An Absurdly Reasonable Conversation With The Founder Of Snip.ly In Which We Vehemently Disagree Without Yelling Or Name Calling

By February 12, 2015Podcast, With Guests
An Absurdly Reasonable Conversation With The Founder Of Snip.ly In Which We Vehemently Disagree Without Yelling Or Name Calling

When I first heard of snip.ly, outrage hit hard and fast. What was this tool that allows other people to put their newsletter signups, their downloads, their product links on my site without my knowledge or permission? Who thought this was ok?

Thus the Google Plus thread that started this ball rolling.

Since then I’ve heard a number of opinions and even had the pleasure of speaking directly with Chris Bowal, one of the founders of snip.ly. If you haven’t yet listened to the podcast above, I suggest that you do. It’s a great conversation about the pros and cons of the tool and yes, it is absurdly civil. There was no outrage, no gnashing of teeth. Just some heartfelt disagreement. But it does lay the foundation for what I’m about to write here.

When you’re having a live conversation and attempting to limit it to a reasonably listenable length of time (we probably could have talked for two more hours) it can be tough to jump on every point or even remember what point you wanted to make after the conversation has taken a completely different turn.

But now that I’ve had a chance to listen, I wanted to address a few things that are important to me and may be important to you if you’re interested in the debate or in the tool itself.

I’m going to pick out a few things that were said during the podcast and expand on or clarify them here. Although they’re out of context, I haven’t changed the fundamental meaning of anything.

The Flaw In The Premise

What is snip.ly for? It’s to help you “turn followers into customers” and to share content while also bringing people back to your own content.

I have a fundamental problem with the premise of gaining a customer by piggybacking off of someone else’s content.

Newsflash: creating good, lead-generating content is work. Sometimes hard work.

Creating a “snip” and tweeting a link to someone else’s content? Not so hard.

I’m all for helping other businesses and even my competitors but my generosity stops at allowing people to add their newsletter signups on my website.

It stops at allowing people who did not spend 4 hours recording and editing a podcast and another 2 writing about it to benefit from my work by linking to an ebook they’re selling from my show notes.

Personally I would be embarrassed to use this tool and have Mike Brooks or Jason Wiser or Melanie Kissell or any number of friends and colleagues see that I’ve put my photo and website link or email signup or download on their blog post.

Want to “bring people back to your content”? How’s this for an idea: write actual content and then promote it. Work at it. Build a community of fans and superfans. Just like the rest of us.

No, you do not get a free ride on my site.

The “Evolving” Nature Of The Relationship Between Creators And Sharers

Chris mentioned an interesting tidbit during the conversation. He said that in the early days of the internet there were lawsuits about whether it was legal to even link to someone else’s site. Can you imagine what the internet would be without linking?

The entire “web” aspect of the world wide web would crumble. Every site would be isolated in its own silo and nobody would be able to find or share anything.

I can understand why a few early internet adopters might have seen some spammy early version of Joe Schmoe Punk Other Dude linking to their sites and thought, “Get your grimy links off me.”

But linking to another site from a property you control is a lot different than putting your link on someone else’s property and “bringing them back” to yours.

The relationship may be changing again, as Chris says, but in my opinion the relationship should never be, “Oh, you created content? I shall capitalize on that!”

Some of the sharers and curators feel entitled to a return on their investment – after all, they’re going to the trouble of sharing your content. How much of an ingrate can you be? Just look at all the traffic they’re driving to you!

Yes…and then subsequently taking it away.

If snip.ly works the way it’s intended, which is to bring the reader from the shared content back to the sharers content then the content creator loses. The sharer may get a lovely return on the two minute investment in creating a snip but the content creator will see no return on the hours spent researching, writing, editing and publishing that content.

As for traffic?

As I mentioned in the podcast, the only benefit to chasing down traffic metrics is if your business model revolves around “eyeballs”. If you’re selling ads and you need big traffic numbers to generate ad revenue, traffic to your site is a good thing. If you’re a small business, leads and conversions far outweigh traffic numbers.

In fact, a high traffic number – potentially artificially high – can subvert your marketing efforts by driving conversions down, especially if your leads are inadvertently signing up for someone else’s newsletter or buying someone else’s product.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m incredibly grateful for every share I get. But sharing for gain sort of defeats the point of sharing. And I’ve said this before and it may have ruffled a few feathers, but if the only reason you’re sharing my content is because you think it’s going to make you look smarter by filling your social streams with “good stuff for your audience” or if you’re doing it because you think you have to – you can stop. For your own good.

