The ethics of aggregating other peoples' content
Most of the recent – what I'll call – "discussions" about content aggregators have revolved around content theft. I'm not going to flip-flop on that topic: when you use someone else's work, you ask first, and if given the okay, you cite it. You can't take my blog article and post it on your site, implying that it is your own. Likewise, you shouldn't be taking a Books Online topic, changing three words and adding an intro sentence, and making that a blog post. I think this stuff is pretty clear-cut; you either get permission to reproduce content, or you summarize and provide a link. Nobody likes it when you take credit for their work, but hardly anyone is going to complain if you drive traffic to them (even if you have partly benefited by driving traffic to your site first).
On the plus side, while I feel pretty strongly about it, I haven't really been a victim of this (yet). Either the content thieves of the SQL Server world have not yet discovered me, or they know who I am and don't think my work is worthy of stealing. No skin off my back either way.
This is NOT about content theft
What I have discovered lately is a little more benign than outright theft, but certainly less cool than simple traffic building. In most cases I am leery of mentioning a vendor by name, but in this case I am simply not afraid of stating who it is: sswug.org. I'm not going to link you there because right now I don't believe they deserve the traffic.
So what is my beef?
A little over a week ago in my morning e-mail from sswug, I saw the following:
Notice how they have sections for featured articles, full-member (e.g. PAID) articles, and free resources. Also notice how an article I wrote is featured under the "Full-Member Articles" section. To me, this implies that you must be a paid member in order to read the article. (If you don't see it this way, I'd love to hear about how your perception differs, and why.) So just to see whether they had stolen my content to sell, or simply linked to it, I clicked on the link. That led me to the first couple of sentences of my article in a summary, hosted on sswug.org's site, surrounded by ads (I trimmed the content for brevity, but you can go there if you want to see it in full):
Clicking on the "Read Article >>" link, I am greeted with yet another page hosted on sswug.org's site, again surrounded by ads, this time with a button encouraging me to pay for a full membership to the site (which doesn't even host the article they're talking about):
If you take the blue pill, you will go to my article, and that's the end of it. However, if you take the green pill, you will be asked for your credit card, and might still be under the assumption that this is the only way you can read my mediocre "bad habits" article. Even the wording is misleading: "here are a few more original articles sswug has for full members:" – implying that the article in question is an original sswug article, and is only available to full members.
Now, notice the different behavior you get with one of the other "Full-Member Articles" listed in the same section as mine. When you click on the link for "High Speed Data Import Using Synthetic Keys," you get a similar summary with a "Read Article >>" link, but when you click on that link, you get this (click to go there):
Which means in this case you really DO need to become a full member to read the article. So why was my article listed in the same category? I think that they benefit from mixing the two article types in two different ways: (1) if the user hits an original article, they know they have to upgrade, but could also assume that is true also for the articles they didn't yet hit; and, (2) if the user hits an article that is free and hosted externally, the messaging around the obstacle course they have to take there, could mislead them into believing that it is NOT a free article and that they need to become a full member to see it. I wonder how many people are duped in either of these ways?
I'm sorry if anyone feels differently, but I think this is a deplorable way to make money. Trick someone into paying for content that you know full well is available for free elsewhere, by mixing linked articles you collected from RSS with the few bona fide articles you've actually paid for. In some circles this is called bait & switch; in others it has a worse name. Shame on you, Mr. Swynk.