Content from major newspapers and news wires is often popular fodder for blogs large and small. Many, if not most, major news organizations have not, however, been enthused by the (fair) use of their content by bloggers.
But The Guardian has another message for bloggers: take our content and post it on your blog, please.
At a time when an increasing number of publishers are erecting pay walls, or considering them, The Guardian is moving in the opposite direction. Its Open platform, a "suite of services for developing digital products and applications with the Guardian", invites developers to take The Guardian's content and do interesting things with it.
Last week, it released a plugin for WordPress that takes advantage of the Open Platform and allows bloggers using WordPress to easily post The Guardian's content on their blogs. Matt McAlister, the Head of the Guardian Development Network, thinks it’s a shining example of what The Guardian can do with its platform:
...the WordPress plugin is a fantastic example of just one way we are reinforcing our leading position as an innovator in digital technology.
Bloggers will be able to browse through our articles on the WordPress platform, choosing which articles they wish to publish on their blogs.
By turning bloggers into a distribution channel for Guardian content, The Guardian is obviously hoping that it will be able to expand its reach. Given that some publishers aren't even interested in licensing their content to third parties willing to pay for it, The Guardian's offering will have little competition right now. For that reason, it should also have some appeal.
Bloggers who use the plugin don't have to pay The Guardian a licensing fee, but must permit the Guardian's plugin to insert Guardian-controlled ads that are displayed alongside its content. Obviously, if a few bloggers with significant traffic use the plugin, The Guardian might have a new revenue stream on its hands, although it's hard to say how big that revenue stream might realistically be.
Of course, the Guardian's offering isn't without risk. Its content and ads could be embedded on sites that the Guardian and/or its advertisers would rather not be associated with. And letting everyone embed your content on their sites could promote the commoditization of your content more than it promotes the value of it. But if being too open has its risks, so does being too closed. After all, publishers who erect pay walls risk losing a large chunk of their online readership.
The truth is that the status quo is working for few publishers, and most of them will have to make changes. For some, that means becoming more closed. For some, like The Guardian, that means becoming more open. Whether one approach generally works better than the other is something we will soon hopefully find out.