Posts Tagged‘content’

Lack of Content, Not Monetization, is What Kills MMORPGs.

I’m something of a collector of failed MMORPGs. Every since my addiction began with World of Warcraft it seemed I was forever doomed to roam the genre in search of that same feeling that World of Warcraft inspired in me. Let’s just say that in my travels I’ve seen nearly everything, from inventive PvP systems to epic grinds that required almost more time than I had invested in World of Warcraft just to reach the end game content. Over time I’ve started to notice the patterns of what causes some MMORPGs to carry on whilst others struggle to keep their users just months after release. The answer is quite simple but it seems some academics might have a different idea.

Take Ramin Shokrizade, a self proclaimed virtual economy expert who’s latest piece takes aim at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s decision to convert their MMORPG into a free to play model in order to try and get people back into the game. Whilst he does make some good points regarding how TOR felt like a massively single player game (as the campaign was arguably the best thing about it, even though it was a lot more fun to do with friends) the main point of his article, that the monetization strategy was the primary cause for failure, is ultimately only a side issue to the bigger issues at hand.

Shokrizade makes the point that the value players generated, judged by looking at auction house prices and the cost of purchasing credits from real money trading sites, decreased rapidly over the first month. He lays the blame for this specific decline at an instance reset exploit that allowed users to generate quite a lot of credits and whilst this might be a factor in the decline his analysis also fails to include the fact that in any new MMORPG in game currency attracts a high premium at the beginning, usually due to the fact that there isn’t that much of it in circulation. Indeed if you tracked the same statistic for other virtual worlds you would see identical declines as the currency generating capacity of the wider player base and the gold farmers increased significantly. This is not a new phenomena as I’ve seen it happen in nearly every MMO that I’ve played to date.

He also makes the mistake of saying that “As combat in SWTOR was balanced for PvE, PvP combat balance was never attainable”. Nearly all MMORPGs tend to focus on one of these two aspects in order to attract players to the game. SW:TOR focused heavily on the PvE aspect as that’s where BioWare’s strengths are and indeed by all accounts they succeeded at doing so. Whilst the PvP wasn’t as balanced in the beginning saying that because of the PvE focus PvP balance was unattainable is laughable as balance is an ongoing process that evolves with the game. Indeed when I left the PvP balance was far better due to the 50 only arenas, more people having better gear and vast improvements in game code to make the world PvP areas much more playable. The items were comparable to their PvE counterparts however they had PvP stats on them which meant for guilds who were tackling high end content on the hardest difficulties they were unfortunately useless as you couldn’t achieve the stats required.

However Shokrizade’s biggest blunder is when he lays blame at SW:TOR’s monetization scheme for its current troubles. He posits that the unlimited model, the one where you pay a monthly fee and get access to the entire game, encourages people to pay through all the content as fast as possible before dropping it for the next game. Now whilst I won’t discount the fact that there were many a hardcore friend of mine who took time off work to reach level 50 in the space of 4 days or so this was by far not the norm with many players taking at least a month to reach max level (I would know this, I was among them). Even then those who did reach max level would usually roll another character straight afterwards to level with the others who were still catching up mostly because the single player lines for each archetype are unique. He then goes on to peddle his ideal solution and then decries that the monetization scheme is the ultimate factor in deciding a MMORPGs success.

This is as far from the truth I’ve seen anyone get. Anyone who’s played MMORPGs knows that there’s one thing and one thing only that decides whether a game in this genre will be successful or not. That thing is the content.

Of all the failed MMORPGs I’ve played over the years the reason that they struggled can always be tracked back to problems with content. Age of Conan is probably the best example I can think of as it promised a large world, shaped by your actions, with content all the way up to a staggering level 80. This would have been all well and good except the fact that once you hit level 50 there wasn’t any content to speak of until level 80. Warhammer Online had the same issue as people quickly tired of the warzones and many servers locked themselves in a stalemate for the end game PvP, leaving them to turn away. Indeed the biggest problem that SW:TOR had was the fact that the end game content was just so gosh darn accessible, meaning that within the first month or two anyone could see the entire game if they were so inclined.

