Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Flipboard: it is time to answer for your crimes

13th September, 2010

That’s it, I’m fed up - I’m calling out Flipboard for blatantly disregarding ownership of content, costing me money without providing a return, and reducing my advertising revenues.

Now don’t get me wrong, I only make a few quid out of my website, so this is not a massive problem to me (let’s face it, I have a job); but scale this up and it basically turns into robbery. It’s what got Google in a big stack of lawsuits over Google News, and just because you’ve got some “cool app” for the iPad doesn’t mean you can just go treading on people’s rights and doing what you please.

Some background. Yesterday I was browsing one of the Twitter lists I have on Flipboard which happened to include me (the TweetMeme Team one, in fact) and I noticed my most recent blog post turn up in it. The whole post. As in the entire text, from start to finish (even the links at the bottom but with the links around it removed). This disturbed me, as I know for a fact that my RSS feed is set to syndicate only the first few sentences (you can see for yourself in fact).

As they had retrieved the link to my post from a tweet, the only way they could have got that content was by scraping the page. This takes up my server resources (as it thinks it is rendering a page to the user) without actually earning me any ad dollars - all of the ads (and all of my styling too) is stripped out by their page scraper. So that’s cost number one they’ve put upon me.

Number two, by publishing the whole article, they have stopped someone getting a taste for the article and going through to my site to read the rest, and get served some ads along side, and maybe even go read some other posts and see some more ads.

One final nail in the coffin - Flipboard don’t publish their useragent or any distinguishing part of their user agent so that people can block it if they so wish. I don’t know if it obeys a robots.txt file, although I won’t believe that it does until proven otherwise. I had to go dig up the useragent they use and eventually found it thanks to this site.

I’ve explained in the past on Buzz why I currently don’t syndicate entire posts to RSS or permit it outside very strictly controlled criteria, so I won’t go into that. All I ask is that Flipboard obey the conventions and standards of the web, respect people’s properties and livelihoods, and get out of the mentality that they can just take what they like without permission. Even if their app is free to use, I still find the costs they incur to me inexcusable.