Friday, Mar 05, 2004
Wired has an interesting article on lack of attribution in weblogs, and how many large blogs 'steal' ideas from smaller blogs without giving them attribution.

This certainly happens, and with the rising popularity of RSS feeds, it's easier and easier to read a few hundred blogs a day and pass along the interesting content, without attribution. For many sites, like Metafilter and BoingBoing, this is exactly the point, though Cory (Boingboing) does an exemplary job at citing sources. Since I'm currently working on building out my own 'meta-site' this is a subject of particular interest to me.

The argument's failing, and I freely admit that I need to dive deeper to determine whether it's a weak point of the article or of the underlying research, is that it assumes webloggers predominantly get their content from other weblogs. While that's often true, it's certainly not always the case.

Take for example the 'furry germs' example given in the Wired article: The author claims this is an example of a blog meme with a point blog source and dozens of copycaters blogging it on their own site, without attribution to the original blogger. This is absolutely not the case.

Having blogged about the "plushie microbes" four weeks ago myself, I know exactly where it came from: A monthly advertisement sent out to Think Geek customers. The Wired article's argument is that the specific term "furry germs" is a unique identifier, proving that any two bloggers using the words have the same blog source. In fact, the term "furry germs" is a fabricated example for the article that, at the time of this writing, doesn't exist anywhere on the web except for in the Wired article and in this one (so far as Google can see). More likely the actual example is the term "plush microbes", the term that is used in the marketing email, and on ThinkGeek's site itself.

It's small wonder that bloggers would use the same term when writing about the product, and isn't any evidence of 'blogstealing'. On the contrary, this example raises awareness that we, as bloggers, use the whole world as our source, and that often the same part of the world is shown to many of us at the same time (e.g. through advertisements, the news, terrorist acts).

It's only natural that advertising would raise awareness of a new product, and the far more accurate implication that bloggers don't feel compelled to cite a source when the source is an advertisement that shows up in their inbox is much less insidious than saying we all read each other's weblogs to pilfer content and self-aggrandize.

Just for fun, it might be interesting to have 'attribution week' in the blogosphere, where we carefully document the source of every idea we blog, in as detailed a form as possible.

I propose the week of April 18th, when we're all done with taxes.

[thanks to Amit Asaravala at Wired News, a member of the Terra-Lycos Network]

If you like it, please share it.

Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
I can be reached at .

I also have a resume.


I'm co-founder in
a fantastic startup fulfilling the promise of the Internet of Things.

The Imp is a computer and wi-fi connection smaller and cheaper than a memory card.

Find out more.

We're also hiring.


I post most frequently on Twitter as @kfury and on Google Plus.


I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

©2012 Kevin Fox