This was the exact reason why so many people decided to leave SW:TOR when they did. My guild mates and I managed to blast through all the end game raids in just under a week once we were all level 50 thanks to the normal level of difficulty which made the encounters quite easy by end game standards. After that point it’s hard to motivate people to redo content they’ve done before especially when the rewards are only incremental upgrades. Then the only thing left is to grind PvP or flash points in order to get better gear and only the hardcore will keep on doing that after a month or so.

So why does Shokrizade believe that monetization, above all else, is the key to MMORPG success? At the risk of stumbling into ad-hominem territory the reason seems pretty obvious: he’s a self proclaimed expert on virtual economies even though his only experience in economics comes from playing EVE Online (and I’m struggling to verify his claims of leading a 5000 strong corporation in there). It’s then prudent to take what he says with a grain of salt as he has a vested interest in saying things like this, even if they don’t gel so well with reality.

MMORPGs are hard things to create and maintain and it’s a testament to companies like Blizzard and BioWare who’ve managed to actually release one and not go bankrupt in the process. Whilst SW:TOR might be struggling to keep people going so are nearly all MMORPGs, even the mighty World of Warcraft is back to 2008 subscription numbers (is their monetization strategy the problem, Shokrizade?) and that shows just how hard it can be to get people coming back time and time again. The one secret though is the content and there is no doubt that Blizzard has mastered that art and for all it’s successes with the campaign missions BioWare unfortunately missed the mark and they’re paying the price for it now.

7th of February: R18+ D-Day.

3 years and 15 posts have all been leading up to this: In a little under 2 weeks the House of Representatives in Australia will sit down to vote on the bill to introduce a R18+ rating for games into Australia:

The first parliamentary session in the new year is set for the 7th February – giving the poor fellas a nice long break – where the bill to introduce the new age rating will be voted on by the lower house. If it passes there, it will go on to the senate, which has the ability to pass it into law.

Current minister for human services and ex federal minister for home affairs, Brendan O’Connor, is the man behind the bill and he’s been pushing it forward for quite some time according to Games Industry (requires free account sign up). Thanks to his vocal public support, it is believed the bill will pass easily in its first parliament debate, though the outcome of the senate hearing is still up in the air.

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Whilst I’m grateful for the Australian government giving me a near endless stream of blog fodder over the years I’ll be far more happy to see this changed than have to write another article telling you why Australia needs it. At the moment everything is looking pretty good for the R18+ rating to make it through the lower house without too many troubles. What’s still something of mystery is how the bill will go in the Senate as whilst there are some supporters like Senator Kate Lundy and Senator Stephen Conroy I couldn’t dredge up anyone else who’s gone on record supporting it.

Theoretically there’s not much to oppose in the bill, especially with the final draft of the guidelines being fairly in line with what we have currently and just including the provision for content that’s already acceptable in other mediums. How this is viewed by the senators though remains to be seen but should it get through we could see many of the previously banned titles making their way onto our shelves before the end of the year. Whilst I’m sure none of them will enjoy the retail success that they would have if they weren’t blocked in the first place it’s better than getting nothing from Australia at all.

It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally on the cusp of seeing real change that was heavily influenced by the grass roots efforts of the gaming community in Australia. I’m so glad I count myself amongst the teaming masses of people who put their support behind getting a R18+ rating into reality and this shows that given enough time and effort we really can effect change in Australia. The fight’s not over yet, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to being won than it is to being lost.

The Daily: It Ain’t Lookin’ Good.

It’s no secret that I’m not a believer in the iPad (or any tablet for that matter) as the herald of a new era in the world of media. Whilst I now have to admit that Apple has managed to take a product that’s already been done and popularise it to the point of mainstream I still remain wholly unconvinced that this new platform will change the way the media giants operate. Thus far all experiments with launching on this platform haven’t done well but this could be easily due to them not working well in their traditional forms either. Then comes along The Daily, the brainchild of media giant Rupert Murdoch which be almost wholly confined to the iPad. With $30 million spent on research and development and a budget of $500,000 a day you’d think that this publication would have a real chance at beginning the media revolution, but I’m still not convinced.

