Medical Blog Network vs. Lynch Mob

Dmitriy over at HealthVoices just posted about the medical blog aggregating “debate”. In case you’re not aware, HealthVoices is both a medical blog content aggregator and a blogging community where medical bloggers can get national recoginition for their writing.

I met Dmitriy at HIMSS and I was impressed by his knowledge, dedication to the medical community, and his innovative ideas about how something like HealthVoices could help physicians and other healthcare providers get messages out to patients and citizens. Dmitriy is a pretty nice guy so I was quite surprised at the “lynch mob” mentality (his words) that other bloggers seem to have about him aggregating not only links but actual postings from their blogs. I’m a little disappointed by how he’s publicly being chastised and how he’s being treated by some members of the blogosphere.

Now, I’m a blogger (i write several including this one) and I personally don’t like aggregators publishing my entire post but I do want them to publish my links. Although I feel strongly about it, I think the approach that Barbados Butterfly took in her complaint started a public fight that needn’t have been one. While I agree with Barbados Butterfly’s points, it was handled publicly which makes Dmitriy look like a villain when what he’s doing is trying to serve the community.

Fellow bloggers: if you find someone on the Internet doing something that you don’t like, please don’t take it public until you’ve tried to resolve the issue privately. Regardless of how egregious you think the offense is, it’s possible that another fellow blogger or site manager may have a different opinion and is willing to rectify your complaint quickly and quietly. Always try and resolve the problem via private e-mail first, see what the response is, and then if you need help from the community to resolve your grievance even have some fellow bloggers send email to threaten action. If Dmitriy was approached properly, I think he would have changed the policy and posted about the policy change along with the reasons (requests from the community). It would have been quick and painless for everyone.

By making all grievances public it makes us bloggers look like we are a bunch of cry babies that throw tantrums; and, it makes it more difficult to be taken seriously. I talk to many PR people who are afraid of sharing things with us sometimes because they think nothing is private. When I was at HIMSS I was wearing a “I’m a blogger” button so that everyone knew I was a blogger. Many of them would immediately stop talking or carefully choosing their words as soon as they find out they were speaking to a blogger. I assured them that before I wrote anything about anyone I ask permission because it’s the right thing to do. The blogosphere is not a different world: regular rules of etiquette do apply.

Quick note to Barbados Butterfly: you were 100% right that you should decide whether your posts are published or not and in the absence of any information Dmitriy probably shouldn’t have published your posts. But, since I know Dmitriy I think he’s been raked over the coals needlessly for what you believe to be a mistake he made (he would have easily corrected had he been approached about it privately).

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18 thoughts on “Medical Blog Network vs. Lynch Mob

  1. Shahid & Fellow Bloggers:

    Ditto!

    I met Dimitry (face-to-face) at the last CalRHIO meeting and he does seem sincere. I don’t really understand all the fuss and don’t mind him linking to my posts. I also appreciate that he has offered me an opportunity to contribute to RHIO Monitor.

  2. Linking is not a problem. It’s the reproduction of full posts with separate TMBN comment sections that make it appear as though that site created the content that is.

    Exactly, Dimitry should have asked bloggers before reproducing their content. He did not. Instead, he copied content without permission and is trying to make money off of it.

    His actions were public, therefore I believe a public reply was more than appropriate.

    And P.S. Barbados Butterfly is a she.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to mention that TMBN, in addition to its own commenting feature, creates “permalinks” to each of the syndicated posts, which makes it look even more like TMBN is the original creator and only site in which to find this content. Shouldn’t the permalinks be directed back to the original poster’s site?

  4. Barbados Butterfly

    Reply

    Hi Shahid,

    Thank you for your post.

    I don’t think that Dmitriy is facing a lynch mob. These are, as you say, his words. He continues to make more of an issue out of this than it needs be.

    I may have been the first person to raise this issue with Dmitriy publicly but I have reasons to believe it had been raised privately with Dmitriy by other people. Dmitriy’s own comments indicate this. It appears as if it took a public stance for him to change his inclusion policy. Either way, he has changed his policy and that should be the end of it.

