attribution on blogs

Some anonymous poster decided to point me to this Wired article on blog attribution and virality.

I found myself sighing. There are some key assumptions built into the critique that bloggers borrow (a.k.a. steal) ideas from “lesser known bloggers.” First, there is the assumption that the goal of blogging is to become popular by spreading good memes. Certainly, there are many people for whom this is their goal. But damnit not all bloggers have the same goals.

On more than one occasion, i have blogged something and attributed it and been asked to remove attribution either to the individual or to their blog. Not everyone wants their name attached with the things that they uncover. There are politics involved. After a couple of awkward situations, i have reverted to not attributing unless known to be appropriate.

For example, when someone emails me a link to blog that they think is interesting, i never attribute it. But when they email me a link to their blog about something that they thought that i would find interesting, i do attribute it. I figure that if it is public enough for them to put it out there and tell me about it via their link, then they want to be attributed. Perhaps i’m making a mistake in this distinction. [If you’re one of the people who send me things and want attribution, just say so.]

Over and over again, i am told by look-at-me bloggers/technologists that blogging is public and everyone should be AOK with being seen. Guess what? Sitting in Golden Gate Park talking to my friends is a public activity, but i don’t really want/expect everyone in the world to be there too. The concept of public is far more complicated than we often realize.

When i link to someone’s blog, there are various ways that this can be read. It is not always about respect; sometimes, it is about exposing someone. That is not something that everyone wants. I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated that those covering blogging seem to think that there is a consistent goal, need and mode throughout bloggers.

I think that it is fascinating that HP is studying blogging along the lines of infection, but this is also quite problematic. Those studying infections are always obsessed with the source. Even if we are going to realize that meme sources are considered ‘good’ (while infection sources are considered ‘bad’), what on earth makes anyone think that all ‘good’ sources want to be found any more than ‘bad’ sources?

[Btw: can you tell that i’m getting interested in blogging? I’m finding myself vocalizing my frustration towards all things blog related these days.]

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10 thoughts on “attribution on blogs

  1. Lawrence Krubner

    I read the article yesterday and thought they were venturing out of the world of computers and delving into some still unresovled sociological/psychological issues about where ideas come from. If person A gives person B an idea, and then person B combines that with something else they were thinking, and comes up with a theory that then becomes famous, who invented the famous idea? Who should get credit?

    To take a famous example, that is still controversial, does Richard Hooke deserve any credit for the discovery of gravity? It is know that Newton began looking seriously at the issue of gravity in 1682-1684. At that time, he felt that the sun had a repulsive force, but that something restrained the planets from flying out into space. Robert Hooke strongly believed that the Sun had an attractive force that was pulling the planets inward. After two years, Newton changed his mind and agreed with Hooke. This lead him down the right path toward what he would eventually name “gravity.” After several more years of hard work, in 1688, Newton published Principia Mathematica, announcing that all mass attracted other mass, proportional to its mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two objects. The theory of gravity was born.

    Who invented it? Without Hooke’s assertion that the Sun had an attractive force, Newton might never have looked in the right places to explain what he was seeing in the movement of the planets. Clearly, Hooke infected Newton. But Hooke didn’t realize the attractive force was created by mass, nor did he assert the existence of “actions at a distance.”

    So my reaction reading the HP study was, “Are these appropriate places for attribution? How much did the final blogger change the meme they’d read elsewhere? How originial does the final idea have to be before the final poster is entitled to 100% credit? And can a computer algorithm determine the level of originality?”

  2. Mel

    “These findings are important to sociologists who are interested in learning how ideas grow from isolated topics into full-blown epidemics that “infect” large populations. Such an understanding is also important to marketers, who hope to be able to pitch products and ideas directly to the most influential people in a given group.”

    They define two groups here: sociologists and marketers. One is academic the other commercial. I think it’s interesting that the article goes on to only discuss the purposes of the researchers without speaking to the marketing angle – something that is far more troubling to me than the creation or circulation of a meme. Corporate interests fund the majority of such studies. The real story here, in my opinion, is that marketers are funding a study that is ostensibly about (presented as) as study of the circulation of ideas. The actualy purpose is to generate tools that will help corporations.

    As far as I’m concerned the whole meme search, idea origin, etc is just a red herring meant to throw us off the real scent – corporate interest.

  3. c h a n d r a s u t r a

    ‘Corporate research’ or ‘how to sell us more crap we don’t need’

    According to Amit Asaravala’s article in WIRED magazine, Hewlitt Packard researchers have developed some techniques to graph “the flow of

  4. c h a n d r a s u t r a

    ‘Corporate research’ or ‘how to sell us more crap we don’t need’

    According to Amit Asaravala’s WIRED article “Warnding: blogs can be infectious”, Hewlitt Packard researchers have developed some techniques to graph


    Why do bloggers kill kittens?

    A couple of days ago I posted a rather aggressive link through to 2lmc the other day complaining about their post Most read blogs least original which cited an article from Wired News called Warning: Blogs Can Be Infectious (itself…


    Why do bloggers kill kittens?

    A couple of days ago I posted a rather aggressive link through to 2lmc the other day complaining about their post Most read blogs least original which cited an article from Wired News called Warning: Blogs Can Be Infectious (itself…

  7. rPm

    attribution can also serve multiple purposes. one might attribute an information source out of kindness, rather than necessity; or out of self-interest, in order to curry favor with the original author. attribution is an inherently social phenomenon, and people’s actions along these lines have to be regarded in the context of the community within which the attribution is made.

    btw, i do find it interesting that you’re blogging to write about your frustrations with blogs. ouroboros, anyone? or maybe godel. not sure.

  8. Ben Hyde


    We get a lot of this maddness in the open source community. People decide that the thing is a problem what needs explaining. They decided they know the motive force is, they then get all excited about how that might lead to scarcity and rivalry at which point their market based models can page in. Problem resolved. It’s lame.

    I found the HP research very irritating. Of course the leaves of the network dig up the fresh stuff while the hubs are focused on pumping that around. That’s the nature of leaves and hubs. It’s like discovering that eBay doesn’t any of that stuff their selling, or google didn’t write all those pages.

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