Sometimes I get confused by the Remix Culture and its various shades of grey. For example:
A good planet is hard to find
Planet Web 2.0 "aggregates the weblogs of the Web 2.0 community. Web 2.0 is about sharing rich data through open, loosely coupled services, enabling new and exciting applications and modes of collaboration."
Sounds great - and in this case it's all automated. Planet Web 2.0 aggregates full-content posts from people such as John Battelle and Chris Anderson. It has reblg buttons all over the show (not imaginary ones either ;-), making it easy for other people to re-aggregate the content on Planet Web 2.0.
This is good, isn't it? After all it's about sharing and mixing content, getting broader exposure for one's ideas, and other social software warm fuzzy-wuzzies. Well, it may mean less click-through on the ads on John Battelle's weblog or personal RSS feed (if he had ads in his feed)... I sense some grey seeping into this picture. But I'm still OK with Planet Web 2.0 - these are all fine people and collobarating with a community of like minds is a wonderful thing.
The Unstoppable Death Star?
So let's take a look at another system that aggregates content. Article Bot is a "Text Manipulator, Story Re-Writer, Content Creator ...the future of content and a new paradigm for anyone who needs unique, relevant, and unstoppable content..."
What does Article Bot do? It basically remixes existing content, written by humans I presume, so that it "can pass as human-generated".
"(PRWEB) May 23, 2005 -- "The outcry from webmasters around the world for an unstoppable tool that replaces whole staffs of copyrighters, creates organic-feeling, and unbeatably unique content in any language is deafening. The rave reviews Article Bot continues to receive from users tells us we're on to something good," says Mr. Harrold.
"The excitement and controversy around Article Bot amazed us. We said that Article Bot was the future of content-creation, yet we were not prepared for the future coming so soon! With that lack of planning came a need to increase the price of Article Bot," says Don Harrold, Article Bot co-creator.
"Also, Article Bot is about to release a new and shockingly-revolutionary 'Relational Database Article Bot.' We plan to allow only folks who are current Article Bot users, at the time of release, to get their hands on this unstoppable software," says Mr. Harrold."
There's more, but you get the gist - it's unstoppable.
Bots - get used to them
Bots are here to stay on the Web. In fact the era of content aggregating and generating bots has only just begun. Automatic content for the people.
But it's still a very grey area. Some bot-generated sites I like - e.g. Planet Web 2.0 and Memeorandum (which is doing a sterling job of covering the tragic London events of yesterday).
Plus software that makes it easy to re-post and remix - like reBlog and reblg - is something which can be utilised in good ways. This is certainly the case with the people behind reblog and reblg. They're all fine folks, who I'm familiar with via the blogosphere, who want to enhance our social networking and information management experiences.
But let's be frank. Software like that can be utilised in bad ways too, of course. It's a grey area.
Perhaps it's a moral judgement we each have to make, as to which bot-generated sites are good and which are bad (hat-tip Andrew for the insight). Article Bot feels morally wrong to me. It contributes to clutter on the Web, by generating loads and loads of content with no original thought behind it. AKA spam blogs. And the marketing of this software is very disrespectful of human content creators - the writers and bloggers and people who make the Web such an invigorating place. Sure you can automate the content of a website, but don't try and route around the people who write the original content you're feeding off. That's what most annoyed me about SuperFeedSystem and its ilk.
I believe sites like Planet Web 2.0 and Memeorandum *do* respect the content creators - and that's why I like them.
But I don't get the same impression from software makers like Article Bot and SuperFeedSystem. They, and the people who end up using their products, are driven by avarice and have little respect for collaboration, conversations and ideas - the things that make the Web feel so alive to me and others.
Now... that's my moral judgement and I make no apologies for it. Actually it's pretty black and white if I look at it that way.
UPDATE, 9 July 2005: Don Harrold from Article Bot responds in the comments: "Stick a price tag on information and you get what you've got now."