Customer Dissatisfaction

I really don’t have anything new to add to the discussions that have been going on all over WordPress.com and elsewhere about the new “Like/Reblog” utility that was introduced this week other than to say that besides the legitimate copyright and fair use concerns this utility raises, in my opinion there was a total misunderstanding, even mishandling, by WordPress.com to the reaction by concerned users.

It is correct that U.S. Copyright law allows use of a portion of a copyrighted work for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research” without the permission of the copyright holder.* “Fair Use” is balanced by four factors which mitigate what is considered “Fair Use” of a particular work. (For what it’s worth, CC Licenses are not covered by “Fair Use” but rather by the license chosen and its provisions.) The argument by WordPress.com that the “Like/Reblog” utility does nothing more than allow WordPress.com users to auto-post a snippet and cite another WordPress.com blog in a manner consistent with “Fair Use” may or may not be technically correct, but it’s missing the point. The issue now is about perceived control of one’s content and its dissemination. (Please see my comment below.)

What has lost WordPress.com major PR  points and rankled many users is their peremptory imposition of the Reblog feature and high-handed replies to voiced concerns. Even if the Reblog feature, like the “Press This” bookmarklet before it,  is nothing more than implementing a fact on the ground, it would be a major win for WordPress.com to allow users to opt-out of having the “Like/Reblog” button appear in Admin bar on their WordPress.com site. A user in the forum discussion on Reblogging has shown just how easy it is to disable this button using CSS. (Updated June 10th to note that the forum post has been modified to remove the CSS snippet with a warning that “modifying the admin bar like this is grounds for suspension”.)

Permitting users to opt-out of Reblog tells WordPress.com users, “We respect your right to control your content”. That is the biggest win of all and, in my opinion, one that WordPress.com should seriously consider.

(This post does not cover the splogging aspect of Reblogging nor the legitimate concerns regarding the watering down of WordPress.com content because of it.)

Is WordPress.com’s product so compelling that users will eventually accept the new paradigm or will users move away to other platforms? Will WordPress.com offer an opt-out option or will they just wait until the firestorm of user protest dies out and continue business as usual? My guess is most of the above.

*Update June 8th to note that the Fair Use provision also states the following:

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.

Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

This contradicts the general consensus and the basis on which the Reblog utility seems to be founded, that it is not necessary to obtain permission of the person who holds the copyright to the work being copied.

Update June 10th to note this article in the Los Angeles Times “Reblog this at your own legal risk” (hat tip to Ryan Markel, via Twitter)

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29 thoughts on “Customer Dissatisfaction

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    Today which is 3 days after the like and reblog feature were implemented I’m concerned about what may be coming down the pipe next. I hope it won’t be more social networking additions to our navigation bar such as the ones I see popping up on blogs all over. I don’t use the share buttons on the iframes we see so many blogs encased in these days. I’m also hoping that whatever new wordpress.com features are introduced do have opt out options but only time will tell which course this ship is on. maybe we will see BuddyPress being roled out feature by feature on the wordpress.com blogging platform or maybe not but I suspect the profiles and the like button and reblog features are all part of a “vision” for wordpress.com that members aren’t even aware of. See here > “BuddyPress allows you to stay in control of your site and create a totally customized, unique experience” … http://buddypress.org/

  2. As you say, it would be so easy for wordpress.COM to start repairing this debacle by simply giving us the ability to opt out. I really don’t thing that is such a big thing to ask, and I think it is way easier than staff has made it out to be.

    Giving us the opt out option would say to the bloggers at wordpress.COM, look, we respect your opinions and are listening. It would be a small gesture that would go a long way.

    Will they do it? I don’t know, but I’m doubtful. I’m almost thinking that one of the reasons that they are now actively encouraging this behavior with the reblog feature is that there is something in it for them. What that is, I don’t exactly know, but I do know based on the fact that I got a “possibly related post” hit on my test reblog of one of Timethief’s articles (notice the original author didn’t get the PRP?) that this might give .COM a bump in page ranking with the search engines. I’m not enough of a SEO gearhead to know for sure, but it makes me wonder.