Yes, My Website Is Mine

Chris described snip.ly as “a nuanced concept”. He went on to say that one of the reasons snip.ly may be difficult to understand is because people are used to divisions between websites and have a sense that “my website is my own space”.

Here’s what I have to say about that: Yes. Yes, it is.

My website is very much my own space – as your website is yours.

My website – and yours – is a product of our own time, money, effort, nights of lost sleep debating our own calls to action, our own messages.

Maybe in some utopian future websites will “belong to us all” but right now, I bet the guy who just paid $5,000 for a website is not thinking about it as communal space and does not see a need to tear those barriers down.

My time. My money. My effort. My braintrust. And I don’t give permission for someone else to put their ads on it.

If you feel the same then you can opt out of snip.ly and prevent anyone from using it on your site.

The False Choice Between Curation And Promotion

You know all those social media rules you’re supposed to follow? About how often to post, where and when to post and what type of content to post?

The ones we here at Web.Search.Social roll our eyes at every time.

Part of the argument for all the incessant “sharing” (aka “curating”) is that nobody wants to hear about you all the time. You can’t always be promoting yourself. That’s tiresome. And people don’t like it.

The solution is sharing other people’s content.

Snip.ly is sold in part as the antidote to the problem of endless self-promotion. Since you have to share other people’s content anyway, now at least you can share it and get something out of it.

There are two things wrong with this.

The most obvious is that by avoiding “filling your Twitter stream with your ads” you are now filling other people’s websites with your ads.

But the real problem is that this creates the illusion that your only two options on social media are to be self-promotional and talk all about yourself all day, or share someone else’s content.

I bet if I gave you thirty seconds right now you could find some other thing to do besides those two options.

And if you can’t I’ve already written about this so please stop believing that the opposite of annoying self-promotion is curating.

The RSS Problem

If the purpose of snip.ly is to connect sharers and creators and to reduce the rote sharing that happens when people blindly fill their social streams with content, then why does it need an RSS feature?

The RSS feature means you can pick a bunch of websites, plug them into snip.ly and auto generate snips on those sites to your heart’s content. Couple that with a platform like Buffer where you can auto schedule your social updates and you’ve got a recipe for the worst kind of automation.

The thought of the amount of auto-spewed advertising this has the potential to generate makes me cringe.

The Opt-In Dilemma And Unconvincing Excuses

There’s one very simple solution that snip.ly could implement to make this tool completely reasonable and useable for anyone: opt-in.

Right now the burden is on you, the website owner, business or blogger, to opt out if you don’t want someone placing their ad on your site.

That also assumes that you know about snip.ly and are aware that you need to opt out in the first place. If you’re reading this, you now have the option. But what about the many, many people who don’t know about snip.ly? Why is it their responsibility to opt out of having content placed on their site, which they didn’t approve and may not even know of?

None of the issues I’ve raised here or that we discussed on the podcast would be relevant if snip.ly was simply opt-in. That means anyone who wants to use it – blogs, publishers, sites big or small – could create an account and use it.

If snip.ly is truly the bridge between creators and sharers that it says, if it’s as useful, as compelling, as groundbreaking as it purports, then people will create accounts and use the service.

I’ve got to disagree with Ralph on a point he made (and no, I’m not sorry). Ralph said that snip.ly would no longer be viable if it was opt-in. In that scenario, Chris and his team would have to reach out to content publishers and it would be impossible to reach all of them.

Well, there’s a word for that. It’s called marketing.

It’s what we business owners, startups and entrepreneurs do every day. We reach out, we build relationships, we sell our products and services based on their merits and the problems they solve for our customers. We do not simply impose our product or service on someone because it’s “too hard” to sell it to them and then force them to opt out if they don’t like it.

If it’s too hard to get people on board then perhaps the tool is inherently not viable.

Snip.ly’s Response And Positive Change

Since the inception of the debate over at Google Plus, the snip.ly team has been listening and they’ve made some positive changes that help mitigate some of our concerns.

They’ve included the opt-out option so if you don’t want someone snipping your site then you can see that it doesn’t happen.

