see it on their site.
You may notice that the page on Global Grind says that it received 14,384 views. But, I did not receive those views. In fact, from March 10 through today, I have received a grand total of 112 visits with globalgrind.com as a referrer and not all of those were to that story.
When I noticed the article had been edited, I also dug deeper and looked at other stories they had indexed. That is when I noticed the scraping.
Lack of Action
Once again, I e-mailed Mr. Thomas. I thanked him for editing that article, but brought his attention to the scraping practice that Global Grind was utilizing. I included examples as well as an article that explained why RSS scraping was not OK. Even though they appear to be simply scraping the page itself, not our RSS feed, some of the same principles apply. I urged him to change the practice.
He responded on April 4, the day I e-mailed, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details of the e-mail or the full text. But, he said that he was going to consult with a colleague to tackle “this current issue” and he wanted to get on the phone the next day to discuss how we could help each other.
I responded the next day and said that I didn’t believe it was necessary to get on the phone, but that the main thing is that the scraping stops. On my site, especially, but I said that it would be a good idea to abandon the practice totally.
He responded, not really addressing that concern directly, but saying that I shouldn’t hesitate to contact him in the future. I responded back, thanking him and asking that he let me know as soon as the full, scraped articles were removed. I reiterated that I was fine with quoting excerpts, but full articles were not acceptable and, if it meant opting out of Global Grind entirely, to ensure they were removed, then that would be what I had to do – even if I’d prefer to remain in their index with partial quotes. That was April 5.
It is now April 26. To date, I have not heard back from Mr. Thomas and no action has been taken. The articles remain on the site, listed under the Bad Boy Blog profile.
Why I Am Writing This
These practices are unethical and outrageous. For an organization with the amount of attention that Global Grind has received, the amount of funding they have received and the legitimate people associated with it, like Mr. Simmons, it is unacceptable for them to engage in these activities.
It’s not just myself that they are stealing content from. Though that is bad enough. It’s not just publications of my size. Though that too would be bad enough. It’s major publications, as well. Everyone from the New York Daily News (copy, original), the Boston Globe (copy, original) and Slate (copy, original) to MTV (copy, original), BET (copy, original) and Spin (copy, original).
I made them aware of it and, 3 weeks later, it’s like I never e-mailed. If you know me, you know writing this post isn’t my style. But, if I’m pushed to the point of needing to make people aware of a larger issue, I’ll do so. Publishers should defend themselves from these types of tactics.
If you find yourself in this position, where your work is being republished and the person doing so doesn’t fix the issue, you should file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice. This is what I expect I’ll be doing shortly. The first time you do it, it can take a moment to figure out. But, once you’ve done it that first time, it’s pretty quick from that point forward. Plagiarism Today can help.
Why Are They in Google News?
Here’s another question: when is Google News going to step up, draw in the reigns and stop degrading their service by adding these sorts of outlets? You could make the case for Global Grind’s tactics being a borderline splog (or spam blog). Yet, they are listed in Google News. How did I come to realize this?
Well, for Bad Boy Blog, I subscribe to Google News feeds about the label, it’s artists and related topics. This article popped into my feedreader on Saturday. The funny thing about this article is that it used to look like this (link will work until the Google cache clears itself out). Yeah, more scraping. But, after I tweeted about it, they changed it to remove the repeated text. They still quote the whole article, but at least there is a more visible link now.
So, no, Google News should not be listing scrapers. But that’s not even the only issue. The article is poorly written, bottom of the barrel linkbait. “Diddy is known for creating stars and ruining them, too.” He’s known for that? Is that right? “Perfect examples” are Biggie and Shyne? Blaming Mr. Combs for Biggie’s tragic death is repulsive. Shyne brought a gun to a club and shot it. The article is poorly written, badly researched and irresponsible.
Mind you, I am not saying that everything Google News indexes needs to be written by someone who takes their writing seriously. But, at least let’s try. Let’s not list gossip sites and scrapers so openly. In the interest of keeping this post on the main issue, I’m not going to get into Global Grind embracing and encouraging gossip and profiting from it, even while Mr. Simmons’ openly condemns Media Take Out, a large and well known (crazy) gossip site. He called them the “most hateful people on [the] planet.” I told him that while I respected him and agreed with his general sentiment, his own venture encourages and capitalizes on gossip reporting.
I want to contrast this with an issue that popped up in the tech community last year. Digg launched the DiggBar. Digg began to frame content and exit links from the site. They rolled out a URL shortener automatically tied to all submissions that, when used, framed the content, as well. The bar included features that tied to Digg, such as the ability to Digg the story.
There was a lot of outrage from this. Joshua Topolsky of mega blog Engadget, David Murphy of PCWorld and Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration explained why it was bad for web publishers at the time. In short, it was confusing and it messed with your search engine results. Shortly thereafter, Digg made some changes to the DiggBar that essentially fixed it and they made it so that you had to be logged in to Digg and have it enabled to actually see it. And then it was fine and the outrage died down.
But, Global Grind does most of these same things now. In fact, they might be worse. I am not sure if Digg ever removed every direct link to the given article, but that is what Global Grind does. Try to find a direct link on this article, for example. You can’t. They all go through their top bar (view the bar).
Now, Digg recently killed the DiggBar with founder Kevin Rose saying that it was “bad for the internet.” Global Grind still does it. Now, put that aside because the framing bothers a lot of people, but I really don’t care all that much about it. That’s not what this article is about.
But, imagine for a second that Digg had done what Global Grind is doing. Everything with the top bar, plus scraping the articles in full and displaying them on their site and requiring two clicks to even make it to the article itself, top bar or not. Can you imagine what the response to that would have been like? They probably would have been sued. But, Digg would not cross that line because they know what would happen. They will always limit themselves to short excerpts.
But, for some reason, Global Grind is getting away with this. I can only guess that this is because it isn’t visited by the same audience, the tech savvy, tech sensitive audience that Digg receives. This is good and bad as that audience can be fickle (I say this as a member of it). But, as a hip-hop fan for 13 plus years and the author of an established hip-hop centric blog, the hip-hop community, the audience they target, can be a lot different.
What Global Grind Should Do
This is all easily fixable. Here is what Global Grind should do. Stop the scraping. Adopt Digg’s model for content display. Quote excerpts only. Keep the bar, if you want, but add a direct link somewhere. Finally, truncate all old content that was scraped in full.
The reality is that they are sitting on a legal minefield right now, just asking to be threatened or sued. They may be operating under the model of “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission,” but that is a flawed model that can bite you back, badly.
Making these changes won’t just be good legal and ethical sense, but they will be good for business. If they wish to continue to grow the social news aspects of their site – i.e. people submitting, voting and commenting on their stories – they will be far better served with publishers being their friends, as opposed to combatants. This can lead to other opportunities and more people adding the “Grind” button onto their pages.
My intent in writing this isn’t malicious – it’s only to help point this issue out so it can be solved. I have nothing against Global Grind, outside of the issues expressed here, or any of their people. I just want them to be a responsible player. I hope that they get these issues fixed, so that they don’t hamper the future of the service.