    What I do know is that this is NOT all about giving “us” what we asked for. I can’t remember seeing any threads on this in the forums over the past three years I’ve had a blog at wordpress.COM, and surely there would have been if this were a real “want.”

  3. It is exactly the notion of “unknown” that worries me. I hate the idea of blog turning into a social-networking site. They can introduce all the super cool social-networking features as much as they want, but none of those should be imposed on the blog owner. There should be a choice if blog owner wishes to convert h/her blog as a social-networking platform or not.

    If we note the way this Reblog/Like feature has been introduced, it seems obvious that all the bloggers at WP.com have been treated like a fair game for change of tracks. The Polldaddy’s widgets were a choice for the audience of the blog owners, but this Reblog/Like is not a choice for the blog owners themselves. This suggest that Automattic is treating the blog owners as their customers to abuse (sorry if this sounds harsh).

    The initial idea of blogging was a hosting space given to us for free with additional premium paid packages. We agreed that the basic framework provided to us is good enough to blog. In return, we only possibly expects that there will be continuous and on-going product development to improve the blogging platform to stay consistent with times.

    IMHO, the first sign of trouble that I noticed was the introduction of Myspace like background image changes. Sure the choice to design your own blog however you want is a good choice, but as my first impression, it disturbed the aesthetics of the whole environment. You will eventually see whole lot of badly designed blogs under WordPress umbrella. This is not really a problem but what is the motivation behind this decision? It seems the web is moving in that direction, everyone wants their own background images. Fine, no big deal. I just don’t trust myself for designing a beautiful blog (besides I will never be satisfied for more than few days and will change things repeatedly giving myself more aggravation). So give me the best default option as an aesthetically beautiful theme and if I like it, I’ll keep it.

    Anyways, back to this unknown and the scare of social-networking. I personally don’t dislike social-networking, I am a faithful user of amplify.com, a WordPress joint under the hood but a mature social-networking platform. I would prefer WP.com adds more social-networking features, but they have to respect their user base and they have to keep the sanctity of authors and writers. who publish original contents. They have to respect those blog owners who do not wish to introduce social-networking to their blogs even for themselves as WP.com users or for their visitors.

    Choice is the key!

  4. Personally I’m not concerned about the feature in terms of content. To be fair my blog doesn’t contain anything worth reblogging and if someone does like a post and reblogs it good on them as I’m happy about people liking it. However, I’m in no way a prolific blogger and it’s really just an outlet for me versus something I work on a lot which is why I can understand why people are concerned.

    What bugs me, however, is that it’s blatantly ripped off from tumblr. WP.com doesn’t have to use tumblr’s feature and their social stuff is broken, the community rubbish and I only use it as a scrapbook rather than their community.

    What’s next? Formspring like questions?

    • To clarify my second paragraph above: By “their social stuff is broken, the community rubbish” I’m referring to tumblr.

    • Cat, you said your blog doesn’t contain anything worth blogging. This may be a reality as per your context and it could be the case for many, many bloggers. However, the same is not the case with everyone. Not everyone here may have contents open for social-networking abuse.

      Consider this scenario. Say I don’t necessarily blog exclusive contents but I blog contents I dig up through extensive internet research based upon the interest of mine. Now consider five different casual bloggers on WP.com who like to Reblog. Here, they get an opportunity to reblog my content in a quick second (it literally takes few seconds to reblog using this new Like/Reblog feature). Now imagine the scenario over the months. You have a person who worked hard, searched and researched content from the internet and you have a gang of few other blogs who just copied quickly.

      You might say, so that’s good for the first person who blogged because others find his content worthy of reblogging. This is exactly where this whole thing stinks. Matt & Co are assuming that everyone would like getting gratification of recognition (i.e, the whole reason of numbers game in the social-networking arena). They are further from the truth if that’s how they are generalizing the bloggers and their varied contents. Not everyone is pleased when other people setup up their social-shop over the contents they research and dig up. It is a fair competition if others dig up and research better content, or even if they research and dig up contents quicker than the first person. But copying contents on someone else’ back is not a fair competition scenario.

      I don’t think Like button is much of an issue if it stands on its own (personally it is dumb but hey I didn’t come up with it). But if without my consent, the aggregate data off of that Like button ends up in a play field with spectators all around, than I have a problem.

