Online Syndication

In case you haven't noticed, the web supports some pretty robust forms of syndication. Syndication disrupts how we traditionally think of authorship, in that what is on any given web page is not necessarily written by the author of that page. And I'm not talking only about something being copied from one page to another, but syndicated in the sense that content from one site is hosted on another.

For instance, the following image appears to be on my blog, but it's in fact stored elsewhere and merely referenced on my blog through an img src tag. Because of this, it appears in your browser.

Did I compose a blog post with the above image in it? Well, sort of. I composed a web page that referenced the above image in such a way that you can see it. Am I responsible for that content in the way I'm responsible for this sentence? Well, maybe—but it's not really my content.

You can also easily syndicate content through an iframe, so that entire pages are viewable within pages. So, am I the author of the following simply because I syndicated it on my blog?

I'm blabbing about syndication, one of the cooler composition tools available online, because I've recently found some of my online content syndicated widely. For instance, my Video Writing Journal (tm), something I post to Revver and then syndicate on this blog (at right), is showing up all over the place. The number of venues other than Revver that this content has shown up in is nutty.

It is important to note that this is not because my Video Writing Journal (tm) is exceedingly cool. Instead, it's all about sites capitalizing on the wide range of content available online in order to attract viewer/users. More content = more potential site traffic. And a lot of syndication is automated.

Now, lest you think this is only about video content being widely syndicated, I just noticed that something I published in the academic journal Composition Studies is also getting widely syndicated.

It's a very short little article-thingy, only a couple of pages, and originally appeared in the journal. Academic journals are routinely joked about as not having many readers. Is this still true?

Currently, that piece I published in Composition Studies is also over at Findarticles.com, under the strange header of "CNET Networks Business," and over at a site calling itself HighBeam Research.

The punch line: HighBeam will let you read the whole article (all two pages of it) "with a free trial," and they do this to sell subscriptions to their research database. This is not unlike the British Library, I suppose, which wants £7.65 for the pleasure of downloading my marvelously short article. Really: it's not worth it.

Online syndication is weird that way. I write a piece for Composition Studies, go through the peer-review process there, and finally the article comes out in print and I get a copy. Now the darned thing is bouncing around in these other contexts. In one such context, as the following image reveals, the text is now positioned amid a bizarre paratext in which one is encouraged to click on such links as www.fatloss4idiots.com and www.phdrinkingwater.com.

Is this what publishing online means? Having your work syndicated widely, positioned in new contexts, and generally used to make cashola for anyone who wants it? I guess so. You might think that the payoff is that at least the work gets out there.

But at what cost? Does my article, originally published in Composition Studies mean the same thing in these new contexts? Paying £7.65 to the British Library certainly doesn't do much to the meaning of the piece, but I'm not so sure that's the case when it's syndicated over at a site called "BNET-The Go-To Place for Management."

When we syndicate, we reposition, recontextualize, and even change syndicated content. This could be called circulation, getting the word out, and spreading the news. It's also wildly out of our control.


  1. 8 pounds! That's like 800 dollars!
    hey, great post.

  2. Woo hoo, a meaty post. Nice to see you back.