Recently, I read an article promoting five of the “best” autoblogging plugins for WordPress. I normally don’t write response type posts, but I just felt that I had to chime in and offer my two cents on this one!
For those who don’t know what autoblogging is, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like – having the content on your blog generated automatically. This may sound like an incredible and liberating innovation to the uninitiated. After all, this blogging thing is a tough gig. Who wouldn’t want to free up a few extra hours by minimizing the time you spend preparing your content?
Don’t be deceived, though. Autoblogging sucks. It sucks for the blogger. It sucks for the reader. It most certainly sucks for people whose work is being ripped off. Basically, you should simply avoid it altogether. Here are 5 good reasons why.
If you’re wondering how a WordPress plugin can possibly generate content automatically, it’s really pretty simple – it doesn’t. At least, it doesn’t generate unique content. The plugin basically goes out, crawls through a collection of predetermined RSS feeds, grabs the content and posts it your blog. Sometimes it may add a link back to the source, but other times the work goes completely uncited, making it appear as though the content is entirely unique!
No matter how you cut it, this is content theft and completely inappropriate.
I’ve been victimized by this very thing before, with my articles here on SpyreStudios, articles on other major blogs, and even content from my own Echo Enduring Blog. I work very hard coming up with unique and interesting articles that I think readers will enjoy. I put a lot of thought into the content and word choice, and spend time seeking out supporting images or creating screenshots for tutorials.
I am also very particular about the sites that I write for. I love being an author here on SpyreStudios because I know it’s a great site, with a high commitment to quality and a strong dedication to its contributors. The same is also true of the other sites that I write for.
So, it is particularly angering and frustrating to find my articles stolen and republished without permission on poorly implemented, sub-quality sites. In many ways I feel like it cheapens my work.
Now, there is an argument that because I provide a full RSS feed, I am basically sanctioning my articles for republication. That’s just not true. The content is still mine (or Spyre’s, in this case), and permission is still required to reproduce it, and neither I nor Jon nor any of the other blogs I write for have expressed any level of permission for reproducing our content.
Just because someone leaves their car on to run into the store, doesn’t mean they are giving you an invitation to get in and drive away. That’s still stealing, and so is autoblogging!
It’s Not Blogging
Despite the name, autoblogging is not really blogging at all. Running a blog is about producing content for your readers. That content may be articles, photographs, videos, audio, art or something else entirely. The point, however, is that it’s yours – or at least something that has been produced on your behalf.
Autoblogging doesn’t involve producing anything. It’s a simple regurgitation of content that has already been published and, given the prevalence of this great evil, which has probably also been published in a dozen other places too!
How then can it possibly be called real blogging?
Then there’s the issue of community. One of the greatest things to have emerged out of the blog revolution is the emphasis on interaction. Almost every blog has some degree of functionality to facilitate posting comments, thus fostering discussion between the author and their readers. It is (at least partially) this dialogue that helps to build real value for a site. Visitors are more likely to become returning readers when they feel that their voices can be heard, and that they are a part of the site’s community.
Autoblogging doesn’t offer any of this. Even if the site does have a comments section, it is usually completely empty, or else has one or two meaningless comments that accomplish nothing at all.
It’s Still Stealing
I can’t put enough emphasis on the fact that autoblogging is a form of theft, but it goes even beyond just content theft. More often than not, articles are literally stolen and posted “as is”, with all of the original URLs are left in place. This means that every time one of these articles is viewed, all of the images are being downloaded from the original site.
Altogether, this results in another form of stealing – bandwidth theft. When an autoblogged article hotlinks all of the its images, it’s left up to the original source to actually serve these images up, eating up precious bandwidth!
If one article proves particularly popular and gets stolen by multiple sites and contains a lot of large images (perhaps a tutorial with many screenshots), this could certainly put a significant strain on the original server, possibly even resulting in increased operating costs for the owner.
Even if you’re not autoblogging, you should avoid hot linking. Unless you have explicit permission, it’s just not nice to eat up other people’s bandwidth to display images (or worse, video) on your own site.