They’ve implemented the ability to delete your account so you can try the tool for yourself and back out later if you choose.

One of the most important changes is that you can also delete your snips so that if you did create links with your call to action on someone else’s site and you want to remove them, you can. One of our concerns was that once you deleted a snip, the link could still live on in a Facebook post or newsletter or Twitter update. So if the snip was deleted that would mean a dead link. But the snip.ly team addressed that by ensuring that the links that live even after your snips are deleted will simply route directly to the intended original content.

Finally, you can flag snips that you see on sites you visit if you find them offensive, inappropriate or deceptive. The snip.ly team monitors flags to determine possible abuse.

They’ve got another improvement in progress which is a disclaimer that will be included on the snip to let site visitors know it is not affiliated with the content or the site. I don’t know what that will look like and I don’t think snip.ly does yet either, so we’ll have to follow up on that.

Personally, they could put all the disclaimers they want and it still would not make me feel any better about someone putting their call to action on my site. However, at least it gives a visual cue to the reader that the popup box is not simply part of the creator’s page.

Final Thoughts And Some Useful Resources

I do appreciate that Chris took time to talk with us. He knew going in that we were on opposite sides of the fence and not everyone is willing to take on that challenge.

We made our point and some 200-odd comments on the original Google Plus thread made a lot of points.

I think the snip.ly team built a tool that they believe in and though I think their execution was misguided and perhaps naïve, I don’t question their intentions.

They seem to be listening, so if you have any comments – good or bad – I encourage you to share them. You can email Chris and let him know what you think and how they can improve the tool.

If you’d like to see the tool in action, check these out…

This is the Gizmodo link we referenced in the podcast.

And here’s another on the New York Times website.

If you want to try it yourself, you can visit snip.ly and sign up for a free account.

Remember, you can also opt out of allowing snips on your site.

If you want a Plan B you can install the sniply buster plugin on your WordPress site. It was developed by the Social Warfare team as a response to the objections they saw in the Google Plus thread. Another great example of listening on social media.

And if you want a bit of perspective from a copyright standpoint, check out Jonathan Bailey’s recent article.

Now… what do YOU think? Have you tried snip.ly? What’s your reaction? If you haven’t, do you think you will now? What about your feelings on allowing it on your site? Big problem or no big deal?

I’d love to hear your opinion so leave me a comment or jump in on the Google Plus thread.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • I’m solidly in the “no way, Jose” camp. My site, my content, my efforts, my hard freakin’ work = MINE. Yours = yours. I can understand where Chris is coming from, but for myself, I’ll be going with Plan B on all my sites. Your mileage may vary, etc.

    • Yeah, I can’t get on board with this concept. Interesting debate though!

  • I have a question on something Chris said that creating email ping backs is a problem in some cases because they don’t want to “infringe” on people. Really?? So adding a snip onto someone else’s page is not infringement? Am I the only one banging my head against the wall at the total lack of a logical argument here? If that is your feeling/philosophy then you basically just undermined your entire product.

    • We got lost in a couple of circular arguments here but I think the conversation speaks for itself.

    • I see it as “infringement”, as well, Kevin — infringing on my piece of real estate on the web. It outsteps every one of my ethical boundaries.

  • You’re right. Chris Bowal really is a champ for jumping into the foray. He sounds like a good [web] citizen who’s more than willing to not only engage in conversations but work toward improving his product. He’s earned kudos and points from me today. 😉

    “Stop Snipping Your Stinky Links”

    Joe Schmoe Other Dude Punk
    And third-party spammy junk

    Just Snip.ly, Snip, Snip
    For a wild and woolly trip

    A tool with technical limitations
    And some serious allegations

    A major clean-up has begun
    Disclaimer add-ons, anyone?

    You can opt out but you can’t opt in
    That fact, alone, puts me in a tailspin

    That subset of people who set out to harm
    Makes Snip.ly, for me, a tool with no charm

    I’d say “Sorry I feel this way, Chris” but Ralph told me yesterday to stop apologizing. 🙂

    • This one was poem worthy and you did it proud! I LOVE your closing line best of all. I can always count on your for a chuckle.

      • Thanks, Carol Lynn. Truth is, I hesitated to write a poem for this episode (I normally steer away from controversy) BUT my conscience screamed “Ya gotta do it!!” 😉

        • But it was such civil controversy! Nobody yelling or calling names. That’s crazy for the internet.