      I understand that nobody can stop anyone from submitting our content to Diggs, Reddits and Twitters of the internet world (consequently causing a stream of negative/positive comments on third party websites unbeknown to the original author), but we’re not talking about WP.com contents being Liked or Reblogged at some other website.

      Anyways, this is nothing directed to you in person. I’m just speaking in general as I just see Matt closed the thread at the forum by asking all of us to have patience and test the feature. I think once again he’s missing the point. I am more than willing to test any feature he introduces in the future but I should have a choice in that future of his.

      • With all due respect, Matt et al seem to be tone deaf. In the now-closed forum thread the only aspect of Reblog he’s addressed is the splogging aspect.

        Echo, echo, echo…

      • That’s why I said “personally” and “I can understand why people are concerned”. I wanted to show that there are people, or maybe just me, who don’t mind to give a different input to this debate.

        Decide for themselves, yes, but that’s not how things on WP.com have ever worked. Most things were turned on by default, such as ‘Possibly related’ or even small things like the snow and an opt out only ever came later if at all. I could imagine that it won’t come though as it seems like it’d be a fundamentally different functionality on the navbar.

    • But Cat, that’s fine if you want to opt-in (or not opt-out) of the feature. That’s my point; the blog owner should decide for themselves, not WordPress.com for them.

  5. WordPress.com is BIG and numbers count. Undoubtedly there is a master plan for the year and beyond that a “vision” but what that may be is known only to Staff and management. Making wordpress.com into a social network was something I once supported but that was prior to actually gaining a lot of social networking experience . Now that I have had that experience I’m drawing way back. Likes and tweets are replacing backlinks and the pattern of bloggers backlinking to deeper and meatier articles worthy of backlinking to has changed. Now we see twaddle being retweeted over and over, and stumbled, and dugg and … well you know what I mean.

    Andy Peatling is from the BuddyPress project which Matt Mullenweg in April 2009 published about in “Happy to announce that BuddyPress is now available to the world.” http://ma.tt/2009/04/buddypress-for-the-world/ I think we will be seeing more and more light weight social features which will appeal to those who are into clicking “like” buttons and “retweeting”. When I have the time I will be visiting the blogs of all those who posted to the announcement praising it. Who knows I may find some content that’s worth reblogging – SNORT!

  6. The replies by WordPress admin to comments in their announcement post are almost worse than the feature itself. Instead of conceding a simple oversight, they have dug in their heels to glibly maintain that we don’t know what is good for us. Well, it might be getting time to walk, though, as WordPress knows, that takes time. Sigh.

  7. Sorry for the delay in replying to you all, sleep got in the way.

    It does feel like WordPress.com may be going in the direction of a social networking site, or a site with elements of social networking. I had a Vox site for a very short time and switched to WordPress.com because I wanted to blog, not be part of a virtual neighborhood. But, frankly, it’s not only Vox, it’s also Google with their troupe of products to give, borrowing a phrase from AA, a “holistic” approach to users. Perhaps users will be attracted to WordPress.com for exactly that reason.

    But that’s not what this post is about. It is about how WordPress.com should have addressed its current customer base and its perceived needs and a real failure to do so.

    I believe that we expect WordPress.com to behave differently than Vox or Google exactly because WordPress is so much a part of the open source movement. The close ties between WordPress and WordPress.com (the same people being involved in both) gives one to believe, perhaps falsely, that there is more receptiveness to user input, especially long-term users (my suggestion for a Theme forum having been adopted as an example). The answers given by Staff in both the announcement about Reblog and the Forums are indicative of a disconnect. WordPress.com is a product whose future we users neither know nor can influence. Where it gets prickly is when we believe we can.

    In an interview that Matt did on the Future of WordPress (which you can view here) he states that he sees the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress as the difference between renting an apartment and owning your own home. It’s a very apt description. To take it one step further, maybe when the landlord makes significant changes to the apartment where we live, ignoring long-term renters opinions, maybe it is time to move on.