    Christina, no one minds having links to their posts. Bloggers often crave links and traffic. But, as Shahid notes, few bloggers appreciate having their entire posts reproduced by another site. It’s not the done thing.

    Ultimately, though, this is all a storm in a teacup. I do wonder if Dmitriy believes that any publicity is good publicity. His responses are what has kept this issue going. For Pete’s sake, let’s not keep posting on it. There are so many more important issues in the world.

  5. Carsten — I agree with all your points from a content perspective (especially the permalinks). My post really was suggesting that we should have our arguments privately until a publisher (or aggregator) becomes unreasonable or is not meeting our demands.

    Barbados Butterfly — first, my apologies for assuming you were male. Thanks go to Carsten for correcting me. Hopefully this issue is behind us (it is a worthwhile discussion that would have been great via an email trail).

    Again, just to recap: as a fellow blogger I’m with you on content ownership, permalinks, etc.

    It’s just that I’m a blogger that has to regularly speak with PR, executive, corporate, and architect types. They complain that we act like whiners and cry babies for these type of public disputes and I think we’re all smart enough to avoid that stereotype :-).

    Keep up the great work everyone!

  6. I am happy to close this issue, as long as in the end I am not being accused of being a thief, plagiarist, criminal, guilty of misdeeds, cause of world hunger, etc. etc. etc. This is unfair.

    We should all still agree that it would not hurt to post clearer feed usage guidelines. And this is not the first time unanticipated use of technology (not just by TMBN) has brought and will bring a valid policy debate. Oh and by the way, our policy change was made before this controversy, but I was hoping to complete software update first.

    I recommend that you all think carefully about how you publish feeds. TMBN is commited to operating publically and building an open community. But you might be surprised how easy it is for anonymous pirate to set up an operation that would not even respond to your inquiries.

    Thanks to all for being reasonable in the end.

  7. To respond to Carsten’s points on comments and permalinks:

    1) Quoting for the purpose of commenting is a well-established example of fair use of copyrighted materials.

    2) We include both links to every item on our site (Permalinks) and the links back to original post (Sourcelinks). Both are listed clearly.

    3) Every post is clearly attributed with the name of the original author. We are not mis-representing authorship to anyone who can read.

    These points become moot for bloggers who publish only teasers in RSS feeds – which generate traffic to their sites. You have full control over your feeds.

    Get ready for the wave of innovation that will be hard to grasp at first:
    http://www.webmonkey.com/06/10/index1a.html

  8. Dmitriy makes some good points here. I guess I thought the RSS feed I create for my readers was for the explicit purpose of my readers to aggregate personally within their own clients as opposed to aggregators.

    While I certainly don’t like aggregators putting up my entire posts I guess I can’t really complain (or mind) since I am “authorizing” it by including my entire post in a feed. Perhaps if aggregators notify us or something via email that our feeds are being aggregated publicly it might be a solution. But then it would be tough for Google or other search engines to include my posts in their search indexes and that would be bad.

    This is a tough problem I guess. I see where Dmitriy is coming from, though. The important thing here is I guess bloggers, to be safe, should just be more explicit. At first I thought that if we weren’t explicitly allowing it (via a license statement or something), aggregators should assume that we’re not authorizing it. But then, if we give our postings in a feed we’re explicitly saying it’s ok. So, it puts aggregators and search engines in a tough position.

    Still scratching my head.

  9. 1) Quoting for the purpose of commenting is a well-established example of fair use of copyrighted materials.

    No argument about copyright there. However, my comment was directed more as to what is the purpose of a separate comment section on an aggregator? It doesn’t drive traffic to member websites (which is one of your stated goals), and it doesn’t promote a unified discussion – there will be some comments on the original blog, and some comments on the aggregator. I doubt that the post author would ever visit the aggregator site to reply to comments there. Wouldn’t it be better to link to the comment section on the original poster’s blog?