          • I know, I agree, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be privy to civil controversy. Have to admit I took a deep breath before I hit the play button. LOL!

  • I share and RT a lot to what isn’t a huge amount of followers (25,000+) but it is an engaged bunch in my niche. If someone shares something via sniply, I will not RT it. I respect the work it takes to create something share worthy.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly!

      • It’s a little weird how, in the interest of “not being self promotional” and sharing other people’s content, you can be overtly self-promotional by adding your snip to someone’s site. Lots of contradictions here!

  • Mark C.

    So much to say… I’ll just dive in and try to be brief.

    First, I’m not convinced that Chris Bowal is wrong about others using the same technology Snip.ly is using for any purpose they want. Indeed, site scrapers (I may be using the wrong term) have been around for quite a while and use the iframe tag to do their bidding. I’m also not convinced (any more) that Snip.ly is a site scraper primarily because it’s not hiding the fact that it’s Snip.ly.

    Second, I do believe – wholeheartedly after today’s podcast, that Snip.ly can survive and even thrive on an opt-in only basis – like starting right now. The big businesses they are targeting certainly have the pockets to pay for it, and apparently are already doing so. I find it a bit unsettling that Chris doesn’t really sympathize with the masses of small site owners out there that will remain unaware of Snip.ly while their content is being used in a way that many others have found objectionable – to put it mildly.

    Ralph asked toward the end of the podcast if Snip.ly would be around in a year. My vote is no if they don’t switch to opt-in because the community of their potential users will opt out and the negativity surrounding it will not just go away. You just don’t do this kind of thing in a business setting without asking first. And they ain’t asking. They’re telling us, “Live with it. We’ll do what we can to make it more acceptable, but go opt-in? Are you kidding?”

    Third, and I’ll try to wrap it up here. Tonight at dinner an idea occurred to me. If the iframe tag suddenly stopped working tomorrow, Snip.ly would close up shop and go home. Of course, many other businesses would as well – for example those who provide a white labeled type of service that customers pay for – such as LeadPages, or bed and breakfast booking services, or even online yoga class scheduling services, and so forth.

    BUT, what if the iframe tag was updated by the HTML standards gurus such that the tag itself required an opt-in, or a kind of secure handshake, between the site that uses the tag and the site that provides the content? That would fix this, would it not? I mean, think about it. If iframe wouldn’t work without permission, and if that permission was secure but not difficult to implement, the freebasing issues surrounding iframe would be moot. It would take a while for it to take effect. But it sure would be a bold step forward in keeping the fringe like Snip.ly from doing what it wants with anyone’s site who doesn’t know about it.

    [UPDATE] I forgot to mention the Red Cross and Bit.ly joint effort called Hope.ly. Chris brings it up in nearly every conversation as a comparison to what Snip.ly is doing, but it simply is not a fair comparison. Hope.ly simply places a brief banner page for a known and reputable organization and then takes you to the destination. Nothing on page. No call to action. It’s almost like the message you get when a page has been redirected to another site and shows a brief message to that effect. It’s actually kinda clever in how unoffensive it is, in my opinion. BUT, it’s moot now because Hope.ly NO LONGER WORKS. Try it. you’ll get a malware warning … from Bit.ly no less.

    • Mark, I think your version of brief and mine are the same thing 🙂

      So you’re right, others do use this technology, hence the “frame breaking” plugins and the stopgaps we have to put in place to avoid this. And as with technology, we’ll build a better mousetrap and someone will build a better mouse. No doubt there will be some new horror making content creators cringe.

      As for opt in, there seems to be enough support that I feel like if people were educated about the product they would choose to opt in. There are people who see benefits and of course people who WANT the benefits. That’s great – they should be able to participate. With good outreach and marketing, they could bring people in without imposing it on them.

      I don’t know what hopely is but it’s not really a good argument in my mind because someone else doing the same thing doesn’t make me any happier about it. If more people implement frame breaking technology then perhaps all of these types of services will live shorter lives.

  • Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Where I think it is useful is where I am using one of my own websites to cross promote my second website – I have had a play with Snip.ly in this manner over this past week to get the feel of it and so far I have seen some relevant traffic crossing over.

