Google Reader, Splogs, Linkblogs, Blog Readership

Google can do nothing wrong… or can they?

The press and “A” list bloggers have been constantly touting the use of Google Reader over the past few weeks. Overall it is a useful piece of software, and might even become my permanent rss reader in the future.

But the Google reader has major flaws, which noone is really talking about. In fact I have noticed a growing tendancy for reporting thee flaws as a cool feature, without any emphasis on the negative aspects of using these “features”.

Google Reader Flaw 1

The Google Reader doesn’t currently send readership data to services like Feedburner. If you notice your blog readership go down, it is because you have been touting Google Reader too much.

Google Reader Flaw 2

There has been a few mentions of “Linkblogs”, especially by Robert Scoble on his Scobleizer blog most recently here, but also here here and here.

Sharing a link blog privately with a few people, maybe inside a company isn’t going to have a major consequence.

But if 1000s of people subscribe to Robert Scobles linkblog this will have 2 major effects.

  1. For Robert himself, his readership could go down, because people will read the main original story, not his commentary. It would be much better to refeed your linkblog somewhere, to at least monitor subscribers, and maybe monetize the feed.
  2. For the original publishers, they don’t get subscribers, but they do maybe get more readers if Robert et al decide their posts are significant. You could potentially have 10000 people reading your content (full post content), and have zero subscribers to your own feed.

Google Reader Flaw 3

Link blogs again but in this case link blog abuse and splogs.

Google have taken some precautions with their linkblogs, unlike many services that offer something similar.

A search in Google for Roberts Link Blog will not find it.

Google isn’t even indexing links to Link Blogs

MSN seem to be in the same ballpark, obviously Google had a chat with them

But Google forgot to have a nice chat with Yahoo

Yahoo don’t list any information relating to the contents of the link blogs, which shows they are obeying some directive not to index the pages, such as robots.txt, though more likely something in .htaccess

Thus the shared pages in Google are not in themselves the same as other splogs that have been causing uproar recently, where websites have been taking full feeds, without permission, and monetizing them with adsense. (I don’t worry if people do that with my feeds, as long as the backlinks don’t contain “no follow”)
The major problem is that quite often thse are full content feeds, that publishers wanted read by their subscribers. Many publishers are currently trying to fight sploggers by installing plugins to their blogs, such as the Antileech plugin for wordpress.

The problem is that Antileech is now useless.

No blogger in their right mind is going to block Google from picking up their feeds to serve Google Reader users.

Each Feed can be assigned a tag automatically. The method to do it is not obvious within the interface, but it is possible.

That automatically grabbed feed quite often will have the full contents, and a plugin like Antileech isn’t going to do anything to stop it.

Once you have a feed available, preferably with full contents, it is very easy for someone to use that content on another site, sometimes without permission. There is nothing legally or ethically wrong with the tools used for this. There are plenty of reasons to use such tools ethically, and quite often the professional, designed for the purpose “splogging tools” actually do a more professional job of using and attributing your content than the simple free tools available.

One example of a simple tool is WP-Autoblog . More sophisticated tools can take a series of excerpts, automatically tag the contents based on keywords, substitute links with “deep linking” affiliate links (and yes that is ethical, because the blog ownes wants you to promote his blog and products). An example of such a tool is Blog Auto Publisher(aff). BAP isn’t a fancy tool, but it is hellish effective and can be used ethically.


Google Reader in itself isn’t evil. The features could quite reasonably for an ethical purpose.

I could quite easily grab all of Robert Scobles linkblog, automatically retag it all, and then feed it to a private blog for my own use, to better be able to find information on tech related subjects from a trusted source.

Something like that on a corporation intranet would be a valuable and possibly ethical use.

But in most such uses, the original author is not going to have subscribers to their feed, and is not going to know that their work is even being read.

My strongest advice is to avoid abusing this feature, and not publish the location of your linkfeed, especially on a high traffic blog.

To ensure I stay on topic, it should be noted that Google Reader is a very powerful tool for the creation of niche websites. I admit to using various tools to reuse and mix 3rd party content, including Blog Auto Publisher, but the content I use is with permission and where necessary with attribution.

Update: Some Supplementary Information

The sharing feature within Google Reader isn’t new. The big point is that until now, very few people have been sharing their feeds with others. It was introduced March 21st 2006 on the Google Reader blog.

Here is a very good technical overview of how feeds can be shared with Google Reader

Here is a nice list of tools that can be used to create splogs, but they can be used to create unique content as well, that has value to the readers of the content. We can add Google Reader to the list.

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  1. says

    I’m really disappointed that Google Reader doesn’t report hits to Feedburner. It would explain why my subscriber count has dropped about 20% in the last week. Does anyone know if this issue is being resolved? I really want to know how many people are accessing my feed!

  2. Andy Beard says

    Even if implemented, it would only report direct access. If your feed ends up on a linkblog, you won’t get any feedback.

    There is a way to add some of your own automatic tracking to every feed item. I suppose that would be a good subject for a future post (once I have implemented it myself)

  3. says

    I’ve had several people I’ve included in my linkblog tell me that they received thousands of visits in the past couple of weeks from it. How did that happen if people aren’t clicking through?

  4. Andy Beard says

    Hi Robert

    For the original publishers, they don’t get subscribers, but they do maybe get more readers if Robert et al decide their posts are significant. You could potentially have 10000 people reading your content (full post content), and have zero subscribers to your own feed.

    I think I covered that point.

    The problem is you are assuming that every aspect of your linkblog is good.

    Other services from choice / respect allow sharing, but dont provide an RSS feed of the shared content.
    E.g. Bloglines, Pageflakes

    The RSS feed can be looked on as a feature, but there would have to be a way for publishers to prevent the feeds being re-fed to non-subscribers.

    I have discussed some reasons for this above.

    I actually forgot about one very important point.

    There are various email autoresponder applications now available that are able to send sequenced personal RSS feeds to someone.
    These have been around for over a year. That content is intended to be private.

    If people are going to openly share their RSS feeds, that potential for RSS is destroyed.

    RSS as a solution for subscription content is effectively being destroyed.

    I actually own an auto-responder script that would allow me to have paid subscriber podcasts or vlogs. It can’t be used now because of RSS sharing.

    If all of these issues have been discussed to death and I missed them, fair enough.

    However, I think all the points I am making haven’t been discussed at all, and are being overlooked, maybe because it is Google, and as I started off the post…

    Google can do nothing wrong… or can they?

    Obviously Linkblogs are not the same as Bitacle. There is no monetisation, and they are not being indexed, but that doesn’t mean the current implementation is totally innocent.
    Linkblogs can be easily rebloged, bypassing many inadequate protection methods.

    Maybe sharing should only be allowed for content labelled with either GPL or CC.

    Maybe Google should only have a javascript reader as others have done.

    Maybe sharing RSS feeds should be stopped altogether, or for a “private” tag to be possible, and respected by all aggregators, so that RSS could once again be usable for private feeds.