I remember way back before the Internet when I got most of my daily news via the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN. If it wasn’t reported by either of those outlets, there was a good chance I wouldn’t hear that news at all.
Those days are over.
The problem is that most of the people running legacy news sites today are way older than I am, and still can’t get their arms around the fact that the world has fundamentally and irreversibly changed. Today I get my non tech news via scores of sources. I’m led there via social sites like Twitter and Facebook, and from aggregators like Google News and Memeorandum. Most of my tech news comes, of course, via my phone and email inbox.
It’s ok that the legacy guys don’t understand that, because when they erect paywalls it just stokes TechCrunch, which isn’t behind a paywall. Live and let live, I say. Far be it from me to talk them off the ledge. Paywalls kill social links and aggregators unless they are specially designed to allow them via a set number of free views. But even then there’s enough friction that most people won’t bother.
Outspoken billionaire cum provocateur Mark Cuban charged Google and other content aggregators Tuesday of being freeloaders — or worse. “The word that comes to mind is vampires,” he said. “When you think about vampires, they just suck on your blood.”
Telling the world that you don’t want them to do you the favor of visiting your site is just ridiculous.
Let me repeat that. When someone visits your site they are doing you a favor. Not the other way around.
And when an aggregator puts up a link to your site, they are doing you a favor by sending you traffic. Not the other way around.
As I’ve written before, “We throw a party when someone “steals” our content and links back to us. High fives all around the office. At least there’s some small nod in our direction.”
The real problem out there today for news sites are the guys that just take stories and rewrite them on the cheap without any links or attribution at all. When you erect a paywall, you’re just encouraging this behavior. It’s less anyone will notice.
But forget all that navel gazing for a minute while I jump back up to my first paragraph. Aggregators are popular because they help users find the news they’re interested in. They serve a very real purpose and add value to the system. Without aggregators and social links users would be forced to choose which news sites they want to pay for, and trust that they’ll get everything they need from those sites.
I don’t want to jump back to 1993. I want to live in the present where each piece of news lives and dies by its own merit as it spreads virally around the Internet. That means I spend less time finding better content.
Mark Cuban knows all this, and he agrees. Which is why I don’t understand his lash out against aggregators. If news sites block aggregators, as Cuban urges, they lose and the users lose. No one wins. Except the sites that remain free. And those sites are here to stay.