You see whilst I might be coming around to the idea that this whole tablet craze might actually have something to it (I’m really taking a shine to the Motorola Xoom) the media industry has an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to adopting new forms of media. Whilst a new platform might be extremely popular if it conflicts with their way of doing business they are more likely to fight it than they are to try and innovate with it. Heck many of the traditional media outlets are still struggling to make their subscription based model work on the Internet and that hasn’t enjoyed the success they thought it would. Why then would the same model work for the iPad? From what I can see it doesn’t.

But don’t take my word for it (since I’m a biased source on this subject) take it from the many other people that are under whelmed by Murdoch’s latest offerings. From the videos and initial user reports it seems like The Daily is much like its print cousins, delivering news the day after it happens. They have managed to blend in a lot of social media elements (like Twitter streams and Facebook sharing) but the integration appears to be very weak with the Twitter streams being half a day old and the link sharing giving only a small part of the article. In an age where social media thrives on the latest information even being a day behind in the news¹ means you’re way behind what everyone is interested in. There’s still a place for good journalism however I don’t believe it’s on the iPad, at least not in the form that has been presented to us thus far.

One good thing to come out of this though is the addition to iOS SDK that allows app developers to make use of the subscription framework that The Daily uses. It’s not a major change to the SDK but it does allow other publications and apps the ability to deliver additional paid content to an iOS device without prompting having to prompt the user or sending them through some weird web work flow.

More it seems that people are interested in crafting their own news feed based around their mediums of choice. Twitter is arguably the medium for breaking news with blogs coming in close second and traditional media sources serving as verification once the story has been broken. This is one of the core principles of the Internet in action and no matter how hard you try time has shown that free access to a service is wildly more successful than a walled garden with a ticket price. Of course it’s still very early days for The Daily and the next few months will be crucial in terms of judging the viability of the publication. Right now it doesn’t look good for them but since they’re already $30 million in the hole I figure Murdoch is watching the reaction to his new publication closely and if he’s smart there’ll be some radical changes coming soon.

¹Yes yes, it’s quite obviously that I’m usually several days (or weeks) behind when it comes to reporting stuff. This isn’t a news blog though so being in the midst of media storms isn’t my thing so you can keep your “how ironic” comments to yourselves :P

The SEO Line I Won’t Cross.

 One of the first things you’ll come across after starting a website is the wonderful world of search engine optimization. In essence it’s the idea of making your website more appealing to search engines by following certain sets of guidelines in the hopes of getting your site higher up in the search ranks. Whilst I won’t go as far to call it black magic (search engines are by definition deterministic) there’s still enough mystery about how search engines work for the snake oil peddlers to work their craft in this field. If you see any of those “Mum makes $70/hour online! Find out how today.” type of ads on websites I can almost guarantee they’re some kind of SEO based idea that more than likely ends up being a scam or fails to deliver on any one of their promises.

This is not to say that I don’t employ SEO techniques on this site though, far from it. I run a couple WordPress plugins to make my site easier for search engines to crawl so that my posts appear in Google no more than 5 minutes after they’ve been posted. Additionally many of my articles have been written in such a way as to ensure that they’re more favourable to certain search terms. Indeed I’m guilty of writing articles specifically for people who land on my blog with certain search terms, mostly because I know how frustrating it can be trying to find something so simple yet be lead up the garden path repeatedly by countless blogs.

Those SEO experts amongst you would also point out that this blog is not the only one running on The Refined Geek domain, in fact there’s 26 more of them! Why would anyone have these if not in an attempt to try and boost the primary site search listings? Well I can’t deny that they’re part of an experiment I started over a year ago to see how one particular SEO technique faired, mostly to see if a blog that’s automated (read: none of the articles on them are written by me) could garner a higher readership than one from a genuine person. The result was mixed as for the longest time none of them attracted more than a casual passer by but at the beginning of the year at least 4 of them soared past this blog in terms of readership. More recently however this blog has overtaken them yet again and whilst no hard evidence of the cause (the experiment has been woefully unscientific) I believe it’s because Google has figured out how to track down blogs of this nature and is beginning to punish them in the search results.