    I can appreciate that adding your CTA to someone else’s article may seem like a bad thing, but there are also many other sites which effectively ‘frame’ your content – think of Bloglovin, some RSS readers etc. I expect if there is growth in this part of the market then these other sites will probably also jump in (after seeing who wins the first lawsuit…).

    • Yes, no doubt they are not the only one – as they also said on the conversation we had. The key for me is bringing continued awareness to the fact that this can be happening and you may not even know it. Perhaps this gave people food for thought and more content creators are taking measures to stop it from happening.

    • Mark C.

      Respectfully, Anne, the fact that “many other sites” frame content does not mean that website owners are aware of it. And they need to be. The problem is with the technology, specifically, the iframe tag, being from an era when the web was new and people were not as cavalier with profiting from someone else’s content.

      The issue here is not whether the technology can be used for a good purpose. The issue is that it can and IS being used for less than appropriate purposes.

  • I’ve implemented the opt out of the technology on our site. I don’t want anyone using my content for their ends or modifying it in any way that I didn’t approve, sniply or anyone else.

    • Yes – but have you more importantly – added a Frame breaker to the site to combat all the other alternative tools? So you’ve “fixed” sniply. What about Ope.nr? And what about other more aggressive tools. Without a frame breaker you haven’t actually solved much.

      • Yes. My objection ultimately isn’t to a tool. It’s to the effects of that tool and any like it.

  • When I’ve paid for something with my time and/or money then it’s mine. I work for my money and my time is valuable. I choose how to spend both. If I invest either or both into my website, my writing or anything at all then it is mine to use and do with what I see fit. As it is for everyone else. If someone else paid for my site then they have an argument to make that they are owed some return. Just as my house is mine and I would not abide someone putting up a sign, a flag or a banner on my yard or across my front window without my knowledge or permission, I do not abide it on my web property. Until we live in a communal society where everything belongs to everyone else then there is a reasonable assumption that the property – real or virtual – that you bought and paid for is yours.

    Disclaimers on snips address the issue of confusion perhaps but not the issue that I (or others) did not allow the snip and/or disclaimer on our sites in the first place.

    I’ll say what I’ve said before: if the expectation is that someone will share my content and get something in return for sharing, then that’s not sharing. It’s a transaction. And I don’t choose to participate in it. The sharer has every right to choose not to participate as well.

  • Will there be a way to opt-out of Snip.ly from my YouTube videos? I know you shared one of my videos with Snip.ly before and someone else mentioned that they wanted to add the RSS feeds from YouTube to Snip.ly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vg1yuWKgkQ

    • What I did was find a bug. That was not intentional or even repeatable if you use their browser add-on. It was poor handling of something. Generally YT can not be framed and so it’s a moot point.

  • Brandon

    I just stumbled across this post after sending a “refrain” request to the folks at Sniply. I found some of our content / pages displayed under their domain via frames, with some mortgage broker’s face and call-to-action superimposed. This is a bad business model. It makes it seem as though my company, the Home Buying Institute, is endorsing or is somehow affiliated with the individual superimposed in the floating “contact me” box.

    Their entire publishing model gives people a false impression of my organization, and any other organization that happens to be framed under their domain. Sniply’s current business model is clearly unethical in my view. They are capitalizing on and monetizing other people’s work without the creator’s permission. Plain and simple. That’s why so many publishers have an issue with them (just Google it).

    Thanks for your post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who takes exception to this model.

    Brandon, Home Buying Institute

    • I have a feeling that most ethical people do have a problem with this. If you have a WordPress site, try the sniply buster plugin. You can block anyone from hijacking your site again.

  • Dear Chris, my website is MINE. There is nothing nuanced about it. How dare you steal my content. Email sent, and action better be taken quickly.

    • That’s what I say! Try the Social Warfare plugin. They have a “sniply buster” built right in to prevent that from happening.

      • Thanks Carol. I used the meta tag sniply provided plus emailed them to have them make sure my site was blocked and any of my snipped pages redirected. My site is removed so I’m good. I’d like to use the plugin anyway but I don’t use wordpress.

        Amazing how little respect people have for other peoples work and intellectual property these days. Are we that entitled?

        • In real life, probably, but on the internet??? Times a billion! The perception is that everything is free – or should be. Free music, free books, free movies, free content. It’s an uphill battle.