BBC Free: Help us persuade the BBC to open their RSS feeds up

The internet blows my mind. Ryan Carson opened my eyes to the power of it a few months ago. We can sit down and create a blog or web application and have it instantly accessible to the world. That’s unique, and it’s exciting.

We’re asking the BBC to join us in this creativity. Today, we’re launching BBC Free – it’s a campaign to convince the BBC to offer full article RSS feeds.

Current short bbc feeds

Currently, their feeds are just a single line or two and this hurts your RSS experience, and it also hinders creativity in online news. RSS feeds are machine readable and a ton of great startups base their news products off that content. By making the feed “full article”, we can be far more creative with how we improve your online news experience.

We’re not asking the BBC to create an amazing news API like The Guardian. The BBC doesn’t run adverts, any users of RSS will appreciate this change, and people who don’t use RSS won’t know anything has changed.

We’re imploring you, internets, to help us with our campaign. Full details are at our site http://bbcfree.net – the twitter hash tag is #bbcfree and you can follow the campaign at @bbcfree.

— Peter Clark, CEO of Broadersheet.

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17 thoughts on “BBC Free: Help us persuade the BBC to open their RSS feeds up

  1. Matt Wardman

    >I’m staying out of this one …

    I’m not 🙂 .

    Can I ask you what limitations you see on the use of full text RSS feeds, Peter – for example, what information would you include in Broadersheet?

    My approach is generous excerpts, but I expect people to visit my site to read the whole article.

    Reply
  2. Keyvan

    I’ve been working on a free software (open source) service to turn partial-text feeds to full-text. It should work with the BBC and with most other feeds. Click my name for a demo.

    Reply
  3. Matt Wardman

    Keyvan

    I’m surprised no one has come in on this debate.

    Could you explain how you justify overriding/undermining (or helping others to override) the moral and legal rights of authors/publishers to control the distribution of their own work? I’m interested in how you justify it both to yourself and to others.

    The first paragraph of the page you link to says:

    “It is being developed as part of the Five Filters project to promote alternative, non-corporate media.”

    How does taking control away from non-corporate authors promote non-corporate media?

    Rgds

    Reply
  4. Keyvan

    Matt,

    Well, I don’t think publishers have much control on the web – once it’s published it’s fairly trivial to extract the content. In the same way that no one can control whether we see advertising on the web (easy to block with, e.g. adblock plus) no one can force us to put up with partial-text feeds.

    As for promoting non-corporate media – the idea with the service was not to take control away but to allow authors and independent media sites (many still without feeds) to be able to easily produce a newspaper-style PDF to print out or distribute online. See http://fivefilters.org/pdf-newspaper/

    Besides, many of the independent media sites I had in mind don’t carry ads so I can’t see why they’d object.

    Reply
  5. Matt Wardman

    Thanks for the reply, Keyvan

    >Well, I don’t think publishers have much control on the web – once it’s published it’s fairly trivial to extract the content … no one can force us to put up with partial-text feeds.

    I think you’ve avoided the core of the question. I’ve asked about authors’ legal and moral rights, and you’ve just said “they don’t have much control, and it’s easy to take their content”.

    I know it’s easy (though only for a minority), but that says nothing about respecting the rights of the publisher – unless you are taking a position that says “if it can be done, it must be OK”.

    You say that “the idea with the service was not to take control away”,then “many of the independent media sites I had in mind don’t carry ads so I can’t see why they’d object”

    Whether they have ads or not is immaterial if you are trying not to take control away. The essence of respecting that content providers have control is to ask them and abide by what they say. The minute you make the decision without reference to the author (“I don’t see why they’d object”), and don’t explicity ask them, taking control away is exactly what you’ve done – or you have helped others to do by providing an open source toolkit.

    Further, if they have decided to provide partial feeds – then the only logical conclusion is that they don’t want to provide full feeds.

    I think the only way such a toolkit can be used ethically is on “opt-in” terms, where each author is asked first, or the T&C of the site are verified.

    There are a few grey cases round the edge – publishing suppressed evidence, exposee etc.

    Whether anyone can do anything about it, I don’t know. My T&C, for example, include the stipulation that republication without explicit permission may be charged at $250. That is there in case the Daily Mail or other media ever copy content, but it would also cover recreating full feeds.

