Friday, October 27, 2017

The content conundrum

There are some things on Facebook that can only be shared on Facebook, and the post above is an example of that. In this particular case, it’s sharing something created by someone else, someone who doesn’t license their content to be shared any other way. And that means that the only way to share it on this blog is by embedding the Facebook post, which is ironic considering that the cartoon is criticising the closed nature of Facebook.

Over the years I’ve frequently run across things that can’t be shared. Sometimes YouTube videos have embedding disallowed, thought that’s pretty rare. There also some sites that say they forbid linking to their site without express permission, which is a holdover form the earliest days of the Web in which people believed that someone linking to them implied an endorsement of whoever was linking to them. I’m not aware of any modern sites that are so silly, but there may be some.

But then there’s another barrier: The content has rights restrictions. Usually this means the content is under copyright, but with no permissions for reuse granted. The Facebook post included a cartoon that falls into that category.

The site for the cartoonist has a notice at the very bottom: “All artwork and content on this site is Copyright © 2016 Matthew Inman. Please don't steal.” Without any explicit permission, either on the site or from the artist, it’s not possible to re-publish a cartoon legally.

There are many ways to grant permission to republish while retaining copyright and other specific rights. Creative Commons is the most common thing used, and I use it for my own content. This blog has a disclaimer that says:
This blog is copyright. However, except as may be otherwise noted, content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand License.
That means that, subject to the terms of the Creative Commons license, someone can republish most, but not all, of the original content on this blog. But without such a license, no one could legally do so without getting my specific permission. A publisher once did that for a photo I posted on Flicr (I didn’t receive any payment for the reuse, by the way, just a photo credit).

So, the only way I could share an Oatmeal cartoon is to share it on Facebook and then embed that post here, or, I could probably embed the Oatmeal Facebook post directly, then use the text I wrote for a blog post here—all of which is far too complicated, particularly since the goal is “create once, publish everywhere”.

This is incredibly ironic because the cartoon is about how Facebook invited people to share content on Facebook, then started taking away the ability for people to promote their content—unless they pay to do so. I’m constantly seeing promotional messages from Facebook urging me to, to cite a recent example, “Boost this post for $7 to reach up to 1,200 people.” I’ve never paid, mostly because I don’t have a budget for that (among other reasons), and I also know that some people claim it doesn’t actually get them any/many more views if than if they didn’t pay.

So, the Oatmeal’s content was easily accessible on the website, but not reusable, while on Facebook it’s reusable, but unlikely to come to my attention. How on earth is that any better for the cartoonist?

This is part of a large and growing problem: Getting content seen on Facebook. Although more and more companies and people are using Facebook to publish original content, as I talked about last August, it’s getting harder and harder to get that content seen. I’ve seen some people complaining that when they shared a link to a blog post on some relevant groups they belonged to, they were temporarily suspended by Facebook for “spamming”. Which means that buying ads is at least sometimes the only way that Facebook allows people to promote their own content.

It should concern us all that more and more stuff is available only on Facebook—everything from videos to what are essentially blog posts to livestreams. For example, yesterday’s signing in of the new New Zealand government ONLY shown live on Facebook. That’s not right—or a good idea.

The problem isn’t just that the content is enclosed within Fortress Facebook, it’s that they set the conditions under which even people who have indicated they WANT to see the content will actually do so. It’s one thing if I don’t see the latest video from Vox, or even a post from a friend, but when I don’t even know that actually important posts exist, that can be a real problem.

I think content creators need to be more agnostic about where they publish content. Facebook is great, up to a point, but if they do a Facebook video, they should also post it to YouTube (or wherever). Posts created for a Facebook Page should also be published or shared on the corresponding blog (or whatever). And nothing should be published on Facebook alone.

For me, this isn’t about money OR exposure. I have no budget for promotion, and I don’t seriously expect to have millions of readers no matter what I do (or don't). The issue here is one of controlling access to information, and the freedom to do so easily.

Sometimes a simple cartoon can lead in very unexpected directions.

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