A principle: I have a right to know when I am read

How about this as a fundamental principle of content and conversation on the internet:

I have a right to know when what I create is read, heard, viewed, or used if I wish to know that.

That is my followup to the whine about RSS — and content — caching below.

If this simple principle were built into applications — not the internet, per se, but in how readers and viewers work — then caching and P2P, which both serve creators by reducing bandwidth demand, would not be issues. This also would help those who want to make use of advertising (though actually serving ads is a different matter).

I’d like to see this as a technical add-on to Creative Commons: Distribute my content freely, please, on the condition that you allow applications to report traffic back to me. And applications designers should build such reporting in. The creator is still free not to require this and the end user is still free not to consume those things that require ping-backs. But simple traffic reporting is at least common courtesy.

I’d like to see this work for RSS, HTML, audio, and video.

: ALSO: Scoble, Winer.

: LATER: Just want to emphasize that My Yahoo will provide the data. It is not now because something broke in an upgrade but two Yahoo folks have confirmed that they will continue to play nice, for which I am grateful.

: LATER STILL: Matt Cutts of Google says he will mention this to the guys at Google Reader and believes there’s no reason not to build it into a next version of that new product. Bravo again.

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  • I guess this isn’t really a counterpoint, but rather just a different description of the same elephant: You have the absolute right, both legally and morally, to decide who gets to republish your work and who doesn’t. If you had some mechanism by which to exclude certain middlemen from caching your content — I’m looking at you, Google — you’d have leverage to encourage those middlemen to cache your content only on your terms. In your case, those terms would presumably include the provision of distribution data. In my case, I’d probably just prohibit caching altogether. But at the moment, we’re both out of luck.

    Right now, you either provide a feed and let the whole world republish it, possibly with changes, or you simply don’t provide a feed. I agree with you that it would be great if we had a technological option, by means of a protocol for instance, of preventing cache-and-republish behavior.

    Let’s not drag Creative Commons into this, though, huh? This issue is really incredibly simple, and covered perfectly under existing copyright laws. There is no reason to muddy the water in my opinion.

  • PunditDrome.com picks up your site and abstracts the latest five articles. If you check your Sitemeter stats, you can see the traffic that my site brings you, because the referring page is shown. Also, the links to your site boost your Google ranking a bit.

  • The right?

    Does a book author find out every time his book is read, or re-read or given to a friend or used in a library?

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  • daudder

    If your material is used, yes, but read? What about understood? Comprehended? Transformed? One assumption in blogging is that your are putting out your ideas to the public, not to anyone specifically. So you don;t get to know whether I read, understood, comprehended or moved on without further thought.

  • The library can’t copy my book thousands of times without dealing with me, no. The analogies fall apart quickly and it’s my fault for using them.
    The point is still simple: It’s easy for them to report this data and there is no reason they should not. Such feedback is what keeps the web alive. When people create choke points where they refuse to shsare information, the web withers.

  • As a fledgling writer of highly technical subject matter converted in a way so that anybody may understand, I think it’s a fair exchange of information for information. I will write a piece that is information you can use in exchange for information that you at least viewed it. What’s wrong with a fair trade? Freebie for Freebie?

    As an author, feedback is important. Without feedback we can easily fall into the trap of becoming a legend in our own mind. In print media, we often judge our work by being published or being paid, and often “How much?” is erroneously used as a measurement. When there is clarity of thought in relevent information the reader can understand and use, that is when I think I have done my job well.

    While others may have questions about whether the piece was actually read, comprehended, or how would the reader rate the piece, that could be addressed by a few radio buttons at the bottom of the article.

    I believe that it’s only the natural evolution of things for authors to receive accurate feedback on their work. It’s a much more accurate guage of quality (or the lack thereof) than merely being published in the print media or receiving a check.

  • Say you’re not writing in this blog, but for the print edition of Time Magazine. You could see your circulation via subscription and could track what retail outlets (eg Barns and Noble) sold your material… but, you’d never be able to track the second layer down (eg woman who reads your article in the copy sitting in the dentist’s office, the scores of people who read your piece in the B&N cafe but don’t buy). No matter what your medium (radio, podcast, blog, writing on the bathroom wall), you’ll never know who all of your readers are and what they’re doing with your material.

  • >Such feedback is what keeps the web alive.

    No it isn’t. I don’t know what Web you’ve been using but it isn’t the same one that a lot of have been using for over a decade. No one in the world knows how many readers their website actually has because of caching. I don’t see why RSS feeds will suddenly change that.

    The fact that some services have found ways to provide you that data is a courtesy not a right.

