Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Thursday, July 30, 2021

If you’ve copied a chunk of article text off of Politico or the New York Daily News websites lately, you might have noticed a surprise: An accompanying “read more” hyperlink appearing at the end of that pasted excerpt (and it is just an excerpt, I hope — not an entire wholly-swiped article). That JavaScripted magic is courtesy of Tracer, an audience-participation measurement tool from start-up Tynt.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg in what Tracer tracks:

In truth, it’s annoying, if not a dealbreaker, to find unwanted text attached to what you’ve copied. And the referral traffic from such links is, by all accounts, modest. But I’m much more impressed by Tracer’s backend, which allows publishers to see which pages — and, even better, which parts of those pages — are most frequently copied. In a creepy twist, Tracer also counts how many times text is highlighted on a page, even if the user never reaches for the ⌘ and C keys. (Or ctrl and C for PC types.)

I’m not sure precisely what that’s measuring, but it feels like engagement. Readers who are moved to copy a passage are likely sharing that content with friends — in an email as much as a blog. (I first discovered the “read more” link some weeks ago when a friend quoted a New York Daily News article in Gchat. “whoa,” I wrote. “that is weird! i could probably wring a post out of that. thank you!”) Dayton Foster, Tynt’s chief operating officer, told me that on news sites, widely viewed content like stories about Michael Jackson aren’t copied as much as less popular but more focused articles. “Niche stuff that’s really good quality will get copied the most,” he said. “Sports is a really great example.”

(And no, that blockquote above from Nieman Journalism Lab did not have a Tracer link on it.)

No surprise on that last bit. The big-big-big news is so widespread over numerous sites that people know they don’t have to do the keyboard-clicking gruntwork. But more targeted, unique content stands out. I’m betting that the sports example Foster is citing above is fantasy sports columns, which are so decidedly singular in tone and customized content that they prompt roto-heads to go the extra mile when disseminating (usually on forum boards, which flow better without links).

The stated purpose of this tracking is to lower page bounce rates and encourage referral traffic back to the original sites. What’s not mentioned: Plagiarism and digital-rights management. Obviously, that appended link is easy enough to delete, so anyone getting busted via this method would be strictly the low-hanging fruit of the content-theft world. It would be nice if it exposed blatant content-scraping bots and such; if it also appends that link to RSS feeds, it would help shut down those vultures.

Otherwise, it’s a harmless enough tool. I’m not going to be thrilled about doing a backspace-delete every time I copy a snippet of news-story text, but I can live with it; I probably fuss more with copy-and-pasted excerpts than most bloggers do anyway. It’s not enough to dissuade me from using that site, and I already link back to the article permalinks when I cite them. Actually, those Tracer-encoded links might even save me a step.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 07/30/2009 01:19:06 PM
Category: Internet, Publishing
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