    • Jennifer, very good analogy and thanks for providing the link to Matt’s interview (will read with convenience). I guess lots of people will have a second thought on renting under the guise of partial-ownership. I run a semi-successful blog under other user name and the future of WP.com as a social-networking platform without a choice, is a big concern. I have my own specific reasons to not get a domain name and the self-hosted setup for that blog, so WP.com scenario has been a perfect fit for me for all these years, but this new and unfortunate episode has now made me wonder, for how long.

      • “this new and unfortunate episode has now made me wonder, for how long.”

        If I had a penny for everytime I’ve seen someone say that over the years to then remain on wp.com regardless, I’d be rich now. Well, I’d be able to buy a coffee at least!

        • Well, no kidding. Some people are heavily invested here as a renter, so moving on is not easy, in fact, sometime it is impossible.

      • @AA In light of the ToS and continuing Matt’s (not my) renter vs owner analogy, to me this is like the landlord deciding to show your apartment at all hours of the day and night. Technically they may be within their rights to do so, but whether they choose to exercise that right is another matter.

        Since (non-paying) customer opinion doesn’t hold much weight, it would seem that the only backdrop to changing this reconfigured “Press It” utility will be a lawsuit from the paying customers. Meantime, at this end of the pool, it’s all a tempest in a teacup.

  8. I am in agreement with your comment. It’s common these days for corporations to “improve” their products (taking an excellent product & making it mediocre). Leave what is an Excellent Product alone!! Don’t try to be like everyone else!! I say the same thing about America.

    • My apologies merillion, your comment was overlooked in the onslaught. IMHO there are still more pluses than minuses here, especially for people who would find the technical end of self-hosted WordPress daunting. Regardless, this newest so-called “plus” rocks the very core of content ownership. We are told we own the copyright to our content, but yet we have no say in how it is redistributed.

  9. Pingback: Do Really ALL of us want to Reblog ? | Phoxis

  10. Thank you to everyone who has commented or pinged back to this post.

    Over the past few days I’ve thought again and again about why the copyright issue of Like/Reblog hasn’t been addressed. Here’s why:

    By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog.

    Effectively this means that if you’ve signed up to blog on WP.com, you’ve signed away your right to control the redistribution of your content, copyright notice prominently placed on your blog or not.

    Still, doesn’t make the Like/Reblog pill taste any better.

    Updated June 11 to note the discussion on wordpress tips on reblogging and countermeasures.

    • Ron, that hasn’t changed at all. Your blog is still your property. But when we all signed up to use WordPress.com, we agreed that our content could be used for the purpose of promoting our blogs on WordPress.com. (Otherwise, there’d also be no tag/category pages either.) This Like/Reblog utility can only be used on WP.com by WP.com users.

  11. Pingback: Reblogging, and countermeasures… « wordpress tips

  12. This issue is interesting because it speaks to the problems that digital content has spawned. The people who posted are emblematic of thoughtful content developers (sorry to patronize). I would inject a few thoughts as I read through the discussion:

    – In many cases, fair use contains a commercial aspect. That’s why education got away with cribbing so much stuff (no profit motive). This has been changed (by the courts) to some extent. But I raise it because someone might say they reblogged but there were no commercial consequences. I realize with traffic and readers being the new lingua franca, this is not true. But it has been a defense.

    - AA and others who argue that their content is private are probably correct. But think for a moment how we all “reblogged” articles, links summaries, and quotes of traditional media on the web. Sure we attribute and link, but traditional media often cried foul to no avail. Now they are dying. This is a greater issue than whether WP adds an opt-out feature (which they definitely should). Attribution and linking need to be cultural and the reblog feature makes it too easy to avoid this.

    - From my perspective, the free account users are the only ones who WP has a commercial argument for some control. People may not like that argument, but if you do not pay for a service what kind of rights do you have with the company? I made the same argument for FB with their privacy changes. Not in favor of it…but cannot fault a company for leveraging user content when it gives things for free.

    - The sheer penetration of WP is problematic. I noticed no one said “the market will take care of it…” like people often say when companies don’t listen to customers. I’m a free market person, but the hassle and cost (as someone notes) of switching is often not worth it. That doesn’t make WP’s decision fair.