However whilst I might be doing quite a bit of SEO based work there are some techniques I just can’t make myself do. Take for instance Tim Ferriss’ (of Four Hour Work Week fame) guide to writing titles for articles that will get you retweeted:

Into trapeze or German techno? Our starting headlines might be “How to Perform 5 Tricks on the Flying Trapeze” or “German Techno 101.” That’s just a starting point. Then we expand to what your wider circle of friends or co-workers might be interested in. For example:

“How German Techno Can Make You a Better Agile Programmer”
“5 Principles of Flying Trapeze for Better Hiring Decisions”

See how that works? This recipe works, and it’s a plug-and-play format for getting started, and getting traffic.

Once you’ve had a bit of practice, it’s oftentimes easier — and more scalable — to imitate what works elsewhere.

In essence this one of the more classic SEO techniques of putting the search term you’re targetting at the start or early in the title of the blog post. I’m guilty of doing this too, most notably with my most visited posts in the forms of game reviews. However those kinds of titles actually suit the articles that follow them since they first tell you what I’m going to be talking about usually followed by a somewhat whimsical statement that reflects my overall feelings about the game¹. Ferriss’ idea of creating these kinds of titles for posts, whilst nothing new to the SEOs out there, still managed to rub me the wrong way.

I won’t lie that getting people to read your blog is the main reason why a lot of us bloggers do what we do. For many of us the main source of readers are search engines so it makes sense to try and sculpt your posts in a way that will push them up the rankings. For this site the breakdown is about 41% from search engines, 47% from referrals and the remaining 12% coming from bookmarks or typing the address into the bar. Still writing just for the purposes of running up the search rankings never feels quite right as the titles always feel sub-par and don’t match my style. I will admit that they are quite effective but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like selling out.

I guess my feelings stem from the idea that the title is just that, barely even a begging to the actual content. An article or post should really stand on its own with its success being determined by the content not by the way in which its title was crafted. Unfortunately while search engines continue to value titles over content this kind of behaviour will continue. Sure you can still be creative within the bounds of certain rules but for myself it still just doesn’t sit right and I’ll continue writing just the way I’ve always done.

¹I often wonder if anyone picked up on this as no one ever commented on them. People have commented on some of my other post titles though (usually when I’m trolling). I’ll bet you’ll notice now! :P

Linkbaiting, Trolls and Other Secrets to Blogging Success.

I try to keep resemblance of what could be likened to journalistic integrity on this blog. I usually only write about things that I believe I have something worthy to say on the topic and I think it shows when I’ve forced out a post just to satisfy my obsessive-compulsive side. Still the temptation is always there to take the latest hot headline in one of my areas of interest and just parrot the popular sentiment as it’s an almost guaranteed way to drive people to this site. Sometimes I’m lucky enough that these two worlds collide and I get to write about something I like that brings people to my blog. One example of this was my reaction to the iPad which, whilst I knew was going to be all over the press, was an honest reaction to the product’s announcement and saw quite a few people coming here to get whatever details they could on Apple’s latest toy.

In the professional blogging world things aren’t quite so freeform.

You see, despite efforts to the contrary, the best way to make money off your online content is advertising. Depending on who you’re dealing with these can be cost per thousand impressions (CPM), cost per click (CPC) or some other variety. No matter what kind of advertising you end up slathering all over your content the amount you make will still be directly proportional to the number of users that you receive on your site. The best ways to do this usually involve breaking a story (although that doesn’t last that long in our Internet world), writing on the topic de’jeur or playing on people’s loyalties by taking a controversial stance on a subject. Take a look at any blogging site and you’ll see a combination of all of these, usually right there on the front page. All of this is done in aid of driving users and their respective advertising revenue to the site.

As always this post was inspired by an example of such behaviour that I saw on the Internet. Currently one of the hot topics amongst the tech crowd is the issue of the iPhone 4′s antenna which can be shorted out if held in a certain way. I’ve steered clear of the topic mostly because I don’t have anything useful to say on the matter and it’s already been beaten to death in the headlines over the past couple weeks. To give you an idea of just how absurd this whole situation is getting take a gander at this post over at TechCrunch:

But the thing is, that trust that my mom gives to Consumer Reports was hard earned over decades of obsessive use. She trusts Consumer Reports. And if I read it I might trust it too. If they rated stuff on shininess I’d definitely subscribe. Or if they rated robots.

But suddenly Consumer Reports is crazy for the link bait. This iPhone 4 antenna problemhas them going absolutely batshit crazy, and nearly every day they’re firing off a new set of recommendations, or demands, that conflict with the old recommendations and demands.