It’s All About Money
One of the primary reasons that people implement autoblogging is to keep “fresh” content on their site, usually for the purposes of SEO. Of course, the content isn’t fresh at all, but the idea is to try to achieve some of the benefits of SEO to bring more people to the site through search results. And, of course, there is only one reason that these site owners want any visitors at all:
To make money.
That’s it. They may try to do this by selling advertising space, though even that might be a bit dubious. What legitimate advertiser would really want to advertise on a site built entirely on stolen content? They may also try to make money through various affiliate programs, using banner ads to link to well known sites and taking a commission of anything that is actually sold.
Regardless of how it’s done, the fact remains that the whole purpose of the site is just to build money, and that’s ultimately pretty transparent. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a bit of extra money off of your blog. There isn’t even anything wrong with starting a site with the specific purpose of making money – it just has to be paired with a legitimate effort to provide unique and meaningful content.
Otherwise, the site won’t be that different from the guy selling stolen jewlery or electronics out of the trunk of this car, and that’s extremely sketchy.
It’s a Small World
The internet is certainly a big place, but probably not as big as you might think. There may be millions and millions of users out there, but there are also these things that you may have heard of. They are called niches, and are especially common in the blogging world. A niche is essentially a pocket of like-minded people who share an interest in a common subject. Design is one large niche. Web design is a more specific sub niche, and CSS is still more specific.
The more focused a niche is, the smaller the community surrounding it, which means that a lot of the same people are reading, writing, commenting on and discussing the same blogs. People remember what they’ve read too, which means that any articles harvested from RSS feeds through autoblogging will very likely be recognized by readers.
I know that I’ve found and identified articles from sites other than my own being reproduced through autoblogging. Even though they’re not my articles, I still get annoyed because I actively read and support many of the original source sites. In some cases, I even know and communicate with their owners, so it’s almost like witnessing a friend being robbed!
Setting my own feelings aside (as much as possible in such a discussion), it’s a safe bet to assume that stolen articles will be recognized eventually, which does nothing but harm a site’s online reputation.
Acceptable Automatically Generated Content?
As I mentioned at the beginning, I can certainly see the initial appeal of automatically generated content being posted on your blog. I just have a real problem with this practice when the content is being ripped off of other sites.
That being said, I can envision one form of autoblogging that I would find more acceptable. That would be any sort of application that would automatically collect and publish a roundup of your own activity on the internet over a period of time.
One example might be a plugin that could look at all of your tweets from the last week and, using some combination of API and analytics, build a post featuring the best 20. You could also integrate your bookmarks on Delicious, your Stumbles or Diggs. The point is that the only acceptable form of autoblogging (at least in my view), would be that which collects a posts your own content and activity!
Of course, if this kind of content is the only thing that is being posted, then I would still be somewhat hardpressed to call such a site a blog, since there’s still very little community or interactivity involved.
I’m not sure if this article will really accomplish anything, since most of the people running autoblogging sites probably couldn’t care less about the ethical implications that I’ve tried to raise. This one simple article is certainly not enough to stop them. Ironically, though, I would say that there’s a very good chance that this article itself will get picked up and autoblogged somewhere.
Just goes to show you how ridiculous the whole thing is.
I suppose that if I had one hope for this article, though, it would be to function as a warning to anyone who is just starting to blog, or at least thinking about it. As attractive as the whole concept of autoblogging might be, it’s just not worth it. If you have any ethical conviction for content or bandwidth theft, or if you are hoping to build a community around you’re website, just stay away from autoblogging completely.
Besides, even if you are looking to make a bit of money, you’ll be much better served in the long run if you just bear down, dig deep and start producing really awesome content for your readers. This is the one tried and true way to build a blog or online magazine that will have meaning and substance and the ability to endure.
I think my opinion on this whole autoblogging thing is pretty clear by now, so now it’s time for you to chime in. What are your thoughts? Do you think I am overreacting here? Do you think that there is a legitimate use for autoblogging? Please share your thoughts!