    Reply
  6. Keyvan

    Thanks Matt,

    I think it’s an interesting discussion.

    I wrote the code as part of a bigger project to make lesser known sites and blogs more easily accessible. You seem to be arguing that the code will only harm publishers by taking control away from them. That might be one effect, but it can also benefit many other, less tech-savvy, publishers by allowing them to spread their content more widely and to produce newspaper-like PDFs to distribute for very little cost.

    >You say that “the idea with the service was not to take control away”,then “many of the independent media sites I had in mind don’t carry ads so I can’t see why they’d object”

    The point I was trying to make is the code does have benefits for many publishers and the reason I created the service was not simply to take control away – although it does have that effect too. The most common reason people give against full-text feeds is loss of advertising revenue (“no one will click to visit the site and see the ads”). As the service is targeted at publishers who refuse to carry advertising because of its negative effects, I don’t see why the most common complaint against full-text feeds, and this type of service, would really bother them.

    Of course I could be wrong, but this is an ongoing project and when I’ve developed it a little further I will be contacting the publishers/bloggers that I like to work with them on it.

    > Further, if they have decided to provide partial feeds – then the only logical conclusion is that they don’t want to provide full feeds.

    That might be true of the big players such as the BBC (who knows, Tom’s just pointed out that they do publish some full-text feeds so maybe they’ll switch the rest too), but it’s not “the only logical conclusion”. Many smaller sites either don’t have feeds at all or if they do have partial feeds it’s likely a feature of the CMS/blog package they’re using and not necessarily a deliberate decision to offer partial feeds (or any type of feed – I’m sure I can find bloggers/publishers who have no idea what feeds are or how they can be beneficial).

    WordPress for a long time published partial feeds for users. They’ve now enabled full-text feeds by default. How many WordPress users know what a feed is or whether their feed is partial or full-text?

    >I think the only way such a toolkit can be used ethically is on “opt-in” terms, where each author is asked first, or the T&C of the site are verified.

    If it were true that partial feeds exist only because publishers have decided not to offer full-text feeds, then I might understand your position. As I pointed out above, there are many other conclusions you can draw.

    > There are a few grey cases round the edge – publishing suppressed evidence, exposee etc.

    But full-text content is already copied to many different servers almost as soon as it appears – think of Google’s cache and the many other crawling services. You don’t opt in to those.

    > Whether anyone can do anything about it, I don’t know…

    I don’t know either. But I think it would be very hard to enforce. Say I desperately wanted full-text access to certain feeds. I’d simply set up my own private instance of the code and there’d be no way for a publisher to know what was going on – there’d be no public URL they could point to as proof. I don’t think that’s a reason to hide the code or put opt-in restrictions on it. I think there are many good uses for the code – it’s a double edged sword.

    Reply
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  8. John Mecklin

    Dear Keyvan

    I think Mr. Wardman is being very polite about asking a serious question: Why should the BBC do something to help you steal its content? And it is stealing, if you take the full content without permission/remuneration. The fact that the Internet makes it easy to steal content, if one is of a that mind, is irrelevant. Stealing is stealing. Why do you think it’s OK?

    Reply
  9. Matt Wardman

    Keyvan

    Thanks for your detailed response – I’m thinking about a reply.

    I’d agree that it is all about dividing lines, and that it needs a blog post to just identify the issues – never mind resolve them :-0.

    Matt

    Reply
  10. Keyvan

    Thanks John,

    > I think Mr. Wardman is being very polite about asking a serious question: Why should the BBC do something to help you steal its content?

    I have no interest in the BBC’s content and have never asked them to do anything to help me steal it. In fact, if you want to know my opinion, I think BBC News is pretty awful (see http://medialens.org/alerts/archive.php for many extensive alerts on the BBC’s output) and I’d rather people didn’t use my service and waste my bandwidth on it. I posted here simply to let people know that the option existed – not just for the BBC but for the millions of other sites out there.

    > And it is stealing, if you take the full content without permission/remuneration.

    I think many people would disagree. Is Google stealing when it indexes your site and the millions of other sites out there? Because it takes your full content and analyses and extracts information from it and even stores a copy of it on its servers. How else would it offer the service that it does?