Ironically¹ Arrington is also guilty of the same things that he criticises Consumer Reports of doing. The post is a classic traffic driver attempt: he’s taken a rather controversial stance on something (no one else has criticized Consumer Reports to my knowledge), he’s talking about one of the hottest topics today and for what it’s worth he’s breaking the story. The post is just aching for Consumer Reports to post a response back to his claims and should they actually do that he’s got another in to write yet another trolltastic article.

For me since my blog is primarily personal and nets me zero in the ways of revenue I don’t usually have any desire to write those kinds of articles. That’s not to say I haven’t, in fact I’ve done quite a few of them. However I never really felt that good about them afterwards and talking it over with my fellow bloggers they agreed they weren’t really of the standard they’d come to expect from me. I am human however so there are times when my stance on something will go against the grain of what’s currently socially acceptable but those posts will (hopefully) contain reasoned, logically constructed arguments so at least if you don’t agree with me you understand how I came to my conclusions.

You could write this whole tirade off as someone who’s just languishing in the dark recesses of the Internet casting an evil eye to anyone who’s got a whiff of success. The Australian blood that runs through me will always want to cut the tall poppies down but realistically it all comes back to my desire to give a little something to those who read my writings. Whilst I know that not everyone cares about why people write things for all to see I feel that knowing someone’s motivations helps me greatly in understanding their content and, should they attempt to convince me of their viewpoint, acknowledge any biases they have lest I take them on as my own.

¹It gets even more ironic if you consider that this post could be construed as falling prey to the same ideas I’m criticising. I knew that when writing this, just so you know ;)

Shouldn’t Information Transcend Formats?

I just don’t get books. There’s something inherently anti-social about picking one up and plonking yourself down to read a couple chapters as you’re publicly announcing “I’m doing something and I shouldn’t be disturbed”. Still the act of sharing that anti-social experience can be quite social as I’ve had many great experiences discussing the few books that I’ve read over my lifetime. Still I struggle to get through dead trees even when I make an active effort to get through them. My latest victim, The Four Hour Work Week, has been in my backpack for the past 6 months and the last 5 of that have been with around 100 pages to go. For some reason I just can’t be bothered with sitting down and slogging through page after page of the centuries old medium, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave their content.

After I went through a long time of having not a whole lot to do whilst I was at work I discovered the wonderful world of RSS feeds. Gone was my endless list of poorly organised bookmarks and in its place was a lovely unified view of all those websites I loved to frequent. After fiddling around with a couple installed RSS readers I eventually turned to Google Reader and I haven’t looked back since. Every day I can spin through a couple hundred articles in quick succession with the better ones usually inspiring a blog post or two. I’d say that on average I read about 2~3 books worth of online content per week, possibly double or triple that if I’m elbow deep in research for a particular problem.

So the question remains, why don’t I get books? I know I have a pretty insatiable hunger for information on various subjects and the bite sized chunks I get online, whilst very well suited to my almost permanently Internet connected life, are usually too small to get a decent understanding of something. Additionally I remember one of my college English teachers telling me that my generation was apparently the last one that would have any respect for the medium as the generations who followed us would get all their information from online sources. Whilst I don’t agree with her vision completely (thanks in part to the whole Twilight phenomenon, I mean they did read the books right?) it does seem that when it comes to getting information on a particular subject I don’t even think about visiting a library, let alone picking up a book.

The answer then is most likely one of convenience.  I can, on any device capable of browsing the Internet, open up a page with a dedicated stream of information tailored exactly to my interests. Books on the other hand are usually only aimed at one subject and unfortunately require me to carry them with me when I want to read them. I thought the answer would lie in eBooks but unfortunately they seem to suffer the same fate as their dead tree companions. You could probably put this down to a short attention span when it comes to absorbing information as all online content is aimed at being consumed in less than 5 minutes and trying to read a book like that just doesn’t seem to work for me (or anyone else I’ve seen read books for that matter).

