Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is the Web free-for-all beginning to end?

The free ride for Google and other news aggregators may finally be coming to an end, or at least coming upon a major roadblock.

News aggregators are web sites and services that send “bots” throughout the Internet looking for certain kinds of content, which then is used to create pages that do no more than link back to those stories. Go to a site like Yahoo! News or Google News and see if you can find a single story actually produced by Google or Yahoo!

The Post Register has long blocked this sort of aggregation (“theft" might be another word for it) for its site, because we’ve always believed that unique local content is our most valuable asset. But web sites without a pay wall can be scraped clean by automated bots.

But wait, you say, doesn’t that linking generate traffic to the originators’ web sites, thus creating the potential for ad revenue? The answer is yes, but not really. Unless the advertising is very narrowly targeted to very specific users, users don’t look at it. To make any real money in online advertising, a web site must generate many millions, not just hundreds of thousands, of visits per month, or it must focus on local users who are interested in local advertising. (I’ll deal with online advertising in local markets like eastern Idaho in a future column.)

At long last, some of the big guns in the media world are doing something about the aggregators. Here’s part of a story from Bloomberg online (and, no, quoting from a portion of a story while crediting the originator is not aggregating – it’s called “fair use”):
" ... executives at MediaNews Group, the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher, and A.H. Belo, publisher of The Dallas Morning News and Providence (R.I.) Journal, are planning to block Google's search engine from some content.

“MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton said Google News will be blocked from accessing some content when it erects pay walls at the Web sites of some of its Pennsylvania and California newspapers next year.”
This comes on the heels of the Associated Press’ announcement that it will begin suing anyone who uses the AP’s content without permission. The main target is Google, of course.

What many people don’t know is that, while the AP does produce a good deal of original content, much of what it distributes originates with its member news organizations – mostly newspapers. So, even papers like the Post Register that have long had a pay wall have found their content stolen, um, aggregated once it went into the AP network.

Perhaps the Internet free-for-all is finally coming to an end. We can only hope.

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