UPDATE, 3:25 p.m.: Success! The ladies from the Derbyshire Writers Guild, which shares the austen dot com domain, were as disturbed by this situation as the rest of us. They contacted the domain owner, who claimed that the requests to remove the offending material were sent to an outdated e-mail address and that he had never received them, and now that he knows about the objections, he will do so. So many thanks to Crystal and Margaret from the DWG for intervening! *tosses confetti*
It really warms our icy, tar-coated, dried-up spinster heart to see the way Janeites online have come together on this situation. We know Laurel Ann very much appreciates all the goodwill as well.
We are very disturbed by a situation presently taking place involving our friend and fellow Jane-blogger Laurel Ann and her excellent blog Austenprose.
The owner of austen dot com (which also houses the Derbyshire Writer’s Guild, which part of the site was not involved in this situation) contacted us a while back and asked if we would like to write for the blog he was setting up called Jane Austen Blog. (ETA: Please don’t go looking for the site; we purposely did not provide a link, because we don’t want to drive traffic to that site.) We responded that we already had an established blog that kept us very busy, and by the way our blog, which had been around for four years, had a similar name, so please call your blog something else. (It was changed to Austen Dot Com Blog, which is really, really different. Not.) Laurel Ann said he also wrote to her and she also turned him down, again, because she had plenty to do on her own, already established blog. He attempted to recruit other writers to blog, but they all seemed to lose interest pretty quickly. The owner of the site (really the owner of the austen dot com domain, who we are told is not a Jane Austen enthusiast in any way) then set up the blog to simply be an aggregation of RSS feeds, of both a Google News feed of anything mentioning Jane Austen–we get such a Google Alert ourself, and it is 99 percent useless–and also using the RSS feed from Austenprose.
RSS feeds, for those who do not know, feed the content from one site to another set up by an end user. A reader can set up an RSS aggregator–for instance, Google Reader–to get the posts from the blogs and newspapers she likes to read, all on one page. She has to click through to comment, and in some cases to read the entire post, but in many cases the entire post is collected in the feed and published to the feed reader. Therefore, because Laurel Ann set up her blog that way for the convenience of her loyal readers, the entire content of her posts was published on this other blog, with all identifying information stripped away. It was made to look as though Laurel Ann was actually writing posts on this other blog, when of course she was not. In other words, they were basically stealing her content.
While it can be said that Laurel Ann provided her posts as an RSS feed and the site owner was just taking advantage of it, this is clearly a misuse of the RSS feed; and Laurel Ann has asked the site owner repeatedly to not use her feed in this way, and he has ignored her requests.
Why would he do this? you may wonder. For SEO–search engine optimization. Search engines would pick up HIS blog as having desirable content that people were searching for on Jane Austen, thereby raising the value of his own site, and driving visitors to his site, where he has Google ads installed. Each visitor to his site, visiting because they think there is good, original content on the page, gets him some money. (You’ll notice that there are, at present, no ads on Austenprose.)
Does it work? Just a week or so ago, we received from a correspondent a link that she thought we would find of interest, which she received in a Google Alert for “Pride and Prejudice.” Though the URL said austen dot com blog, we knew it to be a post from Austenprose, because we had read it there, and immediately let our correspondent know the true situation. She had simply sent it because she received the e-mail. She thought the content belonged to the site where she had sent us. And why not? It was set up to look that way.
Gentle Reader, you may wonder why the Editrix is so exercised about this situation. We are entirely sympathetic to Laurel Ann’s plight and would also be upset at such a use of our content, because we know how much time and effort goes into keeping up an excellent blog like Austenprose. It is not just the writing and the posting, but the time spent assembling links, and the hours and hours and hours searching the web for information and links. We can’t imagine the hours she spends on her special events concentrating on a single Austen book, not to mention herding the cats, er, writers who contribute guest posts. And we Jane bloggers don’t do it for money; in fact, we usually spend our own money doing it. We do it for the love of Jane Austen, and because we really enjoy interacting with our readers. It makes us exceedingly angry that someone would just take that hard work so boldly. It’s like having your necklace snatched and then seeing the trampy little piece that took it strutting down the street wearing it, and then slapping you in the face for good measure.
We just wanted to make everyone aware of this situation, and swing the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness a little bit, because a site purporting to operate in the name of Jane Austen and her fans should be held to a higher standard of behavior. This kind of crap is all very well for garbage spam blogs, but the Janeites deserve much better. This is so Not What Jane Would Do.
Also, like Laurel Ann we’ve changed the way our blog is presented in RSS readers; instead of whole posts, you will now see partial posts, and must click through to read on our blog. We are sorry to take this step and inconvenience those Gentle Readers using the RSS feed for legitimate purposes.