    Reply
  11. John Mecklin

    I may misunderstand, but I don’t think so. You are proposing to take entire BBC articles from an RSS feed and redistribute them somehow for publication in full by others, correct? If that is so, there is no analogy to Google, which analyzes full text, but presents only short excerpts, with links back to the original publication for the full text. So if I understand what you are proposing to do correctly, it is, simply, stealing and/or facilitating theft by others. All the hey-wow digital-speak in the world can’t obscure that fact.

    Now, if I have misunderstood your plans, please let me know, because I don’t want to mislead anyone, and I’m happy to correct any misimpressions.

    Also, I’m not an international copyright/intellectual property lawyer. I don’t know exactly what redress anyone might or might not have under UK law. I just know taking someone else’s valuables without permission or compensation is wrong.

    Reply
  12. Keyvan

    Thanks John,

    > You are proposing to take entire BBC articles from an RSS feed and redistribute them somehow for publication in full by others, correct?

    No. I have not proposed that at all. I have created a service which allows people to input an RSS feed and in return get a feed with the full text content. There is a difference between that and what you suggest.

    I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that might make my position clearer. I’m not sure this is the best one but it might do. The copy and paste commands allow you to copy any content you like. You can use them to copy an entire BBC article and republish it somewhere else very easily without the BBC’s permission. Is that a good reason to abolish the copy and paste commands? And would you accuse the creator of the copy and paste commands of “proposing to take entire BBC articles” to republish/redistribute them? I assume you wouldn’t because you recognise it has other benefits. It cuts both ways. The same with Google’s use of yours and other people’s content. The same with my RSS service.

    This is the point I made above in response to Matt. It comes down to thinking about why RSS feeds exist – especially partial RSS feeds as they’re the feeds my service is designed for. There are millions of RSS feeds out there. They are not all there because individuals or publishers made a conscious decision to make them available. The same with partial feeds (feeds where the full-text content is not included in the feed).

    So why do partial feeds exist? Well one reason I gave earlier is that the decision has simply been made by the content management system or blogging tool an author or publisher uses. As I pointed out above, the very popular blogging software WordPress (this very site uses it) publishes feeds automatically when you install it. For a long time it published partial feeds for users when they installed it. Recently they switched to full-text feeds by default. So next time we see a website or blog powered by WordPress and it offers a full-text feed, can we assume that the creator of the site made a deliberate decision to offer a full-text feed and is happy with whatever we do with that feed? What if it’s a partial feed? So knowing that, it seems fair to argue that one reason there are many feeds in existence is simply because WordPress, the tool, makes them available. And there can be many other reasons too. We simply can’t assume anything about the intentions of the author behind the site.

    > If that is so, there is no analogy to Google, which analyzes full text, but presents only short excerpts, with links back to the original publication for the full text.

    No, Google also copies the full content and republishes it. If you do a search on Google, you’ll see nearly every result has a ‘Cached’ link. Click on the cached link and you’ll see the content served from Google’s servers. In addition they also save a text-only copy of the content (when viewing Google’s cached copy you’ll see a ‘Text-only version’ link in the top right corner).

    > Now, if I have misunderstood your plans, please let me know, because I don’t want to mislead anyone, and I’m happy to correct any misimpressions.

    I hope I’ve made my position a little clearer. What I’ve been trying to point out is that the tool itself, like many technologies, is pretty neutral. It could be helping someone (maybe even the publisher of the content itself who’s not so tech-savvy) read and distribute the contents of a site or article to a wider audience. It is “facilitating theft” in the same way the copy and paste commands facilitate theft.

    As for my own plans, I’m trying to develop these tools to help smaller publishers, particularly independent, non-corporate media to make their content more accessible for potential readers. The RSS to PDF service is an example of this: http://fivefilters.org/pdf-newspaper/

    What others do with these tools is their responsibility.

    Reply
  13. John Mecklin

    I just took a look at this tool and certainly don’t feel it’s anywhere near as neutral as you think it. But thanks for the explanation; I’ll leave the discussion now. Work calls.

    Except for one thing I can’t help saying re “What others do with these tools is their responsibility.” As litigation over peer-to-peer file sharing shows, the statement is not always true.

    Reply
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