Under the shadow of the news feed

Under the shadow of the news feed

This post you are reading has been saved unpublished for a few days as I have feared it reads too much as a rant.  In this post, I'd like to discuss the difference between good and bad competition when it comes to similar "news sites" such as my own CMS Report.   I also want to touch on about how a CMS such as Drupal and Joomla brings both the good and the ugly online.  Unfortunately as with all technology, the modern CMS not only has been a blessing to sites dishing news for their writers and their users...but also a curse.

I've admitted in the past that I'm a big fan of Linux Today and often describe my own site as a mix of the Drudge Report and Linux Today.  In the early days, I wanted to provide a constant stream of excerpts from various sources regarding content management systems.  Similar to Linux Today, I have refused to use a fully automatic process for posting articles onto the front page of my site.  I prefer to read the articles myself and use good old cut and paste for the excerpts people see when they first arrive to the site.  I also wanted to be sure that the site provided more than just links and content from other sites but also original content salted a little with my own perspective or the perspective of others.

The manual process for aggregating news that I just described takes a little more time than even I had expected.  The negative result is that the "constant stream" of articles and links I intended to post never really happened.  My hat off to those quality sites out there that are able to pull this off.  However, while my process for posting the news isn't as efficient and it could be, I think such a process makes site such as mine and Linux Today not only more interesting for the reader but also genuine and honest.

Unfortunately, not every news site visited by the Internet surfer is found to be so honest.  In fact the dirty little secret out there is that some sites provide content that is not reviewed by a real person but by automated software.  These sites just pull articles from feeds of other sites and post them online without the reader even being aware that there really isn't anyone steering the ship.  This is all done by software used for news aggregation found in some of the better CMS out there.  News aggregation via the CMS is neither good or bad...it's just software.  In fact, in the back pages of my site I also provide news aggregation from feeds focused on CMS and information technology.  So what's my complaint with some news aggregation sites that I label as bad competition?  I have a problem with sites out there that are there for the sole purpose of using other people's work.  They really don't advocate a particular opinion or cause except the cause of using other people's work in hopes of making a profit for themselves.

Over the past couple years I've come across sites that copied the structure and content of my sites without even referring back to my site.  The first site "stolen" was the now closed WebCMS Forum, a SMF-based forum.  The forum never really brought in the crowd I had hoped, but it didn't seem to matter to the copycats.  The copycat site used almost the same topics and forum structure I had used with the only difference being that it used phpBB to run the forum.  Posts from WebCMS Forum were copied over to the clone without consent.  In recent months, I have also come across CMS Report clones that are even bolder in their "theft" of product.  These sites not only use the same CMS application I use, Drupal, but also have copied the same look and feel I've used in the past.  I came across one site that not only used the same Drupal theme I was using but also imitated the same structure of blocks in the the left and right column of my pages.  The cheap imitation was so good that except for a different domain name and a lot more advertisement cluttering the pages, I would have thought the site was mine.

Now you may be thinking I'm just all soured grapes.  You're saying to yourself, "Bryan, just doesn't want the competition".  Not true at all.  In fact I really do enjoy seeing real competition from real sites.  Most of the people that put out good sites to express a cause or opinion find that the competition helps them build a better site.  Brian Proffitt, Linux Today, recently blogged about his mixed feelings of another new Linux news aggregation site going live and "competing" with his own site.  Over time, Mr. Proffitt's perspective has changed.

The space in which Linux Today competes is a bit of a crowded one these days, as the huge increase in Linux, open source, and free software news means there's certainly a need for sites like LXer, FSDaily, Tuxmachines, and--now--Blue GNU. Even if I, like many an only child, don't like to share.

In truth, I used to think of these sites as competitors, but over time I realized that this really isn't the case. Each of these aggregate sites are different, and what makes them so, I discovered, are the people who run them. Each site's staff and editorial policy brings its own perspective on the world of Linux, and having different points of view just gives us all a more complete picture.

There is a lot of truth in Mr. Proffitt's words that competition in your field of interest overall is a good thing.  If you were to ask me who was CMS Report's best competitor, I would have to say it has to be OpenSourceCommunity.org which went online about a year after CMSReport.com went live.  Although OSC covers more than just open source content management systems, they cover quite a bit of CMS topics too.  Yet, from the very first day OSC went online they've provided a link on their pages to CMS Report and we've provided a link back to them.  Why would we do this?  I think it comes down to the fact that while drawing an audience to your own site is important both sites place a higher priority in spreading their passion.  If you look closely at Linux Today, CMS Report, and OSC you will find each site has an obsession to not only talk about the software but also about the community behind the software.

The reality is that we are in an era where open source content management systems can allow anyone with space on the Web server to publish or blog the news.  While the software is "free" it's also very good software and I'm not the only one making this observation.  Isn't it interesting that sites such as NowPublic, OSC, CMSReport.com, and even Linux Today's latest competition, Blue GNU is running Drupal?  For all the negatives I've written about in this article...the sites that I know as "good competition" are also the site that you know about.  And that is the silver lining.  For all those copycat sites I'm aware of that I consider "negative competition"...I'm betting you really haven't come across the site yourself.  If you have crossed one of the thieving sites I'm also betting you already identified them as poor sites and failed to return a second time.  You want to know why those bad sites fail?  Those sites simply lack the passion to survive when they find their is little financial profit it hosting sites of work that is not their own.  The profit lies in the doing and not the receiving...something they had hoped wasn't true.

This article first appeared on CMS Report.