There are some notable exceptions though. Way back in the middle of my time at university a good friend of mine handed me a copy of the first book in the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. After sharing a love for the revamped Battlestar Galactica he handed me the book saying that if I liked that kind of sci-fi, I’d love this. I hadn’t read an entire book in well over 3 years so initially I struggled to get into it. The entire trilogy took me a year to read but I savoured every last word of it, often stealing an hour away from my classes to sit on the university concourse to bathe in the warm summer sun whilst my mind was firmly planted in this epic space opera. I have yet to be that captivated by a book again as my last attempt to read another of Hamilton’s other works had me 20 pages in before I was told I was reading the wrong book in the trilogy (that’s the last time I trust you, Dave).

Maybe as I get more time to myself I’ll find the time for books. Right now though my life is filled with so many other activities that getting through a book always feels like a chore that doesn’t get me very far as it doesn’t usually satisfy a pressing want or need that I have at the time. With most of my subsequent free time spent playing through an enormous backlog of games (which just spurred an idea for a post tomorrow, stay tuned! ;) ) books are one of those things that I’ll let slip by the wayside. Watching them rush past as the torrent of the Internet sweeps them away.

The Internet Age: A Communication Method For Every Niche.

Cast your mind back 15 years, what was the most common way to get into contact with someone? Your answer was probably a land line telephone as the Internet was still low in its adoption rates and sending letters was starting to feel a little antiquated. Additionally faxing was beginning to take over as the de facto standard for sending documents around the globe  further cementing the telephone as the goto means for trying to communicate with someone. The alternatives where thin on the ground and realistically if you wanted to send a message to a large, multi-national audience you’d have to shell out some serious coin to get that done. Today however it seems that no matter who you are or who you want to talk to there’s already infrastructure in place to facilitate your desire to communicate and with that comes some interesting problems for those who used to dominate the international communications space.

This blog is a great example of just one of these forms of communication. Realistically if I wanted to write about things on a daily basis to a decent sized audience my options were fairly limited. Usually I’d have to have some kind of journalistic cred in order to get myself a daily column and that would also subject me to being under an editor. I could have wrote everything up, printed out thousands of copies and then hung them all over the place but that would be both time and cost prohibitive. Today I can reach a daily audience of dozens of people all for the cost of an hours work, an Internet connection and a bit of electricity to power my home server. If I was so inclined I could eliminate most of those costs by moving to a hosted solution, but I like tinkering too much to do that ;)

For the most part though I know that blogs don’t suit everyone, especially the kind of style that I’ve adopted for myself. Writing a post a day can seem like a chore to most people and if you’re like me you’re not prone to fits of creative inspiration often leading me on a frustrating hunt for something to write about. Additionally many people were already happy with their more traditional forms of communication and saw no need to start up a blog or similar to communicate to their intended audience.

Many of the new forms of communication are based around making the more traditional forms of mass communication (television, radio, newspapers, etc) much more accessible to the everyman. Primarily we have the Internet to thank for this as its pervasiveness opens up the largest potential audience for any content that you might dare to distribute. The rapid change from traditional media to the current user centric Internet experience has seen many corporations playing a game of catch up to make the most of this new medium with many just being outright hostile to what they perceive as being a threat to their bottom line. I can’t say that I blame them as any good corporations main goal is to maximize its profit for its shareholders but realistically if you’re trying to fight a fundamental change to your business model rather than adapt to it you’re not long for the technological world. There’s already a dozen hungry start ups that would be willing to take your place.

On the flip side though the various means of communication can be a bit of a curse. Although there is always a dominate player in the respective field the success of any new form of communication means there will be multiple players, all with their own distinct set of benefits. Ultimately this leads to a fragmented audience meaning either you attempt to cover off all your bases to hit the largest audience possible (exponentially increasing your work) or just target one potentially segregating off a large audience. In the end though content is still king and if you do good work people will overlook the medium in which its delivered.

What all this means for the everyman is that no matter who you are, what your message is or who your audience is there’s probably already a form of communication that’s perfectly suited to you. Want to start a TV show? Get a YouTube channel. Feel like exposing every little nuance of your life to the Internet? Get a Twitter account. Have aspirations of being a journalist but don’t want to do the training but hope that some technology/gaming/space big shot will see your potential and then pay you to write for them? Get off my territory and start a blog somewhere else boy! ;) The traditional content gatekeepers no longer apply for those of us lucky to live in the age of the Internet, where those who wish to express themselves and their audience is only separated by a few clicks and bit of bandwidth.

