Sharing shouldn’t invite theft

Whether or not adding some form of “Share” prompt to your content equals the relinquishing of copyright over that content is currently being hashed out in legal venues and is a situation that all publishers should be watching closely.

The thinking apparently goes like this: The key point made by those claiming copyright infringement around their content on the web is that people are viewing it elsewhere and not on the domain it originally appeared on. But adding some form of “Share” button inherently, it’s being argued, waives any copyright claims since the only purpose of having it there is for the off-domain sharing of content.

While I’m certainly not a legal expert in any way, the leap between someone who’s lifting a full story and putting it on their own site without a link to the original for the purposes of generating ad revenue and sharing a link to the original on Twitter seems to be a pretty massive one. That would, in my mind, mean that even providing a URL to a story would be enough to waive copyright since the purpose of a URL is to point someone to something specific and it can be easily put manually into a social network update or email. That’s a pretty broad argument and one that would have far-reaching implications on publishing across the entire web and not just in the media world.

What I learned about the importance of social profile pics by installing Rapporative

If you want a harsh lesson in the importance of making sure that your social network profile picture is professional in nature – even if the network itself is more personal – I suggest you install Rapporative, a plugin for Firefox and Chrome that displays the social network profiles for the people you communicate with through Gmail. Since I did so about a week ago I’m all of a sudden seeing the profile photos of all sorts of movie publicists and others I get emails from. While many of them are fine there are a handful that certainly are not the kind of photos that you would normally want associated with your work activities.

Personally I have the same photo (now a couple years old…I should probably update it) photo that I use for my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, all of which are networks that are supported by Rapporative. So if anyone I email regularly has that installed they’re not going to see anything odd or unprofessional.

To some extent Rapporative is a bit of an intrusion. These people aren’t asking to connect with me on Facebook, the information is just there in a manner of my choosing and I can decide whether or not to act on it and send them a friend request, follow them or otherwise connect. But it’s also not like I couldn’t look any of these people up on those networks and see the same photos.

The issue actually touches on another one I’ve been pondering again recently and which was the subject of a post by Jeremy Pepper, that of the barriers between people’s niche social graphs. While much of the press and buzz has been about how there’s one graph to rule them all, the reality is that many people (including myself) choose to manage things a bit differently. X network is where I do this, Y network is something completely different and Z is maybe a mish-mash of both those approaches and some other stuff as well.

The notion of sub-networks is especially relevant as more people use check-in services, whether they’re location-based ones like Foursquare or Gowalla or media-based networks like Miso or GetGlue or if they’re something else like Quora. In each case the service prompts you to build your own network there but then much of their value comes in broadcasting those activities to larger, less-niche networks such as Twitter and Foursquare. It’s because I’m apt to share those things on those larger networks that I rarely put much if any effort into building sub-networks on the individual services. It’s not like I’m sharing things just there. That’s not to say my thinking won’t change – and it’s beginning to – but that’s what I’m doing right now.

Whatever your personal plan might be it’s important to realize that all these profiles that are being created become part of the meta-graph that you’re creating online. You may be one person here and another there but they all become part of the overall persona that’s being built, by you and by those you communicate with, one update or profile picture at a time. For those who operate online it’s important then that regardless of how they’ve divided those lines they try to present a professional face.

How design and functionality factor into publishing programs

When people are talking about how to put together a quality publishing program most all of them hit the same three or four points: Make it regular, make it quality, curate and share links generously and so on. But one thing that rarely gets discussed in depth is how the design and functionality of the platform – for argument’s sake let’s just say we’re talking about a blog here – plays into how those programs are designed and executed.

I’m sure that no one would argue with the general statement that design is important. The user experience on a publishing hub needs to be a positive one or, quite simply, people won’t come back. You can rationalize (as I did for a number of years) that if the design isn’t fantastic that’s alright since those people should be encouraged to subscribe to the RSS feed, where all the design gets stripped out anyway. But that’s a bit naive and overlooks how design and functionality support the publishing in a number of ways.

First there’s the simply the choice of platform that’s being used for that publishing hub. For many of the programs we run at Voce we use WordPress because quite frankly our Platforms development team can do just about anything with the software that they’ve ever been asked to. But beyond familiarity and skill, WordPress allows them to do whatever the client needs the platform to do.

That brings us to the second point, which is how does the platform work to support all – or at least most – of the spokes that come off of that publishing hub. Again looking at many of the programs we help to manage at Voce, a lot of the corporate blogs display the most recent Tweets, links we’ve saved as bookmarks to Delicious, a featured video from YouTube or Vimeo and more as well as buttons linking to Facebook and whatever other outlets there might be. So when someone comes to that blog they see right in front of them samples from many of the components of the publishing program.

There’s also the interaction mechanisms to consider. That can range from how people are able to leave comments – including whether or not they have the option to use their Facebook or Twitter credentials to identify themselves – to how they’re encouraged to share what they’re reading or watching. But this isn’t just as simple as making sure you have comments enabled or have installed Facebook Connect. There’s a fundamental way in which this has to be integrated into the platform and therefore into the overall publishing strategy in order to make it attractive and useful to the reader. It has to flow within the design or it’s going to be an eyesore that trips up the audience’s experience.

Five years ago or so when everyone was being encouraged to just “start a blog” there were a lot of assumptions made that wherever you did this was fine. It was very much part of the “social media is cheap and easy” movement. And, as I’ve said to people again and again, yeah it’s possible to start a blog and get it mapped to a custom domain in about five hours. But content is judged by the wrapping it’s put in and the quality content that will be coming from a corporate publishing program deserves a quality presentation. Ideally it’s one that is designed with the same sort of strategic and tactical considerations as the content creation since, in the end, they’re all serving the same purpose.

Content farm rules to pay attention to

While it’s certain that none of the publishing programs run by our clients or many other companies would in any way be considered “content farms,” the changes being made by Google to account for sites deemed to have “shallow or low quality content” they certainly need to be aware of those changes.

Really, though, it simply provides another opportunity for companies (and those who are helping them manage a publishing program) to ask themselves a simply question: How are we adding unique and original thinking to the conversations we’re taking part in?

Publishing programs shouldn’t just be about marketing a company’s wares, whatever they are. The best programs mix items from these and other categories:

  1. Wholly original, meaning they come pulled straight from the heads of those who are contributing to it or are based on other company-produced content such as white papers
  2. Reactionary, meaning they are based on something someone else wrote and contains that company’s opinion or perspective on an issue being discussed elsewhere
  3. Straight curation, meaning taking interesting stories that are worth reading and sharing them on Twitter, Delicious or elsewhere with little or no additional commentary.

Veer too far in any one of these directions and the program starts to lose value in the eyes of the audience. Again, we’re still pretty far from “content farm” territory, but that doesn’t mean that companies running publishing programs don’t need to be consistently looking at what value their material is providing the audience. If that value dips it may not be search engine rules that the program runs afoul of, it might just fall victim to audience disinterest.