Another take on SocialRank

You may remember that a while ago I posted about SocialRank and its site London’s Daily Voices that was featuring my blog in its top ten. If you don’t remember the posts, you will find them here and here.

Since then, I have continued to keep an eye on SocialRank with a view to working out 1. what exactly it is and 2. whether what it is doing is good for bloggers and blogging. I have to confess that, with my limited knowledge, I haven’t made much progress.

Let me just remind you what the issues are. Blogging has become a very big phenomenon and, naturally, there are people trying to profit from this explosion in many ways. Personally, I don’t mind this as long as the people doing it don’t exploit blogs unfairly or, worse, cause them actual harm.

Among the parasitic organizations that have appeared to feed on blogs are the so-called scrapers. Put simply, what these do is take your content and post it on their own site with a link back to your blog. If people click on this link, it obviously generates traffic for the scraper, enhancing its ranking and making it attractive to advertisers. In other words, it is making money off your back and giving you nothing in return.

My blog has already attracted the attentions of scrapers, as I expect yours has. When SocialRank first appeared on the scene, emailing me to say that I was in the top ten of London blogs, something I found (and still find) hard to believe, and inviting me to display their logo on my blog, I suspected that this was just another scraper, despite the unusual degree of human contact.

Was I right to think that? To be honest, I am still not sure. I am aware that SocialRank is creating a huge number of sites, all serving as a base for adsense and regularly displaying content (the title and first three lines of a post) from blogs that it picks out. If you are unhappy with this, you can take your blog off their list, they say, by sending them an email.

SocialRank claim that their system is good for bloggers and blog readers as it sorts quality blogs from the general morass because, so they insist, their software somehow detects quality, a claim I find hard to swallow.

This morning I chanced upon an interesting site called Bloggingtips whose author posted an article entitled Social Rank – The new breed of blog scraping on October 3rd 2007. I naturally read this with interest and found that the comments had develped into a dialogue between the author, other bloggers and representatives of SocialRank. I thought readers might be interested in it and have therefore posted links to it.

I am not yet going to emit a judgement on SocialRank because, frankly, I don’t know what to think. Like any blogger, I welcome constructive attention but oppose exploitation. It will take me a little longer to decide into which category SocialRank falls.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington (N London) with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to Another take on SocialRank

  1. I am a relative newcomer to blogging and it amazes me constantly how weird it all is. Different rules apply. I had a look at Social Rank and at your previous posts and I am completely confused about it all. I do understand scraping a little although until a week or so ago I had not heard of that either and could not possibly have imagined how it might work.

    I find it all rather scary. I like blogging – I like writing, reading and getting comments – but I do not do it to make money or to achieve any sort of “fame”. I would actually feel rather uneasy, largely because my anonymity could be compromised, but for other reasons too, if I appeared on a ranking site or if (as if!!!) I became too popular.

    But I wonder how they do compile their rankings? It is very intriguing.

    I suppose there is a whole industry of parasitic groups surviving off the back of us bloggers. I can’t quite get my head round it really. I think I shall stick it back in the sand actually!

  2. emalyse says:

    Everyone’s out for a slice of the pie and blog scraping, which social rank may or may not be engaged in (it’s definitely not in the game of originating its own content) is a pain for many bloggers.Most scrapers I’ve encountered haven’t taken my own posts and claimed it as their own but I guess they get to use someone else’s original content whilst leveraging advertising revenue (which we wordpress.com users don’t and can’t do) .There are anti scraping techniques such as you’ve added at the bottom of your post which could be stripped out manually though most scrapers are just bots so it’s worth trying if content is being used without a link back to the original.There are lots of legitimate services that still exploit blog content by indexing blogs such as technorati and even google so it’s a double edged sword if bloggers want content to found by such search engines (depends how much we crave readership). Other anti scraping code that can be placed in blog posts and blog footers is around but sadly wordpress.com doesn’t allow that level of access to html code.

  3. SilverTiger says:

    To Reluctant Blogger: As an example of how “scraping” works, a site supposedly about building and decorating took two of my posts about the refurbishment of our flat and posted them leaving links to their site in comments on my blog. The idea obviously was that people reading my blog would see their link and click on it. This is turn would give them a higher ranking in Google and thus make them more attractive to advertisers. They receive money when visitors click on advertisements on their site.

    Such sites have no content on their own; they are jerry-built by stealing other people’s. Like most such sites, there was no contact information, no authorship identity. All I could do was to delete their comments and links.

    There are many reasons why people blog. Doing it because you enjoy it is one of the best reasons. I think if you have a few people who read your blog and leave appreciative comments, that’s a bonus.

