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When To Link Back, Give Credit In Your Posts

I follow hundreds of people on Twitter and more than a hundred blogs in Google Reader, not to mention the myriad other ways interesting stories and information comes my way. Maybe I saw it on MetaFilter or Reddit, or maybe my fiancé or a former co-worker personally passed it on to me. After looking at hundreds of stories/web pages each day, it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve seen or, having seen it, where I saw it or who shared it first. It’s a digital age dilemma when it comes to blogging about cool new tools or breaking news. It’s especially difficult when the news seems so ubiquitous it’s hard to determine who really broke it (and often, whether that scoop is really a scoop).

This came to mind when GigaOm founder Om Malik posted this tweet praising TechCrunch for “do[ing] the right thing” and crediting them for their “scoop” regarding Google’s acquisition of BufferBox.

The comments on his tweet are particularly interesting, with comments ranging from “I didn’t know you guys had anything on it” to “How is it a GigaOm scoop when they announced it in a company blog post?” to the toungue-in-cheek “Google may acquire a startup in the next six months. You heard it here first. Please make sure to source me. Thanks.” As background, Om apparently had a post about Amazon Locker/BufferBox last month that mentioned, “I have heard rumors that Google is interested in buying the company,” and speculates on what BufferBox could add to the search giant’s line up. TechCrunch updated its post on the sale, which cites the Financial Post interview with the founder, to include a link to Om’s story as background.

But here’s the thing: Are rumors scoops? When does a scoop cease being a scoop, when the info is public and everyone else reports it? Even when it’s not a scoop, but a publicized feature/event/purchase/etc…. Who do you credit? When do you have to credit them? How do you credit them?

With that in mind, here are some best practices to help deliver credit where it’s due and, because it’s about the readers, give your visitors more background into the story and topic. What it comes down to is, it’s better to give too much credit than not enough. Hopefully these tips help navigate the sometimes murky link-back.

1. Google it before you post it.

This should be the first thing you do automatically when something comes up. Look up the company and it’s background, search for who else has posted about this, and read what they’re saying. This will provide more background for your post and will tip you off to what’s already been said so you can think of a fresh angle (otherwise, why bother posting if you could just share the link). This will also help (but not entirely) ferret out something that’s not “right.” Even when you get a press release direct from a company/site, this can help you figure out it’s merits and whether it seems true. Figure out who can give you more background or confirm what you’ve seen. Even in the fast-paced blogosphere, the few seconds/minutes spent confirming something is time well spent. You won’t always be able to do that, but when you can’t, this search will help provide some sources to link back to.

2. Credit where you saw it first.

They may not have broken the news, but they broke it to you. Give them credit for reaching you first. This doesn’t need to be elaborate. Even a link back with a H/T (hat tip) or Via or “As mentioned at…” is enough when it’s something short, or something now ubiquitous. It’s nice to be acknowledged, and it may give your readers somewhere else to look for more information.

3. Cite and link the primary source.

When writing a crime story, reporters usually cite court records, the probable cause affidavit or police incident report, not “the court clerk or dispatcher who tipped me off.” Online it’s good to follow a similar policy. Seek out the primary document. Link to the press release (if it’s posted on their website), the blog post or mention on a tweet or Facebook post from the verified company account.

4. Link to the original post, particularly if they had a “scoop”.

Barring an “official” primary source — and often times in addition to linking to it — provide credit and a link to the source who first wrote about it when they have more than what’s in the release or what everyone knows. If they beat you to seeing the news release and don’t add any extra value, you don’t necessarily need to link them because they “had it first,” but you should if they were where you saw it first as well. Your searching above should have given you a solid idea who first shared it. If you’re not one of the first to write about it, you may have to follow the rabbit hole of link-backs and hat tips on other blog posts to see who everyone else is citing, but it’s worth it to parse out any misinformation that crept in and to compare what’s fresh news with what’s already been out there for awhile. It’s also worth it as a service to readers, though not necessarily required, to include a few links with more background information.

5. Make it fresh. Add value to the discussion.

Having taken a few minutes to go through all the past steps, here’s what any good blogger should do: Add value. If you can’t be first, be the most complete source or be the most original. Maybe you can connect the news of the day to some past event or some other business that will be affected by it in an unexpected way. Maybe you know three other tools that already do what the new kid on the block getting all the press allegedly does better. Maybe you can curate a more complete story and background than any individual blog post has yet on the topic. Connect the dots for your readers. That’s what they’re coming to you for.

Still not sure when to link or want more information on aggregating? The best guidelines I could find were posted earlier this year by Steve ButtryAggregation guidelines: Link, attribute, add value. Here’s part of his take on linking…

“Linking and attribution are the nearly non-negotiable ethical principles of curation. Curation derives much of its value from other people’s original work. You can can and should add value using the techniques discussed later here. But you must absolutely attribute and you must absolutely link. In almost all cases, you should both attribute and link.
Attribution should be complete, citing the journalist and news organization, if both are identified in the original source. Vague references such as “media reports” or passive verbs such as “was reported” are not sufficient. Even if the source is a competitor, attribute completely and by name.

Where the source of online content is unclear, you should be clear about what you know and where you found the material.”

YOUR TURN: Do you as a reader care who had it first? What’s your policy on linking and crediting other blogs?

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