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Nigeria: Talking About Aggregation, Copyright and Professionalism

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, Technology

Who knew that when the people behind Naijalive.net [1] decided to set up an aggregator (or an “aggregator” of a different kind, as they put it), their efforts would lead to a discussion about aggregation, copyright and professionalism?

What is an aggregator? Is copying and pasting a form of aggregation? Must owners of aggregators seek permission from bloggers before using their content? What are the technical requirements for a good aggregator?

These are some of the questions that have been asked and discussed by two Nigerian bloggers and their readers following the birth of a new aggregator of Nigerian blogs, The Nigerian Super Blog [2]. It is the product of NaijaLive Project [3]:

The NaijaLive Project is meant to be an interesting, laid back and fresh new approach to building an active Nigerian community on the Internet and encouraging Internet usage among Nigerians.
OK Yes, we agree every other guy out there is also trying to do the exact same thing. But, this one is going to be different. We promise.

Recently, the Nigerian Super Blog included David Ajao's blog [4] in their feeds. David was not asked for permission and did not want his content to appear on their aggregator. After failing to find their contact information on their website, he wrote a post asking them to remove his blog from their aggregator, “This is to Naijalive.net: Remove my blog! [5]“:

This is to whoever is behind naijalive.net I am forced to write this publicly because I have been unable to contact you one-on-one for the following reasons:
• No contact information is available on your website
• The WHOIS info for the domain name does not contain the contact info of its real owner
• I have already left a comment on one of your blog entries but have not heard from you.
He questioned the technical nature of NaijaLive aggregator concluding that it is not an aggregator:
It is indeed true that blog aggregators help bring more traffic to one’s blog but yours is not an aggregator. You’re simply copying and pasting my full blog posts which is completely unacceptable. Real blog aggregators use RSS feeds. I have set my RSS feed to only share parts of my blog posts and not the full thing.

Moreover, David argued that while his content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License [6], the Nigerian Super Blog does not use Creative Commons license [7]:

Remove ALL my blog posts from your website as you don’t have my permission to copy-and-paste my writings.
NB. My blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License. Yours is not.

The people behind NaijaLive Project responded to David’s post expressing their sincere apologies. They posted the apology on their site [8] and on David's blog [9]:

Apparently, our methods so far has gone down well with a lot of people yet there are exceptions like yours which we take VERY SERIOUSLY.
Once again, accept our MOST SINCERE APOLOGIES for using your content in a manner that has not gone down well with you.
Be informed that we removed your blog from our listings (therefore your posts will no longer show up on the Super Blog) and we are currently in the process of deleting all archived posts from your blog in our database.

In their open apology to David, they stated that theirs is not an aggregator, “You got that right, ours is not an aggregator. We are only trying to aggregate in a different way.”

They also clarified some issues raised by David Ajao [8]:

Before I close this message though, I wish to make some remarks/clarifications regarding certain specific portions of your post.

You’re simply copying and pasting my full blog posts which is completely unacceptable.

Accept our apologies but we are not exactly copying and pasting.

Real blog aggregators use RSS feeds. I have set my RSS feed to only share parts of my blog posts and not the full thing.

Do you really think we can MANUALLY go through 221 blogs every hour, check for updates and then copy and paste onto our blog? My brother, only a mad man would do that I can assure you.
FYI, we use the FeedWordpress plugin for WordPress to automatically aggregate blog content from the RSS feeds of all the blogs in our blogroll every hour. Once again, we use the RSS feeds for each blog.
We do have some blogs that are currently publishing excerpts of their posts as RSS feeds and this also show up as EXCERPTS on the Super Blog. If yours does not show up as an excerpt then it must be due to some other reason and not because we are copying and pasting manually!
But all the same, we do not say this as a justification and still maintain our apologies to you!

NB. My blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License. Yours is not.

Because the content we use does not belong to us, and because different bloggers publish under different licenses, we do not have the authority to license the content.
And finally, The NaijaLive is a volunteer project and the people behind NaijaLive are a friendly and happy group and it is not our intention to step on toes, break rules, look illegal or make people angry. If we are going about things the wrong way, we are very sorry but none of it was done on purpose. This is why we are ACTIVELY soliciting feedback from readers and visitors. We want to learn.
The project is still VERY VERY much in its infantile stage with most of the work being done on weekends. To learn more about this project, please see the post here: About the NaijaLive Project
We love your blog and we’d LOVE any ideas from you!

Another Nigerian blogger, Akin [10], wrote a thought provoking critique [11] of NaijaLive Project [12]and the Nigerian Bloggers Aggregator [13] after receiving an email from NaijaLive requesting him to adjust his RSS feed “to display the whole blog rather than my summaries because everyone has offered their blogs in that format”:

Thinking aloud – I received an email/blog comment yesterday from someone who had decided to exploit an opportunity – the absence of the Nigerian Bloggers Aggregator (NBA).
It would appear NBA is quite dead that the managers of the service would not be inclined to resolve the issues and bring it back up.
This is an unfortunate development because it reflects badly on the service-centred acumen that pioneers and entrepreneurs are supposed to have, I have seen too much self-aggrandisement from Nigerian webmasters who think running a website is a fiefdom in which they can exercise unreasonableness as power-trips.
With NBA some people already had problems with the professionalism of the managers where a “take it or leave it” attitude prevailed in some experiences – I was just happy to use the service because it was a microcosm of Nigerian blog thought.
Allowing something as benign as running out of space on the server to happen is rank unprofessionalism of the highest order and really beneath contempt, you really cannot do business with people like these and it is a shame – just because it was free does not mean it could be run with such levity.

