Since the death of Google Reader back in July, RSS feed aggregators like Feedly and NewsBlur have filled the void, working to replicate the features—and ethics—of Google’s service. Yesterday, somebody discovered that Feedly was linking in-feed sponsored content links back to its own site, sparking a backlash on Twitter. But was it intentional?
The story begins, as so many do, with a tweet to former lead Tumblr developer and Instapaper creator Marco Arment informing him that a sponsored link from his personal blog, when viewed on a Feedly reader, sourced the sponsor-funded click back to Feedly instead. Arment tweeted his dismay and a storm of anti-Feedly rage swarmed over Twitter. A little over an hour later, Feedly tweeted out a fix with a blog post explaining what was really happening.
Very basically, Feedly had responded to publisher requests this summer (when Google Reader died and Feedly absorbed publishers in need of professional tools) to track traffic generated by Feedly readers by adding a "utm_source" decoration to the title of articles which leads users from Feedly back to the publisher’s site.
But this messes with article titles linking back to sponsors who track referrals from blogs like Arment’s using the "utm_source" decoration. In Arment’s case, "https://app.io/?utm_source=Marco.org&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=blogpost" was autochanged by Feedly to "https://app.io/?utm_source=feedly". Instead, Feedly will slap a different decoration on the end of titles, "utm_reader=feedly", and have publishers switch over to tracking the utm_reader decoration. Which is great, but this change was made in the summer—meaning an untold amount of revenue from this kind of tracking is irretrievably lost.
This is the latest decision by Feedly to leave publishers pissed. Last Friday, an unannounced update switched articles shared from within a Feedly reader to redirect to a copy of the article hosted on a Feedly server. While that post updated within the day to note that Feedly had reversed its decision, it raised, for the millionth time, the specter of who-owns-what in the RSS game.
And it’s not going to stop. David Smith, creator of RSS reader Feed Wrangler, posted a manifesto of what ethics RSS readers should apply by—and he posted it yesterday, half a day before today’s Feedly brouhaha. It would be technically easy to scrape content, Smith says—it’s his choice to respect truncation and formatting choices of the publishers that counts."The value of a service like Feed Wrangler is entirely driven by the abundance of quality content that my customers can subscribe to," Smith said. "If I’m making choices that make it harder for writers to make a living I’m ultimately just shooting myself in the foot."