By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 22, 2008

Filed under: Links 19 comments

This irritates me. It’s a service called fav.or.it. It’s a feed aggregator thing that lets you interact with a website – including adding comments – without actually visiting the site. It sort of acts as a front end for all the blogs you read. From their site description:

Full cycle feed reading. We aggregate – you read and reply all without leaving our site.

Here is the problem I have with it:

I don’t mind when individual people read my site without seeing my ads. Some use Firefox’s ad blocker. Some just read the RSS feed without visiting. That’s fine. If you stop by and look at the ads and click on them when you see a game that appeals to you – I see that as a gratuity. It’s a way of leaving a tip and thanking me for whatever efforts I make here. And it wouldn’t be a gratuity if it wasn’t optional. You’ve got every right to block or ignore ads. I try to keep them out of the way so they are there if you’re interested, but not so they’ll get in your way if you’re not.

But what bugs me about fav.or.it is that they are attempting to, in essence, poach my content. You sit at their site and see their ads alongside my writing. Not leaving a tip is one thing. Swiping someone else’s tip is quite another. And having a company swipe a tip from an individual is just low.

You never know how things will go with new ideas like this. This site will probably come and go without a second look from anyone. But sites like this might be the new MySpace. It’s hard to tell. Maybe there are other sites out there that are doing this already and I just don’t know about them. If this sort of thing became really popular, then bloggers would be forced to stick ads in with their content instead of off to the side if they wanted their readers to see them.

I’m not sure if it would irritate me enough to block fav.or.it from accessing my site. I suppose it would depend on how useful the thing was and how many people participated. Would people really use this? It seems like it would be boring to surf the web via a single site. Everything would look the same. Sites would lose their personality because you wouldn’t be able to see their layout or their theme. On the other hand, something like this could be nice when reading one of those sites which are smothered in ads. Fav.or.it would strip it down to the bare content and spare you the visual clutter.

But my opinion on the thing doesn’t really matter in the long run. I’m a content producer, and in the end the net is ruled by content consumers. If the masses decided they wanted to read the net this way, writers would be obliged to put up with it or go without readers. You can always IP ban fav.or.it and its kind, but if that’s where your readership comes from you’d just be cutting off your own legs.

Anyway, I’m not crazy about it.

EDIT: To be clear, this is more than just a “feed” reader. For this to work, it has to bypass the feed and lift the content directly from the site. (Otherwise you couldn’t comment.)


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19 thoughts on “Fav.or.it?

  1. Hans says:

    I think that’s a good way of looking at ads on a site like yours. It doesn’t cost me anything to click through to your ads and it helps you. I like the ‘tip’ metaphor.

    How is this service different from google reader though? That’s how i read your blog. You don’t allow full feeds, just partial feeds which works fine for me – I read the first few lines and if i have time and it looks interesting then I click through to the site and read the rest.

    Just curious – I wouldn’t have time to read this site if it weren’t for some form of feed aggregation.

    Great site btw – I started reading somewhere in the middle of DMotR and still follow along. Thanks!

  2. Stephen says:

    I used to read blogs through an aggregator, but it was a very steril way of reading. I have switched to using Google Reader to keep track of all the blogs I read. Whats great about it is you can add a button to your toolbar that takes you to the next unread blog posting, at the actual site, so I don’t visit blogs that don’t have new posts, and I do get to see the blog posts as the author intended (complete with ads, which I don’t have a problem with as long as they don’t make the blog harder to read!)

  3. wererogue says:

    You can’t really “read the RSS feed without visiting”, as entries are truncated.

    What you could do, with google reader and “better greader” or a similar setup is read the page in your RSS reader – which will display the ads. Looking at the tech video on the fav.or.it site, it looks like the entries would still be truncated – without crawling your site (a la dapper.net), there wouldn’t be a way to expand that content just from the feed. I haven’t tested it, but that means that really, to read the full article, people would still have to view your site.

    I’ve submitted my interest, so if/when I get to try it out, I’ll let you know whether I’m right about that.

  4. Phlux says:

    I also recently started using Google reader, but I don’t really use the full application, just the widget that plugs into my iGoogle homepage. That way I can see if any of the sites I read have updates, and then I use the widget to go straight to their page.

    I would never use a site that aggregated other peoples’ content onto one page for the reasons you described. It would be boring. Google reader is just a way for me to skip the part I didn’t like: manually checking each website to see if anything new has been posted.

  5. Henebry says:

    If they are taking your content wholesale, isn’t that a violation of copyright? Not that you’re eager to go to law, but I’d have thought that their lawyers would have warned them off of doing something that leaves them open to lawsuits.

  6. yd says:

    I just turned adblock off for your site, and the two ads that came up are flash based – so flashblock got them instead. :-/ [Edit: It looks like they aren’t all flash… As long as they don’t get annoying, I’ll keep them on. I do click ads from time to time if they really are interesting to me.]

  7. ChattyDm says:

    A trick you can use Shamus is to use the Read More option in WordPress. I try to do it at around the 100 word mark, mostly to keep the blog’s main page less than a Mile long with my 1500 words daily ramblings .

    Maybe this would defeat the ad swiping.

  8. Primogenitor says:

    I wonder if things like this could be exploited by having adverts in the RSS / comments itself. Sure, its obnoxious and I wouldnt recommend it, but, it is an option…

  9. Binks says:

    This sounds like a huge violation of copyright law. If they’re making money off your content then they are pretty much in clear violation of the law, no way you can defend that as Fair Use requires it to be non-commercial.