Respect for the Content Creators.

I’ve been at this whole blog thing for a while now. Not as long as many of the big names mind you but long enough to get into the culture and social conventions that fellow bloggers adhere to. As with anything on the Internet the rules are fast and loose and the worst thing that will happen to you for breaking them will usually be an angry email from someone you didn’t even know you could offend. For the most part though I’ve avoided incurring the wrath of any of my fellow netizens, apart from the good old fashioned trolls who make an appearance anywhere on the web.

One of these unspoken rules is that if you’re going to use someones content, maybe a quote from an article or picture off their website, you provide a link back to their site. The reasoning behind this is that the biggest gateway to the Internet, Google, uses the number of sites linking in as a sort of popularity count to judge how relevant a site is to a particular search. The more links you have coming in the more popular you are and the higher up in the search results your sites will appear. There is of course many other factors taken into consideration but nothing beats a good old fashioned link from someone else’s site to yours, especially if it comes from what Google considers to be a highly ranked page in itself.

Personally I have no problem with giving out links to those who’ve created content that I have purloined for my site. Usually I’m taking a quote from an article that’s inspired me to write a post on something and they deserve to have their work recognised. More often than not though I’m not even using the content directly and giving them a link as to support my own view which I’m putting forth. This healthy little eco-system of tit-for-tat means that the original content creators get the credit they deserve and the information gets freely distributed across the web.

More recently however it’s become apparent that some people are more interested in just taking the content and not giving credit where its due. I’ve come across a couple sites that have blatantly copied my articles verbatim and posted them to their sites as their own. You’d think I wouldn’t be able to find most of them but since quite a few of my articles contain links to my other writings on the site these content thieves unwittingly send links my way. When their site is eventually crawled by Google they show up on my report that shows all the links coming back into my site. For the most part though they’re a minority, and I’ve happily ignored the majority of them (in fact most of them seem to disappear rather quickly, leading me to believe they’re probably scam/malware sites).

What does get going though is webmasters who don’t trust people to do the right thing on the Internet. If you were one of the lucky few yesterday who read my charming piece on China vs Google you may have noticed an intrusive ad right in the middle of a quoted article. Now I make no secret that the original article there came from The Register and did my civic duty in providing a link back to their site. Unbeknownst to me however was that the quote I took from that article, by way of copy and paste from the site, had been injected with a tangled mass of HTML and JavaScript that wasn’t visible in the WordPress editor. Additionally the code has been designed to only trigger when copied into an editor capable of HTML rendering, as the code is nowhere to be seen when its copied into notepad.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this kind of chicanery either. Many sites have been using a small bit of JavaScript to inject additional lines into content when it has been copied from their site, usually containing a link or two back to their site. I didn’t have a problem with most of these as they showed up in the editor and I never forget to give a link where its due. This new trick from The Register however was something far more sinister as it not only hid itself from my view it also put a rather obnoxious ad for videos right in the middle of my post. Heaven forbid if their ad server ever got compromised and started serving malware which would in turn make me look like the perpetrator of such nefarious deeds.

I’ve got no issue giving credit where credit is due for those people who work hard to get stories out and give us lowly bloggers a bit of fodder to toy with. However I take offense when the trust between the creator and their wider audience is broken and they resort to such spineless tactics as to mangle the clipboard data with code that attempts to hide itself from plain view. If you have a problem with people copying your content don’t inject obnoxious advertisments, instead handle the situation properly. If you have a terms of use for quoted content then copy that in instead. Sure people will still get around it but mangling the copied content with crappy HTML and JavaScript will only help to offend those who are more than likely trying their best to promote your content. The content pirates won’t care either way.

Sure it was a small thing and it took me all of 10 seconds to go into the HTML editor and remove it but I can’t help but feel like that implicit trust that had been there for so long has been cast by the wayside by those who think we’re all out to profit off their hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth, I want people to read the original articles that’s why I link to them, but there are few organisations out there who just have to be unnecessarily rude by doing these things and they’re not going to win any friends by doing so.

Don’t make me write a plugin to scrub your cruft from WordPress blogs automatically. Hell hath no fury like a blogger/programmer scorned.