    2) We include both links to every item on our site (Permalinks) and the links back to original post (Sourcelinks). Both are listed clearly.

    Yup, I see them both now. When I last looked, the sourcelink was not so obvious (you had to click the aggregators permalink or something, I don’t remember.) However, again, what is the purpose of a permalink pointing to a re-posted post? A permalink is to be a permanent and singular source of the content. If the point of TMBN is really to generate traffic for member sites, would it not be better to simply have a sourcelink back to the original post, rather than a permalink that attempts to falsely elevate TMBN’s PageRank? Other medical aggregators (i.e. Medlogs) d this (granted, they have an outgoing click counting mechanism, but they do not create seperate permalinks for every post.)

    These points become moot for bloggers who publish only teasers in RSS feeds – which generate traffic to their sites. You have full control over your feeds.

    But what if I want to provide full post feeds for reader’s personal use in desktop and web-based opt-in aggregators where the user actually has to subscribe to the feed (i.e. Bloglines), but I don’t want my content re-posted on a for-profit commercial aggregator without explicit permission?

  10. While I certainly don’t like aggregators putting up my entire posts I guess I can’t really complain (or mind) since I am “authorizing” it by including my entire post in a feed.

    I don’t believe that I am giving a condition-free license to use my content however anyone sees fit simply by publishing a feed. All of my content, including the full-post feed are released under specific conditions detailed in the license.

    At first I thought that if we weren’t explicitly allowing it (via a license statement or something), aggregators should assume that we’re not authorizing it. But then, if we give our postings in a feed we’re explicitly saying it’s ok.

    Actually copyright is automatically reserved once a work is created, and no notice is required in order to exercise the rights of authors protected by copyright. (See the comments here for further.) In my interpretation, anyone wishing to use the feed in excess of “fair use” (i.e. for commercial purposes) would have to obtain the permission of the blog author before redistributing content.

  11. Carsten,

    You can argue legal points all you want. The problem is there is not enough specificity under the current law, so it is pretty much useless.

    What everybody needs is a fresh look at the whole policy landscape for “mashosphere”, as described in the WebMoney article I referenced above.

    TMBN has always been explicit that our goal is not only to be a traffic hub for members’ sites but build community at (www.healthvoices.com).

    So yes, we are more than a “dumb” aggregator. We are building a feature-rich intelligent community site.

  12. I wouldn’t go claiming vindication just yet, as that Google case seems to be significantly different. A couple of words pop up: temporary and excerpts. Your site was copying content permanently and full posts rather than excerpts. Also, the parts of the case were thrown out because a third-party actually was the one to copy the content off of USENET, without the knowledge of Google. The opinion also says USENET postings are not copyright protected, it does not say RSS feeds are not copyright protected. The article references another case where caching thumnails of images (i.e. more full-content than an excerpt) is a violation of copyright law.

    I agree with you on one thing though – there is not enough specificity under current legislation or case law (though I can’t claim to have read all of it). All this is just academic until there is a legal challenge.

  13. Sure, this is not the last case and there is always argument about applicability of any precedent.

    Words like “temporary” and “excerpts” mean nothing. We all know that Google caches everything in full forever, but looks like they successfully argued that dropping a few little pieces of a page creates “excerpts”. I can as well say that even the “full” posts are excerpts too, since they do not include the entire blog site scaffolding.

    USENET postings and RSS feeds have more in common than you think. Both are published by the author with explicit intent for distribution.

    But this is the matter from purely legalistic perspective. I do not find it worth a fight.

  14. Barbados Butterfly

    Reply

    As a practising clinician I prefer ethical arguments to legal arguments. The ethics of the situation are much clearer than the legal position. Thankfully the situation has been remedied but I disagree with the statement that the original position of TMBN was “vindicated” by the Google case.

    The original position was wrong. That’s the reason behind the policy change and for the hooplah resulting from my post.

    Shahid, no need to apologise for assuming that I’m male. It’s not an uncommon misconception – even the British Medical Association News thinks I’m male! I guess female surgical registrars are still a rarity.

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