May 1, 2010
On Monday, I detailed and reported on Global Grind’s practice of content scraping. In short, they were copying full articles from an array of online publications, both small and large. They would then display this content on their website without any direct source links. The only link on the page, which was not very prominent, would be an internal link to Global Grind’s own top frame bar.
For those who followed the DiggBar situation, this was the DiggBar – but much worse because not only were they framing content, they were completely lifting content from other sources and competing directly with those original publications for traffic and revenue. They even allowed this content to be indexed by Google News, a highly exclusive news engine that most individual writers or small publishers can only dream of being listed in.
After attempting to have them remove my content and adopt more responsible practices, I found that they were doing this to many publishers and decided that I needed to bring the issue to a higher level of consciousness. This took the form of my article, in which I laid out the problems and potential solutions.
I’m happy to report that Global Grind has made changes and committed to making additional changes that have or will address all of the issues that I raised in my post. Let’s talk about what has happened over the past 6 days.
I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to my piece. As I write, it has been tweeted 108 times, according to TweetMeme, and shared 15 times on Facebook. The story was also picked up on Plagiarism Today, Black Web 2.0 and Nah Right, among other sites, while Rafi Kam offered code to block the Global Grind frame from your site.
Myself and Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today hosted a wonderful episode of the Copyright 2.0 Show that was a lot of fun, even with the subject at hand. We had some awesome interaction from the chat room and some very funny moments. I actually stayed on camera for an extra hour after the show was over, joking and talking to people. We also discussed the issue on the SitePoint Podcast, another show that I co-host.
Among those tweeting supportively was Angel Laws and J. Dakar of Concrete Loop, Stacey and Tracey of Neon Limelight, Ricky Ribeiro of Bark Bite Blog, Wayne Kest of The Mad Bloggers, Zillz of Zilla Says, Jia of Miss Jia, Liz Burr and Chuck Creekmur, the co-founder and CEO of AllHipHop.com, among many others. I even received tweets about it from Miss Info at HOT 97 and Baratunde Thurston.
But, that is just a small sampling of the people who spread the word about the story. Like I said, I was a bit overwhelmed by it and very grateful for everyone who shared the story with their friends and audiences. If you tweeted the story or spread the word in any way, thank you, I really appreciate it. It’s because of this support that we were able to make things better.
In a way, I’m glad this happened because it gave me an opportunity to meet (online) and/or exchange messages with a bunch of cool people I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I’m really thankful for that and look forward to meeting some of them in person.
One thing that was very rewarding about this whole situation was helping people and the people who told me something like “wow, I knew this was going on, but I didn’t know what I could do. I thought I had no options.” They didn’t know about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and they didn’t think they had any recourse. Now they know they do.
The Reaction from Some Global Grind Editors
There were a couple of Global Grind editors that made commented online. One was trying to lessen the importance of these scraping tactics and suggested that my writing included lies and that those that agreed with it were haters. I found this remark interesting because one of the people who tweeted about the story remarked to me that, if a black person had written the story I wrote, they would have been called a hater.
That’s a pretty sad state for us to be in. The idea of hating = criticism must die. I plan to write more about this soon. But, in short, constructive criticism is not hating. Me not liking your record is not hating. If criticism is hating, we end up surrounded by yesmen and yeswomen. We never get better, we never improve – we simply stay the same.
The second editor was a little more approachable, but also made the comment that they were a work in progress and that bloggers should work with them, etc. If we were talking about a 15 year old kid, saying that you are a work in progress is acceptable. If some small mistake had been made, saying that you are a work in progress may be acceptable. But, you don’t say you are a work in progress when you make such an obvious misstep. Pretty much any veteran writer – or attorney – would have told you that full text scraping was an absolute wrong that would lead to trouble.
And as far as people working with you – you have to earn that. Global Grind has done serious harm to the relationships that would potentially have with online writers. They have to earn that back, it’s not a given. No one will want to work with you after you’ve done this to them. You just have to fix it and hope that, one day, they do.
I followed this editor on Twitter, found her talking about how bloggers needed to chill out, and unfollowed her. The vast majority of bloggers that I spoke with, spoke about this issue in a mature manner. There’s no need to chill out – it’s a serious issue and a serious wrong that needed to be corrected.
The Real Reaction from Global Grind
Now, let’s talk about progress. For the past few days, I’ve been talking via e-mail and telephone with Michael Skolnik, who was just named co-president of Global Grind. We have been talking through the various issues and how they can be fixed. Jonathan Bailey was kind enough to offer his thoughts as part of this process, as well.
Following my initial article and these conversations, there is good news (for everyone, including Global Grind). The company has made some immediate changes, with more changes planned, that will completely address the concerns I initially had and even go beyond them.
