Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blogging Etiquette: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

One of the greatest delights of blogging is the easy idea-sharing. Blogs allow us to peek into other families' homes, to see how other moms are making things work. From book reviews to recipes to craft ideas to housework management strategies, a vast treasury of ideas is right here for us at the click of a mouse. I have learned so much from my fellow mom-bloggers, much that has had a tangible effect on my family's home life.

But the very ease with which ideas can be shared online makes for some fuzzy lines regarding proper attribution. Blogger X posts a recipe, and Blogger Y links to it, and Bloggers A, B, and C link to Blogger Y's link, and before you know it, the recipe has entered the public domain, so to speak, and there's little chance it will ever be traced back to its original source.

Now, perhaps with recipes that isn't such a big deal. If you post a recipe online, you're sharing it with the world, and you probably aren't really expecting or desiring strangers in other countries to announce to their dinner guests, "This souffle was invented by Mrs. Jo Q. Blogger in Peoria, Illinois!"

Still, protecting intellectual ownership ought to be on our minds as we write posts. Unless you have assigned copyright to a third party, you own the words you post to your blog. You also "own" the ideas you share, though "ideas" is a murky term and ownership or origin of ideas is something much harder to pin down.

We will address plagiarism and copyright issues in future posts, but for now let's focus on simple blog etiquette. There are some simple steps bloggers can take to ensure that credit for a great idea is given to the person who "thunk it up."

Treat an idea the way you would a quote: Give it proper attribution.

Remember back in college, when you had to include certain information for every quote you used in a paper? Author's name, title of book, and publication info? We should be treating internet quotes the same way. If you're inspired by an idea in someone else's post, be sure to include the source in your own post—the more source info, the better. Include the other blogger's name and blog title, as well as a link to the post in question.

Put the attribution info in the link itself.

From watching my SiteMeter and MyBlogLog stats, I have learned that only 10-20% of readers actually click through to any given link. I was pretty surprised by these low click-through numbers! What this means is that you can't assume your readers will click a link to find out whose idea you are sharing. It's best to give as much source information as possible right in the link itself.

For example,
I love this idea for counting down the days of Lent—we're going to hang up a string of purple paper fish and pull one off every day until Easter!
attempts to give credit to Suzanne Temple, the person who came up with the original idea, but it relies upon click-through to do so. If a reader doesn't click the link, she won't know where the idea came from.

A better option would be:
Suzanne over at Blessed Among Men shared a great idea for counting down the days of Lent. You hang up a string of purple paper fish and pull one off every day until Easter.
Here, you see I have linked both to Suzanne's main page and the permalink for the post where she shared her fish idea. It's an extra step for the blogger, but provides the reader with two opportunities to visit Suzanne's site, and gives Suzanne (who, by the way, is going to be blushing like mad when she sees I've used her as an example!) a clear and thorough attribution.

Even better would be to add an enticing phrase that encourages your reader to click through— "You've got to see her gorgeous photos!" would do the trick. But again, don't assume that a teaser is going to make every reader click the link. Include as much source info as possible in the top layer of your post.

If nothing else, give a tip of the hat.

Hat-tipping is a common blogging practice; I'm sure you've seen plenty of examples. It is usually done when a blogger is sharing a quick quote or link, and looks like this:
HT: Blessed Among Men
You stick the hat tip at the bottom of a post. Remember, it's better to use the permalink to a specific post than to link to the main blog site. For example, using Suzanne Temple's fish post above, you'd want to link to:
rather than just
To find the permalink, try clicking on the post's title (not the blog title), or on the date-stamp at the bottom of the post. On Typepad blogs, of course, you can just click the word "permalink." (Clicking the post title works, too.)

If people unwittingly give you credit for someone else's idea, try to set the record straight.

One of my most popular and oft-linked posts is a piece I wrote on Bonny Glen about using the concept of "pegs" to organize our learning days. Even though I was careful to give credit to Leonie, the person who (on a yahoogroup long ago) introduced me to the idea of pegs, on more than one occasion I have seen references to "Melissa Wiley's great pegs concept" on other people's blogs. While I have appreciated the links to my post, I certainly don't want to take credit for Leonie's thoughts!

Whenever I discover such a case, I try to leave a comment on the other blog giving credit where credit is properly due.

Now, in this example, I don't have a specific post by Leonie to link to, since her thoughts on pegs were shared on a discussion list instead of a blog. But I can link to her blog, and thus hope that readers will encounter more of her wisdom in her own space.

Similarly, there have been many times that I have seen concepts I did originate incorporated into other people's posts with no mention of my name. It's not that I'm a credit-hog, nor are you when you wince at seeing your words or ideas used by someone else with no reference back to you. What we are is being properly protective against plagiarism.

Internet plagiarism is a big enough problem already; there are lots of people who don't care about stealing other people's words and ideas. Those of us who DO care can help keep the lines firmly drawn by being very careful to always give full credit wherever credit is due.


Esther said...

This is an excellent post. I am loving this blog! Thanks ladies and Happy Mother's Day!

Love2Learn Mom said...

Great post - thanks!

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thanks, Melissa, for a great article!

Christine said...

Thank you!

Crimson Wife said...

Thanks for the reminder! Also being a newbie to blogging, I'd wondered what "HT" stood for so thanks for the clarification.

I skimmed through my blog and I believe that I properly attributed everything but my apologies if I overlooked something!

Suzanne Temple said...

Hey thanks for all credit!! HA HA HA!

Now, I have a question for the ladies here. I'll just ask it here since I don't know how else to submit a question. This is it: "The line spacing has suddenly changed on my blog. You can see two posts ago how the lines were further apart and now they are closer. Does anyone know how I could change it back?" Thanks!

Kristen Laurence said...

Thank you for this post, Lissa. I do have a question about etiquette:

What are the rules for deleting a post after having posted it? I have done this, for example, when after I had posted it occurred to me that some might be sensitive about the subject matter. So I deleted it, even though the post had already been "out there" for half a day. I do make it a point to try not to post anything that might hurt someone, but sometimes that realization doesn't come until later.

Mary B said...

Ester thanks for sending us here. I'm trying find as many sites a s possible on etiquette before setting up a site for our local homeschool group. We have a private page but I'd like to give us a public face so those new to the area can find us.
All ideas welcome--- and of course will be credited.

Meredith said...

Great food for thought here Lissa!! I am always little paranoid about whether I'm crediting enough, so perhaps I tend to err on the side of caution and mention someone's post/ideas several times with links to their post and blog and name ;0

Thanks for sharing this one!

Jerosha said...

Well said =) It has been a big problem of mine for years now in my other craft sites. I try to be patient but some people are really ignorant when it comes to ethics. A lot would even say that it's their blog so they have all the right what they want to write and post. Oh well, as long as there are people who do the right thing then the world is in a way nice to live in.