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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.