Full Text Scraping Turned Off
The primary focus of my story was the full text scraping. They have stopped this and no new articles should be scraped in full and displayed on their site.
They may or may not continue to automatically index feeds in the future – that is currently being considered – but for any content that is indexed and for any user submitted stories (such as those submitted through their “Grind It!” buttons), the content will be limited by the site itself, to a character limit of 250.
This brings them in line with normally accepted standards. For example, in new submissions, Digg only allows you to include a maximum of 350 characters in the description.
There is one problem, though, and that is that the form on their site – where you can submit new stories manually – still allows you to submit excerpts as long as you want. Snolnik says they will address this by moving to a system where any user submissions will be manually approved and will not be automatically posted on the site, as they are now.
Old Scraped Content is Excerpted (or Will Be)
When I found out that no new articles would be scraped, I said that that was definitely good – but what about the old content that had already been taken and placed on their site?
Global Grind has gone ahead and reduced the majority of previously submitted or indexed content to an acceptable length. Skolnik said that, due to the amount of content, it could not be done in a single swoop, but that any content not yet excerpted will be done within a week.
If you see any content on their site that is a full scrape, I encourage you to contact them with a direct link.
Update (8:15 PM ET on May 5): Global Grind now says that all of the content has been truncated to a maximum of 250 characters. If you find one that isn’t, please contact them or, if you’d prefer, let me know in the comments.
Frame Bar Out, Direct Links In
Though this was not one of my concerns, a lot of publishers will surely be happy to know that they have completely killed the Global Grind top frame bar. It is no more.
As a consequence of this, their source links are now direct links to the original article, rather than internal links that lead to a top frame appearing above content. As I mentioned in the original piece, I felt that it was important that at least one direct source link be included somewhere.
Edit: In the comments, Rafi Kam points out that old links going through the Global Grind top bar still work. See here for an example. As I mentioned, the bar is not really an issue to me – but it may be a good idea to simply redirect those old bar links to the source URL or just kill them off.
Update (5:37 PM ET on May 3): The Global Grind top bar now appears to be officially dead. Instead, the old bar URL now redirects to their on site page for the article, which shows a short quote and a visible, direct link to the article. See the example I have previously.
More Visible Source Links
Another great change is that, on stories, besides the “See Original Story >>” link near the top, there is now a much more visible link at the bottom of any quoted article that reads “FOR MORE CLICK HERE.”
They have also made it so that the link next to “SOURCE:” on an individual article page now links to the main domain of the site that is mentioned. One other big change is that they have added a direct link to the main domain of the source on their index and category pages. This was a suggestion I made with the idea of moving them beyond general good practice and closer to best practices.
Skolnik says that they will soon be changing it to the actual direct article link, not just the main domain, which will be even better. See the screenshot below for an example of these links.
Update (5:37 PM ET on May 3): That link has now been changed to a direct link to the article. However, I note that the “View Original Story >>” link in the screen shot below has been removed. As long as the quote is short, however, the link at the bottom is sufficient.
Making it Easier for People to Report Copyright Infringement
Jonathan and I both encouraged Global Grind to make it easier for people to report copyright infringement issues and to better respond to them when they do, as some bloggers had mentioned that they had contacted them and not heard anything. Skolnik says that this should no longer be an issue.
The Last Piece
They have made (or plan to make) the technological changes, which is great. The last piece, and one I have suggested, is some form of public acknowledgment. I feel like it would be a good move for them to post an entry on their site acknowledging these concerns (and linking to my article), taking full responsibility for them, explaining the changes they have made and apologizing for these past errors.
Following that, I think it would be a good idea for them comment on the articles that covered this issue reasonably and do the same thing. Thank them for bringing it up, take responsibility, apologize and explain the changes.
I feel like this will go a long way to helping to start the process of earning that respect back, which is absolutely possible – but not easy. It’s helped by a human touch. Not just making the changes, but putting a public face on them.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Yes, some of these issues never should have been issues as they are simply wrong. Yes, the changes only started happening after I published the post and people started talking about it. And, yes, they haven’t yet acknowledged the issue publicly.
But, with that said, I believe that Skolnik and Global Grind deserve credit for, in the end, listening to the criticism and making the changes. With what they have done and what they plan, for which I take them at their word, they will have gone well beyond what I initially suggested. I made suggestions that would make them a generally respectable player in the space. But, with the changes they make or, hopefully, will make, they’ll be setting a solid example for like minded sites to follow.
And that is a good thing. My goal in writing the post wasn’t to damage anyone or to bring anyone down, but simply to ensure that writers and publications are properly respected and to push Global Grind in the right direction, in a direction that I believe is not only better for online publications, but better for Global Grind, as a business. They have made great and serious changes and they now must follow through on the elements of this plan that are not yet finished and in place. I wish them well.