Top Ten Sources was down when I tried to look at it this morning, but when I looked yesterday it certainly seemed a nice idea: pick a topic, then get a human being to find the best 10 blogs out there on that topic, and aggregate them.
The reason this has been controversial, of course, is copyright. Some bloggers are saying that Top Ten Sources violates their copyright when it aggregates blogs together. The response to this (from Dave Winer, among others) has been that what people should really be after is getting people to subscribe to their feeds, and Top Ten Sources is a great way of promoting a feed and thus getting subscribers (this overlaps with the idea that RSS is a form of advertising – it’s a means of me advertising what I do to the world, in the hope that getting people back to my site, or at least in the hope that I can develop a deeper relationship with them.
All well and good. But I have to say there’s a fair degree of fudge around in all this. John Palfrey, who’s involved in Top Ten Sources, has written a good and fair post about the raw legal copyright implications, and has rightly suggested some kind of Creative Commons implementation within RSS is going to be needed. But I think he skirts the central economic question – where’s the money going?
Is Top Ten Sources hoping to make money? And is it going to share this money with people providing content to it? Because if, for instance, they took this blog’s RSS feed and aggregated it, they’d be making money from this blog’s content, wouldn’t they? Now, it may be that I make a sane economic judgement and say well, the promotion on Top Ten Sources is worth something to me in the form of new eyeballs, so I’ll let it ride for now. But let’s not pretend that economic decision isn’t there.
Also, I don’t quite buy this argument about Top Ten “promoting” my feed. If Top Ten aggregates my full-text feed, why would someone subscribe to it? Doesn’t the logic of Top Ten imply that they’re going to want to scan the feed inside Top Ten, and not add it to their feed reader?
Also again: is Top Ten going to discriminate between “full-text” feeds and “excerpt” feeds? Because, let’s face it, this is really only going to work fairly in the long-term for bloggers if Top Ten aggregates excerpt feeds. Then it all makes perfect sense: promotion AND traffic for bloggers, and the possibility of aggregating community for Top Ten.
And one final question: how does this scale? If it’s all done by human beings, how do they stay on top of new blogs in a particular category? As we all know, old blogs die and new blogs are born every minute. The churn rate is incredible.
None of which is to say that Top Ten Sources isn’t a good idea, or has potential. But don’t even get me started on the fact they’ve built it using ASP pages….