Posted in: Technology

Giving Attribution


An interesting email exchange (and even a little Twitter) arose this afternoon about one of my earlier posts and the way I gave attribution. I wont name the post, or name names (or print the correspondence), but I thought I’d take the opportunity to share how I give attribution.

There’s no definite rule with attribution, but a debate about how to give attribution came up back in 2003/ 2004 back when I was editing The Blog Herald. I can’t remember all of the players but the debate was pretty wide spread at the time, and I’m pretty sure it included guys like Dave Winer and possibly Robert Scoble. The rough rules decided on then (by many) are what I’ve followed since; in part some of these may be overkill and sadly some are not followed today, but I’ve always considered this to be the fair way of doing things.

Primary source:
If the primary source for the post comes from another blog (an exclusive) a link is desirable in the first line. For example: zyz reports [link], or xyz fact according to a report at [link].

The negation to this rule: if you’ve been approached by the source directly (media release, tip, exclusive etc) or if multiple sites are reporting the facts having obtained the data the same way.

Via source:
It’s good form to include a via link in a post if you’ve obtained the story idea via another site or blog. Format: (via: [link]). This is one part of attribution that seems to be dying out. It’s unfortunate, because it was one of the features that helped build the blogosphere.

Quote/ Inline source:

Where the source isn’t primary (they are reporting it second hand, most commonly with MSM), you can quote the external site within the post as an alternative to a via link. This has become more common than a via link, but it’s really only desirable if you can make it work within the context of the post. I’ve always used with direct quoting: Format: [link] says/ reports “xyz.”

Photo credits:
These weren’t really discussed in the old days, but in an age of litigious copyright holders it’s always safer to give a photo credit when using non-default imagery (in particular photos). Format: photocredit: [link]. The other alternative is to use blog safe photos and I tend to use Wikimedia Commons.

The Honesty Catch:
There are times when blogs write about stories where other blogs have recently written about the same thing, without the second site knowing the first site wrote about it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times in the last 12 months, with people demanding attribution when I’ve sourced the idea usually from a direct email from the company/ startup or site. I don’t believe a link is due where the author honestly wasn’t aware of the earlier article, and lets face it, if you really looked hard enough you’d nearly always find something has been written about before.

However some sites sit on stories for a couple of days then re-run them without attribution. It’s hard to catch them at it, but I had a situation a couple of years back where a writer at WebProNews lifted a post I’d written and clearly took from my post. The proof was beyond clear: he used an extremely obscure word I’d used, so obscure that the word only had a couple of uses in Google and none in (for memory) prior 6-12 months. He denied it (weasels always do), but it was a cut and dry case. ParisLemon talks about another site with a similar modus operandi today.

I should probably turn this into a policy document for The Inquisitr, I’ve spoken to the writing staff about this roughly, and we might not always get it right (including me) but aiming to be a fair and decent neighbor in the blogosphere is something I believe tides this site, and anybody following these rules well. After all, it’s good karma to link out and link often, you’ll often find people will return the favor.

(image credit: EMBT)

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13 Responses to “Giving Attribution”

  1. Louis Gray

    This is an important topic, and it’s clear you’ve put a lot of thought and time into this. The issue can get increasingly difficult as more and more blogs cover the same topics, and authors can’t possibly expect to find them all. There’s something to be said for best effort, and being transparent. Nice job.

  2. Duncan Riley

    There’s another old saying I didn’t add: when in doubt, link out :-) I know in the age of cut-throat competition and Techmeme/ Feedburner linking that people want to be on top, but doing the right thing has always tided me well in the past, and I hope it will going forward.

  3. Shawn K

    Great post! I find so many blogs nowadays that have no links whatsoever to where they got something from, much less a trackback (Blogger needs to add trackback links!). What I like to do with pictures that I get from somewhere else, doesn’t matter where, is link that picture to the location I found it at. Whether it be at a blog I found through Google Image Search, Flickr, or Sports Illustrated, that picture gets linked to the page it’s on.

  4. Carsten Pötter

    Cyndy has probably a point here. Nevertheless I think it’s important to link back to the sources. Sometimes (admittedly not always) I even use two via links: the first one where I read the story and the second one to the original source. I have seen posts where well-known blog A just links to well-known blog B, however blog B was neither the original source, nor the source that picked up the story first.

  5. Alex Hammer


    Good to see you near the top of Techmeme already with this post from your new site!

    PS I think Louis so often being first in comments on the web, shows how plugged in he is. Speed, in the world of information, is of course a major competitive advantage.

  6. joe monsoony

    well duncan, the only way you’d actually know 100% whether someone lifted your post is if the post in question was filled with spelling & grammatical errors. sure-fire sign it was a `duncan original.’ :)

    be well, mate

  7. Tish Grier

    Nice to see this topic come up again! thanks Duncan!

    There’s been some serious shifts in linking and the blogosphere in general over the past year or so. Many people don’t keep blogrolls anymore (a staple that helped build Technorati rank), and may not link out to others in favor of linking from Twitter or on Facebook. Some of this *could* be like Cindy mentioned–that, for some, linking might squelch getting out of the “Discussion” section on Techmeme–but it’s something that goes beyond tech bloggers. It may have to do with so much of the rhetoric around “citizen journalism” or it may just be that many folks don’t understand how links work to create not just community (as in good karma) but also their position in search. It’s fascinating stuff!

  8. Gabe

    Cyndy: that’s 100% false. Linking to another blog post can affect whether that post is a headline vs. discussion. But it has no effect on whether your post is.

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