    Personally I’ve always used RSS as a notifier, a little thing saying ‘Hey! Site was updated! Check it out!’ so I don’t have to visit constantly. A lot of people seem to want to be able to read from a site without visiting, which I really don’t understand…the content is usually presented in a clearer format on the site so why read it in an RSS?

  10. Dirty Dan says:

    Blasted Italian non-profit organizations getting away with figurative murder. Oh well, at least you’ve convinced me to start clicking your ads even if I don’t care about their content.

  11. McNutcase says:

    I dislike the idea of that. It’s no better than scraping a comic, to my mind – which is generally counteracted by using a disgusting picture and/or one that states the scraper is a thieving barsteward – but how one could do that with text, I’m not sure. Perhaps hidden content might work…

  12. Locri says:

    I’m not sure if I’d rush to judgment on this one yet… it looks like it’s using a combination of RSS feeds rather than scrapping the site itself. A lot of blogs now have RSS feeds for their comments section as well, which would explain how the comment section works to a certain extent.

    I think actually scrapping a site takes a lot more effort to put into a nice format than just using RSS does, so I can’t imagine a place really wanting to do that. I’ve signed up for the beta and if I am able to test it I’ll let you know exactly what it’s doing with content as best as I’m able to tell.

  13. The DM says:

    I do agree – the fav.or.it ads annoy the heck out of me, too. I’ve been where you are, but here’s what I’ve realized:

    Fav.or.it, on balance, is going to add readers. Not as quality readers (in terms of hitting the site and viewing ads, etc) as Stumble or Digg, but readers nevertheless. At some point, those fav.or.it readers are bound to visit the live site, especially if I’m referring to older posts in my blog.

    How many quality readers (again, in terms of revenue) will switch from viewing the site to using fav.or.it is the real question. If a bunch of regular readers are switching, then the net effect is a negative one. I’ve not seen that happen yet, but I’m also dealing with a much smaller reader base than you are.

    An article at techcrunch last October suggested that fav.or.it could be a “Digg Killer.” Now, I don’t see it happening; in fact, the market for social bookmarks, whether it is digg or wherever, seems to only be increasing. There’s no mass exodus, at least not yet. And I’m not thinking there will be, either.

    So, I’ve decided to allow fav.or.it, albeit begrudgingly, recognizing that it is probably the worst way for readers to get my info, but that it still provides a (small) net gain.

  14. Matt` says:

    I use an RSS reader but have it set to load the full page :mrgreen:

    Some comic sites annoyingly put just a link to the comic in the RSS feed instead of the actual picture, it’s easier to just load everything and get what I want with one click. Plus it avoids the issue of everything being boring-looking.

  15. Cadamar says:

    It looks like Fav.or.it is simply an RSS feed reader with some sort of additional metric and response tools. I’m not sure how they can do the response part unless it is only for Blogs hosted by fav.or.it.
    To think that they could come up with a way of screen-scraping any arbitrary blog and automatically determine how to submit comments to it is obsurd. Spammers have been trying to do that for years. Any automated comment system that they could come up with would be as easily defeated as spammers.
    The copyright notice on Fav.or.it is by Assembleron Ltd which claims to be based out of the University of Reading in England. I don’t see any actual ads on Fav.or.it either. The ads I do see are only on their instructional video host site which looks like a 3rd party.
    This could just be a Univeristy level communication research project.
    Ah! Yes, here it is: http://blog.fav.or.it/2008/01/07/favorit-api-the-future-of-comment-distribution/
    The blog author must implement their API in order for people to be able to automatically comment.

  16. Stephen says:

    Hey Shamus, first time poster, long-time reader.

    I specifically unblocked your ads (and your ads alone, out of all the internet,) in order to give something back to you for all the content I’ve enjoyed from you. (You got me back into both D&D AND webcomics, thanks to DMOTR.) I use Firefox’s Live Bookmarks to keep up with your site, btw.

  17. Heckie says:

    If nothing else, Ban the Fav.or.it shmucks with a witty message, much like Maddox tended to do like here for Websense:


    Yes yes, I know it’s a bit much, but you best step on problems early before they get out of hand, an ounce of prevention beating a pound of cure and all that.

  18. Technically, with the exception of commenting functionality, this site won’t be doing anything that sites like iGoogle don’t already do. As for commenting, it simply won’t work. Unless they try to go down the long list of wordpress captcha plugins and write hacks for each one, every remotely spam-proof blog will also be fav.or.it proof, and even if they do support them, they will have to annoy their users by relaying the captchas. I don’t think it’s feasible. My blog, for example, has a text question of the form “How do you spell ____”, where you can just click and drag right into the textbox, and yet only spambots specifically designed for that question would actually be able to spam me. Same goes for fav.or.it, so at least you can take comfort in knowing that (except for hosted blogs like Blogger) it won’t work.

    About your ads, I unblocked them, saw that they were flash, and blocked them again. I am absolutely in favor of ad-supported content, but a page with flash ads uses up as much ram as 30 pages without and infinitely more CPU time, and I will not tolerate websites that care more about the capabilities of active content to track visitors more than they care about the visitors themselves. If you had text ads or (non-blinking) image ads, you can bet that I’d be clicking them.

  19. quadir says:

    The aggragator comment is always an iffy topic.

    Many gaming news sites for example will copy+paste and “quote” the important information on another site, credit it, but have their own comment system for the item, and effectively make it pointless to go to the originator. Blogs are a bit different, but the concept is similar.

    If the /. summary means that nobody needs to read your article, and they just talk in the /. comments and just use the /. ads, has /. stolen your content?

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