An Open Letter to Jim, Joel, Rod all other Bibliobloggers pertaining to the Biblioblog Reference Library,
Today I have been made aware of a number of concerns pertaining to the Biblioblog Reference Library. Most of them I feel are either simple misunderstandings or things that are changing in the next week when the Library goes into “Beta 2″; however, please allow me to take a moment to address each of the major concerns in turn.
I started the Biblioblog Reference Library in April of this year as a good faith effort to try and pull together people who publicly share their thoughts and research in Biblical Studies and allow readers to discover new or common interests and take part in the greater Biblioblogging community. It was originally built upon a WordPress install using a combination of plugins (both public and custom), and received a large amount of praise from all over the Biblioblogosphere (and off it) due to the ability to read through Biblical Studies blogs all in one place. This was a project meant to make things easier for people, and link conversations together to tackle emerging issues and encourage dialog, and that has been the entire thrust of the project from its conception to the present.
That the Library is “hijacking content” or “violating copyright” is a simple misunderstanding.
Under the law, feeds and other public webpages are subject to an Implied License under Fair Use Doctrine that allows for their archival and indexing in good faith. This is how nearly every search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) and archival system (such as Archive.org) can operate freely without having to obtain permissions for each and every file they scan and index. Problems with illegality tend to crop up when issues such as plagiarism (not citing sources), trademark/dress infringement (impersonating another website or company), or unscrupulous commercial interests (such as “site scraping”; tailoring scraped content to influence Google rankings) come into play, all of which I’m trying to staunchly avoid.
One element of keeping the Implied License in Good Faith is to have some means for owners of content to opt out and have their contributions either hidden or removed entirely. This means was explicitly stated on the “Contact the Librarian” page, and since April, I have received a grand total of 3 requests (including Jim’s) to have blogs removed from the system. This is in contrast to nearly 20 requests for additions that are still pending in queue during the transition.
Let me be unambiguously clear: If I thought that this endeavor was a flagrant violation of copyrights or was illegal, I would have never undertaken it in the first place.
The Library “Takes Away Hits”
This is also another partial misunderstanding, partial change that is soon to take place. The net effect on hits for nearly 90% of all blogs listed has been small, but positive. To explain:
Content from blogs on the Library is displayed in three places:
- a) On the main page view (which is identical to the search results view),
- b) In individual page mode with an iframe navigation bar at the bottom that allows readers to move from page to page (thereby enabling one to read the entire feed, or their query, as one large blog) and
- c) The feed (which will mirrors (a) above).
It is correct that any data listed on the Main Page and in the Search Results view will not directly generate a “hit” to its parent site unless a reader clicks through. In Beta 2 the main page view only displays snippets, not full articles and will hi-light search terms in context. The reason this was not the case in the first Beta is that WordPress’ summary function was clunky and tended to slow things down. This is no longer a problem with the new software, which I have complete control over.
There will also be a means for authors to change the size of the snippets to suit their preferences, where the default length (for both posts *and* comments) will be roughly 200 words.
On the individual page view, no content that is displayed (other than the navigation bar) is from the Reference Library servers. The content is loaded directly from the author’s site to the user’s browser via an iframe, which not only generates a “hit”, but also registers with Alexa, Google, and other search services as an incoming link, thereby *boosting* page rankings.
As of late, roughly 75% of all traffic is in Individual Page mode (with the monthly exception of what seems to be a single individual reading through the entire month’s feeds in search view, right before the monthly Carnival is published ;-) ).
In short: No stolen traffic there, and there’s an incoming link benefit.
If you have a system like Google Analytics, you can even track the traffic coming in from the Library, as it is listed as the referring address.
Where Things Go From Here
Now, in Beta 2 the navigation bar has been completely redone so that there is a more obvious means to remove it and go directly to the page in question, as well as direct access to the archived copies stored on the Reference Library server (think: exactly like Archive.org).
The archives and all query pages except the main page are all marked no-index, so the archived copies or snippets displayed on Library search results will not show up on search engines.
In the next week’s time, the old Beta is going to be depreciated and completely taken down and the Library is moving to a new web address with the brand new software. Where I was hoping to unveil it in its completion, I suppose that now might be the time to get everyone’s input and see if any criticisms are inadequately addressed.
The new site is:
Even though this is not “officially” released and is very much incomplete, please (no, seriously *please*) tell me what you think and what can be done to make this something everyone can enjoy.
Biblioblogging is a group effort and I don’t want that to change anytime soon, which is why I formally request anyone who is contemplating removing their blog (or Jim, who already has) to reconsider.
-Steve Caruso, MLIS
a.k.a. “The Reference Librarian”