    Organizations like SocialRank succeed (if they do) because they keep their costs low. They use other people’s content and in the case of SocialRank, have software which patrols the Web and selects blogs according to pre-assigned criteria. They claim to select blogs on 1. number of link-backs, 2. number of comments and 3. “quality”, as measured by this mysterious program.

  4. SilverTiger says:

    To emalyse: I am happy for people to quote my posts as part of their own but I dislike someone simply taking an entire post and publishing it on his own site. Preserving my authorship and linking back to the original softens the blow somewhat but I still regard it as little better than stealing.

    An online journal did use one of my posts but asked my permission first and I was happy to give it because I thought the purpose acceptable and they consulted me throughout the publishing process.

    Professional writers probably find it easier to have recourse to the law for what are, after all, breaches of copyright, but we “amateurs” are less likely to want to take that course and therefore open ourselves to exploitation.

    I would be tempted to put “© 2008 SilverTiger” at the bottom of all my posts but I doubt whether it would help and I would be afraid of deterring other bloggers who might want to quote me quite legitimately.

  5. Ted Marcus says:

    Actually, your posts are “copyrighted” the moment you press the “post” button (or however you “fix in a tangible medium of expression” your blog entries– that’s the wording of the American law, but UK law should be similar thanks to the Berne Convention). The copyright notice only gives you certain additional rights. Not that has ever deterred anyone who is determined to infringe your copyright.

    Unfortunately, the dark side of the open nature of the Internet makes it vulnerable to all sorts of theft. Scraping is a problem that isn’t confined to blogs. Nor is plagiarism (without even a link back to your site). Web sites with images are susceptible to copying of those images as well as “leeching,” in which a blog or forum post links directly to an image file without as much as a thank you. Leeching steals not only the image but the bandwidth on the victim’s server. The victim pays for the honor of adorning some blog.

    Anti-theft measures tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, and generally ineffective. When I started to find bloggers and forums leeching my pictures (and generating thousands of hits) I set up the referer-based blocking the Apache server software provides. So someone viewing a blog page containing my leeched image will see only a blank space where the image was supposed to go (I could have instead had the server send an alternative image file containing appropriate text like “attempted theft from tedsimages.com,” but I decided the blank would be more effective). But this is a very blunt instrument, so anyone using Google translation or caching (for example) will be unable to see any of my pictures. There is little I can do about that if I want rudimentary protection against leeching.

    The most obnoxious scam is “referer spam.” These are robots that visit your site and leave log entries behind with a referer to a site proffering pornography, investment scams, casino gambling, anatomical enhancement, or malware. This scam works with those Web sites that have publicly accessible visitor logs or reports, as many sites inexplicably do. Search engines will see the spam URLs as links, boosting the search engine ratings (and perhaps bringing in visits from curious viewers of the logs). These spamatozoa will find infertile ground most of the time (since most Web sites don’t make their logs public), but it’s still very annoying to have that stuff in logs you’re trying to analyze.

    I think it’s accurate to say that the only way to avoid Internet scams and theft is to leave your blog on a machine that’s never connected to the Internet. But some might say that defeats the purpose of blogging.

  6. SilverTiger says:

    Thanks, Ted, for clarifying the legal situation. It’s much as I vaguely thought be confirmation is useful.

    There have always been would-be free-loaders and the Web and Internet provide an environment where they can flourish – consider the crisis that the music industry is going through. It must be both difficult and annoying for serious writers and artists such as yourself who see people stealing your work virtually unchallenged.

    We amateurs at least have the advantage that we don’t expect to get paid in any case, so theft of our work doesn’t imply financial loss. Nonetheless it is annoying and I wish there were stronger sanctions against it.

    On the other hand, I suppose this is one of the consequences of the freedom of the online world. This freedom is a delicate flower (as we see in countries like China and Iran where access to online information is restricted by the government) and we must be careful not to damage it in our haste to receive our just desserts.

    I sometimes wonder whether the openness of the online world will eventually provoke such a crisis over intellectual property rights that the only solution will be a revolution in the way we administer these.

  7. Mike says:

    Hi there,

    Just to be clear, our goal at SocialRank is to help users discover the greatest blog posts online. We are not a scrape anymore than Google is a scrape. We go out and try to piece together the top stories of the day to make it easier for blog readers to discover today’s hottest blog posts. We are working on a new version of SocialRank.com that will hopefully make it much more clear and win all of you over. Our goal is to help readers find the best posts. That’s it. Similar to how Google wants to help their users find the best links. Not sure whey people seem to mind with SocialRank but not with Google… what has changed?

  8. SilverTiger says:

    I have expressed my uncertainties about SocialRank and they have not really been answered.

    Perhaps your new version will somehow prove more convincing to bloggers.

    And who says we approve uncritically of Google?

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