Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Steal this post!

As usual, at first there was nothing, then I sat down with some coffee for a few hours, and then there was something : a collection of words that might give you a good idea or teach you to do something. It wasn’t always brilliant, but I made it myself and I hoped you like it. As of today I’ve done this 250 times for my website.
When it’s done I click publish and set it free. Within a few seconds it’s in a thousand places. On a bench in Prospect Park, looking up from someone’s Android. Glowing on a white-blue iPad screen in a midwest dorm room. Waiting behind an envelope icon in some accountant’s Outlook, in Brisbane. Any stranger who finds it can beam it someone else a few minutes later, anywhere they want.
I like that this can happen. This is the future. It has never been easier to find the like-minded, to broadcast your personality, to click with a kindred mind in another city or on another continent, to find an audience for your creative thing you do. I love that I live now and not some other time.
As a consumer of creative works, it’s also easier than ever to find what you value, at least of the type that comes in the form of words, images, sounds, or anything else than can fit through a cable or shoot through the airwaves. Information is a boring word for it, but that’s what it is, and a lot of it has real value to us.
Today’s free flow of information also means it’s harder than ever to retain control of what you create. That seems like it would almost defeat the possibility of actually selling your work, given that anyone can find information on the web and have their way with it. People who create digital products today have to deal with an issue that the brick-and-mortar era never did. You can’t tie anything down, and everything you offer can be duplicated, by anyone, anywhere. You can’t lock up when you leave the shop at night. Once they’re on the internet, your wares are up for grabs.
It’s easier than ever to steal. You can lift someone else’s words, songs, pictures and tell people they are yours. Or, at least, you can neglect to tell people they aren’t yours.
I felt violated the first time this happened to me. Someone had taken an article of mine and pasted it onto a throwaway blog filled with lifted content, plastered with ads. There was no mention of me or Raptitude. I wouldn’t have known, except that there were links in the post that pointed to other posts in my archives. I saw traffic coming through them and found it that way. I don’t remember what I did. I think I left a snarky comment.
Now it happens a lot, and I don’t do anything about it. I don’t feel like I’m losing any ground to throwaway blogs just because they’re riding my content.
People reprint my stuff all the time, and most are courteous enough to ask permission, and give proper attribution. The other day though, I discovered a new low in content-ganking. Someone is ripping me off even more blatantly, in a way I haven’t seen before.
I found a link on Twitter pointing to my 88 Truths post. The tweet contained a few lines I’ve written, and a link to a suspicious URL – http://businessresourceideas.com/88-truths.
If you click that link, you’ll be taken to an exact copy of my site, except it’s under the businessresourceideas.com domain.
Once you click through, you read the article as normal. It looks just like Raptitude. My name and my picture. When you’re done, if you scroll up to the top (something people do when they either want to learn more about the site they’re on, or want to go somewhere else) a popup box appears, saying “Before you go, please take a look at this special offer.”
The only button to click is “OK” and even if you try to close the window by clicking the X in the corner, you are still taken to a sales page for some make-easy-money-online product.
Bloggers and other web people know that the limiting factor in any online business model is traffic. If you’re selling something, a certain percentage of the people who see your offer will buy. This percentage (called a conversion rate) is always very small, but no matter what it is, increasing the amount of traffic per month will increase the number of sales per month.
So once you have an offer on the table, all you need to make money is to get a consistent flow of eyeballs looking at it. Traffic is hard to get though. There are hundreds of millions of people using the internet daily, but there are also hundreds of millions of websites competing for their attention. To build an audience for your website, you need to be consistently offering something of value.
You can also buy traffic, by paying for ads. When you Google something, there are always a few prominent sponsored links that come up. These people are buying traffic — which is fair too, because they are offering something of value in order to get it. If they don’t have good content to offer in exchange for people’s attention, then at least they have money.
Or you can try to beat the system with trickery. There has always been a something-for-nothing crowd, and they never seem to be a happy or healthy bunch. Cheat gamblers, pyramid schemers, alchemists.
Our friend “Nathaniel” at businessresourceideas.com has a Twitter stream full of similar links. He finds an article that has gone viral — and therefore has demonstrated it has value — then puts the whole page up exactly as  he found it, only under his domain. When the popup window appears, the user is supposed to think it’s coming from the person who wrote the article they just enjoyed. So he is piggybacking not only the content created by others, but the trust of their readership.
We all want to receive value. In other words, we all want to get paid — whether it’s in money or accolades or attention. That’s why most of us have jobs. We offer value for a different kind of value. We make an arrangement with a business to sell some of our time and effort, in exchange for something else that is of value. This is a pretty universal expectation among human beings, that we know we have to give to get. No input without output.
There is a sad class of people out there who are determined to participate only on the receiving end. They aren’t prepared to offer anything of value to the outside world, hoping that somehow if they can just focus extra-hard on extracting value from the world around them, they’ll never have to supply any.
If you didn’t really think much about it, it might seem like minimizing giving while maximizing taking is a high-profit strategy. But I don’t think it works. This summer somebody did a thousand dollars’ damage to my car door just to steal the coins in the console. His overhead on the venture was probably zero but I don’t imagine he’s going to retire any time soon. I’d rather be the person getting robbed.
Obviously pretend-businessman Nathaniel doesn’t have my permission to do what he’s doing with my content. The whole thing doesn’t make me mad though. I thought about concealing the link to his version of my site, so that he doesn’t receive any more traffic other people earned for him. But I don’t mind sending him some traffic. He needs help. In fact, I want you to see it. Nathaniel’s pathetic scheme is what it looks like when you have nothing to give.
The odd person might buy the get-rich-quick product being linked to, and Nathaniel might make thirty dollars even though he didn’t create anything of value for others. I guess you could say he beat the system. I wonder how quickly he’s going to get rich.
He and other content thieves are no threat to the online creative community, because that community understands something he doesn’t. They create and they give, and so they will always be richer.