While he welcomes competition, Akin does not see birth of the Nigerian Super Blog as a form of competition “but a pretender replacement for once established NBA [Nigerian Bloggers Aggregator] service.” He added [11]:

However, I am disappointed that this replacement service is very much like re-inventing the wheel and it is in no way improving on the standard and quality of the service that went on before.

Akin wants his content to be displayed his way and that any changes to his formatting and structure be done with his express permission. “Keep my stuff my way,” he wrote:

Then I visited the site only to find that all my formatting and structure has been subsumed into a bland interface with no back-links to the original.
Comments were left on that blog and those did not reflect back at the source – I am sorry, it is not my intention to have a backup of my blog on another site without agreeing on the quality and state of publication – the key should be aggregation and not sub-standard duplication.
Like more knowledgeable people have opined, there are better aggregators than the one implemented, another indicated it looked like an illegal scrapping of contents. In fact, I expect that any publication of my material in sites I do not exercise control over should include citations and acknowledgements.
Besides, I know full well how I want my blogs and material to be displayed, they are displayed as you can find on my blog, any aesthetic changes to the layout or formatting should and must only be done with my expressly granted permission. More so, it is really better to publish the headers and probably the summary, just like NBA did.
My candid advice is for the mover of NaijaLive to confer with the owners of AfricanLoft and AltNigeria, probably an email to a techie like Chxta would come in handy too – they all seem to know a good deal about the technology and the implementation, they are also developing the blogging environment into vibrant communities – then the mover can come up with a decent product; this well-intentioned but amateurish attempt just would not wash. No, not at all.

One reader left a comment [14] noting that there are many people who want to make an African blog aggregator:

It seems like everyone has the idea of making an African blog aggregator. The race has begun, but I wonder who will pull out on in the lead.

Currently, aggregators focusing on material from the African blogosphere are BlogAfrica [15], KenyaUnlimited [16], African Women Blogs [17], Afrigator [18], Mashada [19], Amatomu [20], and Nigerian Bloggers Aggregator [21].

The people behind NaijaLive Project left a comment on Akin’s post, [22] expressing their apologies for “using your blog without express permission from you and in a manner which you do not approve of.”:

Dear Akin,
Perhaps this rejoinder (and apology) to your post is coming rather late but as they say, better late than never. But we did publish this post: http://naijalive.net/category/naijalive-official-stuff/about-naijalive/ describing the nature of the project in more detail and reacting specifically to certain remarks in your original post.
P.S: We have not yet removed your blog because we see it as a quality addition to the website. However we shall PROMPTLY remove it if you want us to

After reading Akin’s critique, David wrote another post [23]:

Akin’s critique, is on the mark. When Naijalive.net started, they did not quote their sources at all and did not link back to the original blog and this made their “aggregation” strictly plagiarism. I would have had no problem if all Naijalive.net did was to re-publish an excerpt of my posts like NBA does.
If anything at all, I’m okay that they’re removing my blog and have now published their contact info on their website. Made me wonder though, how would anyone put-up a website without their contact information?
Do not get me wrong. There is absolutely no reason for NBA not to have competition but such competition must raise the standards and not merely offer a mediocre alternative. What is what doing at all, is worth doing well. I’m sure no one is complaining about Afrigator, AfricanLoft, AltNigeria, AfricanPath who are all good alternatives to BlogAfrica and Global Voices, in their own ways.

And the people behind the Nigerian Super Blog left this comment [24]:

You guys should give us a break. The Super Blog is still in beta so why all this harsh remarks?. There is a broad line between constructive and destructive criticism and unfortunately, your remarks are not helping our image at all.

The Nigerian Super Blog is a website that is constantly and RAPIDLY evolving. All this castigating is giving people the wrong ideas about the entire Project and its not fair. Indeed it makes us wonder whether anybody gets the point of having preview (or beta) versions of websites. A preview/beta version of a website is meant to correct bugs, fix errors and make modifications based on visitor feedback. And it says “preview” on the Super Blog, doesn’t it?…

Aside from the full-post-vs-excerpts thing, we have implemented just about every other issue that you guys complained about. And we will not hesitate to thank you, even though the language used (especially by Mr. Akin) borders on being confrontational if not insultive.

O boy we no know the guy before and we never quarrel with am before so Mr. Akin, which level na???.

We are very concerned about making blunders that is why we solicit and act upon feedback. We are not trying to prove anything, we have not said we know it all, we have virtually begged for reactions and we have reacted swiftly to all feedback. So why all the fuss??? What else can we do? Shut down the site?

Following their comment, Akin asked for his blog to be removed [25]:

I want my blog removed from that thing – immediately. These people’s lack of ethical conduct is amazing.

I was willing to leave my blog on that forum after I received a lengthy apology, but now reading their comments about my blog here is just the very last straw.

A little more research and professionalism on their part would have resolved this issue, Beta or no Beta, business principle of decency in the usage of other people’s material must be pre-eminent.

Trying all that “Nigerianese” does not wash with me. No thanks!