Why Top Ten Sources is a Good Thing

There’s been a lightly heated discussion about the Top Ten Sources site, is it a fair use of RSS, is there a copyright issue, is it a splog, is it a good idea?

The debate has focused on the negatives, and I think missed that Top Ten Sources is a send-them-away-so-they’ll-come-back site. They publish a reading list for each of the sites, containing pointers to the RSS feeds for each of the chosen source.

Mike Arrington, the superstar blogger of Web 2.0, once told me he doesn’t care how many people read his site in a web browser, what he’s looking for is subscribers to his feed. Well, if Top Ten Sources takes off, as I think it will (I’m thinking about investing), it will not only send people to your site but it will create subscribers for your feed. The fact that they publish an aggregated view of the sources is a promotional tool, they win if people subscribe to your reading list if you’re lucky enoug to be chosen as a Top Ten Source. (And in order for that to work, more aggregators have to support reading lists, as I’m sure they will.)

I hope you can see how thought-through this is. If you want more background, listen to the podcast interview I did with John Palfrey on this subject, earlier this month.

14 responses to this post.

  1. The “send them away” bit of Top Ten Sources is done using Javascript pop-ups, which is a big black mark in my eyes. Are the TTS people so afraid of actually sending people away that they can’t use a normal hyperlink without opening a new window?


  2. Posted by John Palfrey on January 18, 2006 at 9:12 am

    Good point — Top10 Sources management should consider just doing a straight link instead of pop-ups. The send-’em-away principle is essential.



  3. Posted by Bob Phelps on January 18, 2006 at 10:41 am

    How about this: For a blog to allow it’s content to be syndicated, the blog-owner must choose a “default” copyright policy for that blog – say one of the Creative Commons options or a custom option. The blog-owner can over-ride the blog default for any particular item. Aggregators only syndicate blogs that have a copyright policy.

    This may not be the most practical way to go, and I would imagine that many, many bloggers would choose either a public domain or “no commercial use” option.

    Implementation. I don’t think we’re talking about anything that difficult on the aggregator side, and I can imagine that blogging software/blogging services can pretty readily implement drop-down selection.

    This can pose a problem to some advertising revenue based services, but seems to be in line with the thinking behind people interested in “Attention”.


  4. Posted by Bob Phelps on January 18, 2006 at 11:24 am

    I think that lowering the barrier to “giving permission” is the way to go.

    When someone creates a blog that they wish to syndicate, they are offered a pull-down menu that enables them to select a policy regarding the rights they wish to make available – for example they can choose any of the Creative Commons options or add a custom rights declaration.

    The option selected is the “default” option for the blog, but a blogger can choose to over-ride that default option for any particular item that is posted.

    Under this scheme, legitimate aggregators would only deal with blogs that have a rights policy.

    Very likely many people would want to treat their content as “public domain”, or possibly a “syndication allowed for non-commercial purposes”.

    Dave, you were right some time ago when you made some obervations re Google’s use of opt-out for placing ads on people’s pages.

    I don’t think the solution I’m suggesting is particularly daunting technically – either for the blog software/service providers or the aggregators.


  5. Bob-
    I think the idea of having a license that aggregators would pay attention to makes a lot of sense, but we’d need a common, machine-readable expression of the appropriate licenses, wouldn’t we? I mean the details expressed under the “Some Rights Reserved” you see on a lot of CC-licensed blogs wouldn’t exactly scale, would it? If implemented more widely, this [http://backend.userland.com/creativeCommonsRssModule] would do it for CC licenses, but what about the custom options?

    I’m curious how you see this related to attention; I don’t see the link, but I may not be thinking broadly enough.


  6. Posted by Bob Phelps on January 18, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Apologize for the duplicate post.

    Yes, aggregators would have to agree on standards. For a lot of reasons the process of defining standards now is likely to be more contentious than back when the Robot Exclusion standard was developed – but one of the nice things about hybrid machine/human readable markups is that at least incorporating the standard into what is transmitted is reasonably straightforward.