    Full response at http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=a8ea30d0-157a-4b26-8a63-f34d1a3d8be8

  • Andy Freeman

    > It’s easy for them to report this data

    Really? How do they know how many time I re-mailed it? How do they know whether I reprinted it in my church weekly?

  • It’s my reasoning that just because a thermometer sitting in an insulated mug won’t give you an accurate room temperature, it would be a good indicator of whether it’s hot or cold. It’s certainly no reason to toss the thermometer out because it’s been dismissed as being inaccurate.

    How many times in a person’s lifetime have they driven a vehicle with an inaccurate speedometer? Although not totally accurate it somehow doesn’t take long to figure out how to use it to gauge your speed.

    When it comes to readership, it is my assertion that it’s not so much the absolute number having to be totally accurate as it is it’s relative position to other known works. I think it would be more important to standardize the reporting method for comparative purposes than it would be to look at the actual numbers themselves.

  • Andy Freeman

    > It’s certainly no reason to toss the thermometer out because it’s been dismissed as being inaccurate.

    Since the proposed “right” is to accurate information, that’s irrelevant. The argument is that it’s “easy” so clearly any errors are evidence of malice.

    This proposal is yet another “I want a pony”. I’m sure you do and that you’ve both convinced yourself that you need one AND that one can be easily provided, but ….

  • If you allow everything in full to be republished, then that would be a reasonable expectation.

    But, RSS readers rarely display the entire stories because RSS feeds don’t include all the story. Often it’s just the headline and a brief description. So, those who click-through and read would register in your system anyhow. So, problem solved.

  • Fishbane

    I just have to echo Dare Obasanjo. Your simple principle is not how the technology has ever been designed to work.

    Further, I see a lot of unintended consequences of your simple principle. Should Sony know every time you play a CD? Seems like a lot of people were rather upset about that recently (true, a lot of the uproar was the security side of the incompetence, but plenty of us out here were shocked that it phoned home every time it played). How about DVDs? Take this further: do producers of other product get to know every time their product is used? I suspect car owners might have some issue with that, even though it is now technically easy to do.

  • I agree with your principle. You do have the right to know when what you create is read, heard, viewed, or used if you wish to know that.

    If that is what you wish, then I would advise against putting your content in a standardized, open syndication format such as RSS and then putting a link to that file at the top of your page. When you do that you’re offering your content to the world and people and companies will use it for a multitude of purposes. All of those purposes will have different metrics that are trackable and you will not be interested in most of them.

    Perhaps instead, you could develop a new syndication technology which provides you with all the tracking and other features that you want. Then all you have to do is get the aggregators to support your new syndication format. From what you describe though, I think your best bet would be to stick with HTML and not syndicate.

  • Gray

    I just saw this when I scrolled down looking for your Juan Cole post:
    “I have a right to know when what I create is read, heard, viewed, or used if I wish to know that.”
    I suspect that you not only want to know when and if your content is viewed, but also some information by whom, right? This may sound nice for you as an author, but from the viewpoint of the readers, this is pure big brother. What is your argument for demanding more rights than a newspaper journalist or a book author? And what about my intellectual rights as a commenter?

    Sry, but this whole ‘principle’ doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, but like the brainchild of someone who is too obsessed with control issues.

  • Oh c’mon Jeff. This whole blogging platform is merely a way of getting your voice out to a larger audience. Sure we’d all like to know EXACTLY how many people actually subscribe to our blogs, but if that’s the whole point of writing, maybe its time to move on to more productive things. Just because someone subscribes, doesn’t necessarily mean they read (or at least read with any impact).

    Here’s the thing: when we get more hung up on the metrics than we do on the meaning of our words, then the whole activity loses its value. That’s why I cringe at the whole notion of generating a profit through blogging. Not that making money through the effort is bad, but economics can obscure the power of connecting people and ideas. This is what a blog can do that a newspaper or book simply cannot.

    Take this simple observation for what it is…

  • Why does the fact that you’re writing on a blog dictate you have a right to know how many readers you have?

    If I buy a newspaper and leave it in the bathroom stall at the office, any number of people can come by and read it. The publisher has no right to know who they are or how many have read it.

    If I have a TV in my home and I have a party, the show producers nor the cable company have an entitlement to know who I invited or how many people I let watch my TV.

    Whether I drive alone in my car and listen to the radio or have three other passengers, the radio station or its content producers aren’t entitled to know.

    I can volunteer the information in the form of surveys, sample-based metrics, and other opt-in forms. But, there’s no entitlement.

    Just because it’s a blog doesn’t implicitly create this entitlement.

    Licensing restrictions might. But, then, wider distribution is better, and if you start restricting how your content gets distributed, you’ll be cutting your own nose off to spite your face.

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