As developers we have the incredible opportunity to provide real value to real people – it reminds me of Spiderman to the Nth degree and how Uncle Ben told Spidey:
With great power comes great responsibility.
You could also attribute this to Franklin D. Roosevelt as well who said:
Today we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility.
And for some it is truly a war that is going on in their minds and hearts! Take for instance Ben Gilbanks who is pondering what he should do in terms of a plugin that he is developing – should he release it when he knows that it could be used for incredible good as well as incredible evil?
So my problem is that I have this awesome plugin that I would like to release. I know it will be used by genuine people who just want to simplify their lives – but I am also concerned about the less ethical users of these types of products. I don’t like the idea of releasing something that could be used in a bad way – and so I don’t know what to do.
The plugin features the ability for users to essentially auto-blog content that’s being created, whether it’s from their sites or from sites that they don’t manage.
He argues that for his own personal usage it’s been a boon for productivity and streamlining his efforts as he can create content on all his various properties and have a site he maintains and operates aggregate the content into a formal stream for users to consume. This is the “good” side of a potential use.
But Ben isn’t ignorant of the fact that it could be potentially abused and leveraged to “lift” or outright steal content from others so as to pose it as their own and reap the reward that Google and other search engines would provide through organic returns:
Often autoblogs are seen as bad. They are often called splogs (Spam Blogs) because they copy content wholesale from other sites – remove attribution (steal the credit) and then hope to get extra traffic through Google. This is bad because unethical users can create many sites in a short amount of time essentially by stealing content.
So what is the man supposed to do? Release this plugin to the public who may do great good or great harm? What would you counsel Ben to do?
Personally I’d release it and here are a few top-level reasons why:
- People will do whatever they want and in an open source world cannot be responsible for every single user’s use of what we distribute. Your plugin may have an obvious “abuse” factor but there are tons of other plugins where that factor is not as obvious but creative people have found ways to leverage them for their own selfish gain.
- You have an incredible opportunity to educate many more people about the dangers of spam blogs and willy-nilly content aggregators. Releasing a plugin will increase your visibility which will increase your platform to educate users, developers, and content consumers about this issue. Better you, who are informed, than some other ignorant wannabe!
- You should trust (not blindly) and hope that Google will penalize idiots who abuse the system and that good will somehow naturally prevail over the bad. I know this is idyllic in so many ways but Google and the other search engines have continually improved their queries and approaches to content aggregators in the past and will continue to do so. Sure, it won’t be perfect but it’ been proven that good original content bubbles to the service while splogs fade fast.
- Because many people will ultimately benefit from your creation, despite the abuse. Not just site owners who are leveraging it rightly but also all the readers and end-users who will unknowingly owe you for your time and product development. The creation of value is good thing!
That’s all I have to say from my end – what about you?
[Featured image via BinaryMoon]