The death of attribution

This week one of the articles I wrote for UX Magazine was picked up my Mashable (they hoover up content from various sites and republish it). I was very happy to see the piece picked up, because it exposed my work to a lot more people (There’s been over 5200 “shares” of it so far). I was even happier to see that Mashable credited me for the work… Not every site that does this republishing does so.

We are in a very interesting place when it comes to content and authorship. There’s been an editorial shift over the past few years to shorter pieces, Top 10 lists, and articles that aren’t really articles at all but a list of animated gifs strung together with a common (usually pop culture-driven) theme. And a lot of these articles are plagiarized from other places and people.

Some of my favorite writers/creators are regularly “copied” from. James Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, had some of his work taken without attribution this week… again. Mark Evanier, a TV and comic book writer, has had several of his anecdotes (most notably his Mel Torme Christmas story) lifted and reposted by people as if the experiences had happened to them. To the people who rip off these creators, as long as the information is public… it’s fair game to reuse. These sites need eyeballs, they need content to lure the visitors in, and they’ll get it from wherever they can.

(Ironically, because I write so frequently, people on Twitter have often assumed that links I tweet are article I myself wrote… and they thank me for it. So I get “credit” for something I didn’t do, even when I’m not trying to).

Attribution, if it isn’t dead, is dying. And that’s a bad thing. Writing is a very personal thing, and many people do it because they are compelled to – they can’t NOT write (that’s how I am). Others do it for the attention, to see their “by-line” along with their work. If editors and publishers on the web stop caring about that, then there will be less interesting content on the Internet. People will take their ball and go home.

But that’s the risk, when you “give away” content. Hopefully, people will appreciate both the author and the work… but if both doesn’t occur, at least my stuff is getting read. Thankfully, I have seen the users of services like twitter usually take the time to credit authorship more often than not… and I appreciate every tweet. Thanks for giving me (and everyone else) proper credit.