Everyone who uses the internet (or at least everyone who isn’t a terrible person—which, yes, significantly reduces the scope of the word “everyone” here, I know, but in any event) is in widespread agreement that content farms and scraper sites are pretty awful. I mean, remember how we all applauded when Google updated its algorithms to combat copycat sites from beating out original content providers in search results?
So anyway, here’s my question: how is this any different?
That’s a screenshot of an article page on Byliner, this week’s most-talked-about long-form content curator. It features a hefty chunk of republished content, one link to the print version of the original source (also known as the “ad-free version” or the “revenue-free edition” or the “making publishing an unsustainable industry version”), and one link to bypass the original source entirely and send the content directly to Read It Later.
How is this fundamentally any different from a scraper site?
I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around how its ideologically consistent to villainize copycat sites while at the same time celebrating the launch of services that facilitate both the removal of content from an original source as well as the repackaging of that content in another form.
What’s the difference? Is it because the Byliner is well designed? Or because scraper sites are run by machines in foreign countries and the content on Byliner is being hand-picked by Real People Who Care About Reading? Or something else entirely? Or am I just incredibly daft and confusing two completely different things here?
It just strikes me as deeply worrisome and deeply, deeply inconsistent that we’re all on board when a site like StackOverflow complains about a scraper site repurposing its content for search engine results, and yet when someone comes along and does the very same thing to traditional content publishers we just roll our eyes at all these old media dinosaurs moaning and groaning about their shrinking revenue streams.
So can anyone clear this up for me? And it’s a tough question! Because as readers we can all appreciate new and innovative and convenient content discovery services and delivery channels, but still I think we should be asking ourselves: how is a machine removing original content from its original source, repackaging it and redelivering it fundamentally any different from what a site like Byliner is doing?
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