    - Rent vs. Own, in my view, is a poor metaphor for digital content. Great for houses and even web apps. But we’re talking about content. I don’t own physical publications where my work is published, but it is still protected.

    WP should be reading your blog, Jen. Then they’d know how people feel…and maybe they could reblog it to their intranet :)

    • Joel, I appreciate your taking the time to come by and post your thoughts here. However, and with all due respect, you are late to the discussion and apparently have not fully delved into the subject matter.

      I regret that I do not have the time to reply point by point, but I will pick up on a couple of points you mention:

      “The Market will take care of it”. What “Market” are you referring to? According to the numbers bandied about, there are now 11+ million bloggers on WordPress.com, the majority of whom do not seem to have issues with this “reblog” function. If 250,000 people woke up tomorrow and decided to leave this service, it may cause a small ripple in the Force, but nothing that would particularly upset the Empire, so don’t hold your breath.

      Rent vs Own has nothing to do with digital *content*. This specifically refers to blogging on hosted WordPress.com vs using the WordPress software to power your self-hosted blog. As Renters here on WP.com, we can paint the walls, hammer holes in the wall and even change the tile in the bathroom; nearly everything but change the structure of the building.

      Bonus point: Read the ToS I mention above. When we signed up to blog on WordPress.COM, we signed away our right to control how our work is republished, but only exclusively within the confines of WordPress.com. It’s what drives the WordPress.com Category/Tag pages as well.

      If you are really interested in understanding the full scope of this topic, and why it is now a “non-issue” as far as I’m concerned, I suggest you read the posts/discussions I’ve linked to, as well as the links in the comments and the forum posts on the topic. Believe me, the PTB know very well how people feel.

      Cheers!

    • I would go ahead and agree with the spirit of your comment, but on few points here:

      – AA and others who argue that their content is private are probably correct.

      I am not suggesting that my content is private because I think if my content was private, than I would have made my blog private. My contention is that I might bring my own perspective to the borrowed content, which would then be my exclusive take and would require my permission for anyone to reblog. Generally, there are two types of content: 1) The content you produce, 2) The content you borrow (links, excerpts, etc). I would argue that there is a third kind, the content which is a hybrid of exclusive and borrowed content with a personalized take. I think Reblog is problematic for the 1st and the 3rd type of above defined content. Besides, we should also identify the type of borrowers. There are splog/spammers who blog for marketing/profiting, and then there are genuine people who blog for conversations, fun, or whatever else that doesn’t fit into the marketing/spamming category.

      People seem to think that if you don’t let others borrow your content, you’d be left out or something. To me, that’s not the point. The point is the availability of choice. If my content falls under the 1st and 3rd category as mentioned above, than I should have a control to decide whether I want anyone to borrow or not. Ma.tt has basically decided to flatland the whole scenario by excluding the choice out of this picture.

      –but if you do not pay for a service what kind of rights do you have with the company?

      I also disagree with you here a bit. I do not think serious and long standing platforms like WP, Blogger, TypePad are free in traditional sense. There’s a lot here which is not free. There are paid upgrades here. Again, it depends on the seriousness of the intent of the blogger. I am quiet sure that if I am a serious blogger, I would be paying Blogger to get the custom domain (expense) and TypPad for the professional hosting, etc. Beside, I don’t think that the point of running a free blog excludes us from getting our basic rights of control. If WP started with the premise that just because we’re providing free blogs we will not give you much control, than I think they wouldn’t have gone far.

      Overall, WP has a good history of providing lots of features and control. I think the reason they are not providing opt-out for Reblog is because they wish to evolve blogging into micro-blogging/social-networking. If they provide opt-out, than their experiment with micro-blogging/social-networking would not work very well. I see no problem if that’s where they wish to go (I don’t work for them so I can’t influence) but another problem is that there is so little that is forthcoming from their vision for this feature. Nobody seems to know or telling why this feature was released and what exactly does it do besides let you copy posts. What does it mean when I like a blog post, etc, etc.

    • Rereading my comments, I apologize if I’ve come across here as brusque. It was the outcome of wanting to post a timely reply to you and running to enjoy a post-work cold beer and amazing Med sunset with my spouse. :)

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