Community = Copy Protection

In a post entitled “Want To Know Why Newspapers Are Going Out Of Business? Because Adding Value Never Seems To Be An Option“, Mike Masnick writes:

As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, there are a bunch of sites out there that copy all our content. Not just the headlines and the ledes, but all of the content. Some are pure spam sites. Some are aggregation sites. Some are trying (and failing) to prove the point that we’d get upset if someone copied our stuff. But, that’s not what happens — because this site has much more than just the content. It has the community. It has the Insight Community, where we actually help the community make money. Some of our community members made five figures in 2008. What newspaper has done that for their community? Our community has great ongoing discussions all the time. These other sites can’t replicate that. All they can do is end up sending us more traffic.

I don’t always agree with Masnick (see this debate as an example) and I feel strongly that wholesale copying is unethical, not to mention that it violates fair use. I doubt Masnick disagrees on either count. But he’s right that preventing copying through technical and legal means is, for the most part, a futile battle: at most, you can go after high-profile, blatant offenders.

But community can’t be copied. Even if you mirrored all of this blog’s content and put someone else’s name on it, the comment threads would still live here. You could copy those too, but only the readers who came here could participate in the conversation, and I believe that would still draw most of you.

I’m not encouraging anyone to test this theory–I’d really rather not have rogue versions of this blog proliferating in the hands of unscrupulous spammers. But I do think that Masnick is onto something: the only real copy protection is making your value proposition inherently uncopiable. Building a community where readers partcipate is a great way to create such value.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

10 replies on “Community = Copy Protection”

Yes, Kelly does leave out community and participation. But, to be fair, it seems like you and Masnick are thinking about inspiring a community to be monetized indirectly (e.g., via advertising), while Kelly’s thinking about goods and services that can be monetized directly.

Meeting you all in the middle, however, is a post I wrote a couple weeks back. Although there’s an element of what Kelly might call “patronage,” I think it offers a interesting idea for monetizing community and participation directly.

(Sorry if you’ve already seen it.)


You’re right about not being able to copy community. As I recall, a while back there was some discussion about FriendFeed siphoning off comments from blogs and other places where the comments would usually be located. What ended up was that conversations were starting without the benefit of commentary from the person who originated the thought. So, even if comments begin to be scraped and included with scraped content, if the author of the post isn’t part of the conversation, the conversation will either exist among those of that community or will drift back to the original source. It’s a curious and fun thing to contemplate, that’s for sure.


Josh, I do like the idea of paying for increased interaction–in fact, I think that highly popular online sites might consider restrict comments to paid subscribers–both to raise revenue and to raise the overall quality of the comments. Today that’s probably unthinkable (I can imagine the outcry from the WWGD crowd), but it is a lot more appealing to me than the ad-supported model.

And Tish, my own experience of FriendFeed is that it is a source of traffic, not a siphoning of it. You can’t really have a conversation on an aggregator.


Daniel–thanks for the clarification on FriendFeed. I haven’t used it since it started, when there were some conversations going on. And there was much discussion on tech blogs about the effect of FriendFeed on commenting (you’d have to check old Techmeme stuff to find them.)

Although I have to agree that the quality of conversation on sites just might go up if a paid model was instituted. This may work if some conversations were paid while some remained free. Then again, it may not work on newspaper sites for a number of reasons (or, shall we call them excuses) including “censorship.” Paid comments, though, might just help pay for staff to properly moderate.


I realize that money as a barrier can be problematic. No solution is perfect–some people even complain about CAPTCHAs–and not just because of issues for readers with disabilities. But the present quality of comments on popular blogs is pretty bad, as are the comment threads at major newspapers like the New York Times. Some kind of entry barrier seems necessary. And if that can double as a way of funding content, it’s two birds with one stone!


I’d certainly love to see a company try it–and see the results of pay to comment on the level of discourse. (although I do know that private communities with stringent review of participants does indeed boost the level of discourse.)


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