    The “Attention Trust” folks appear to be interested in heightening awareness of the ways in which our web-activities are consolidated and create an “identity”.

    From their site: http://www.attentiontrust.org/about

    “When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This “attention data” is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention.”

    They seem to be concentrating on what most people would consider passive web-activities and askng questions intended to heighten awareness of clickstream data and other data created by browsing.

    While I don’t think anyone has tried to claim that a person browsing has a copyright interest in the material that their activities create, I gather the “attention” interest here, like the interest of (some) bloggers regarding posted content does relate to the degree of control over a product of an individual’s activities on the web.


  7. Posted by Bob Phelps on January 18, 2006 at 5:20 pm


    Thanks for pointing me to the Creative Commons RSS Module.


    Wouldn’t that scale? It anticipates extension to non-CC rights provisions, an interesting project in its own right – possibly folks at CC would have some thoughts on who/what group would be interested in looking at ways of dealing with categories of non-CC provisions and ways of handling “custom” rights packages.

    I know zip about how various aggregators are built, and so have no idea how technically difficult it would be to get aggregator and parts of the plumbing to develop software that handles the restrictions that user-rights specifications would create.

    My overall impression is that if there was a groundswell in favor of this then people would find some very good, very general approaches to the problem – some solutions that are integrated inj the aggreagator/whatever and some that are less closely coupled.

    When I suggested this, I assumed that it wasn’t a quick hack, rather I was thiking about something that would require a lot of effort on the promotion and negotiation side, and maybe quite a lot of effort for technical development in some high performance situations. But I did think that it was a reasonably elegant solution to a pretty big problem. John Palfrey is right to have been agonzing over it, and it was good of him to so quickly share the communities response.

    I do worry that there might be some resistance from people who view this as cutting into potential advertising revenue, although I suspect that some of the larger players (for example, Google, Yahoo) might like this because it clarifies some rights problems that many people have been pondering for quite some time. I can’t think of good economic arguments in favor of adopting this approach to allowing users to easily append their preferences re the use of copyright material, but possibly others might.


  8. Bob;

    I think it’s great from a human-readable p.o.v. that the cc-license extension allows for arbitrary URLs for custom licenses. The scalability comes in (I think, but am open to correction) in that there’s no machine-readable format atthe destination.

    In theory the current cc license urls could be *considered* to be machine-readable: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ tells you something, probably enough, about that particular license to allow a machine to make a decision about what can or can’t be done with something stamped with it, but as CC evolves their licenses those URLs will change, which might break a machine’s ability to decide. That says nothing about a license I might publish at http://kinrowan.net/license.

    There are ways around this, of course, and even some evolving examples (http://microformats.org, despite some anti-Dave sentiments, is one starting point), but adoption, both in the publishing and aggregating tools, is another barrier (but I guess it always is, isn’t it?). I think it’s going to become more important, though, as blogging and other online publishing moves forward.


  9. […] Update: Dave Winer has weighed in with his assertion that Top Ten Sources is a good thing. […]


  10. I disagree. That is way way too indirect. Far too few content consumers have implemented anything that would allow them to get from there to the author’s words in the author’s context. A reading list is not the solution. But I don’t expect Dave to understand that, obviously he is just busy promoting his OPML. I am tracking this dialogue in a node entitled About Top 10 Sources


  11. […] The service has been heavily criticized by Mike Rundle, Om Malik and Adam Green (and subsequently defended by Dave Winer and John Palfrey) for copying blog posts. […]


  12. As a blogger, I am not seeing value on TTS. IT is aggregating posts which are already in my rss reader. Can someone explain to me the benifits of subscribing to TTS ?


  13. I like the idea of anything that improves the reading experience. Finding out what other people are recommending, thinking or saying is, after all, why we read other peoples blogs in the first place. But I have a small problem with the emphasis in the name: I would have preferred tentopsources.com or even tenprettygoodsources.com.


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