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Feedly WAS (is) Hijacking Shared Links And Cutting Out Original Publishers

December 7th, 2013 by · 71 Comments · News Reader

Feedly is feedly copy contentknown as the leading replacement for the now deceased Google Reader but they are also beginning to get a reputation for making absolutely bone-headed decisions.

Last month Feedly had the bright idea of forcing all their users to have a Google+ account in order to use Feedly, and today Feedly has found a way to piss off bloggers everywhere.

I have just discovered that Feedly has rolled out an unannounced update that changes how users share links.

Instead of sharing a link which leads to a publisher’s website, Feedly users are now sharing links that lead to the same content, only now it is hosted on Feedly’s website.

This change happened sometime around midnight Friday night. Any link shared from Feedly before midnight links to the original source, but any link shared after about 10am links to Feedly.

Update: As of midnight Saturday, Feedly has suspended the hijacking of links. All links (including the one below) now lead where they should.

For example, the following link leads to a copy of one of my blog posts which Feedly is hosting and distributing:

http://feedly.com/e/dCAnCBil

It looks like this:

feedly copy content

Just to be clear, I don’t know of any other service that pulls this kind of stunt. This is very much not okay with me and I would bet that I am not the only one.

This bothers me both as a publisher and as a reader. And just to add insult to injury the “open site” button at the top of the screen won’t actually take you to my blog. It takes you deeper into Feedly.

I’m not sure how many of my readers remember but a similar problem occurred last year when the save-for-later service Readability was criticized for having users share links that led to the Readability website and not the source publisher’s website (AppAdvice).

Readability was roundly criticized and quickly changed how their sharing option worked, but before that happened ReadWrite spelled out exactly why one is always supposed to share a link to the source:

I’m not moaning about page views here. That’s not my point. I’m a blogger, but I don’t care about blogging nearly as much as I care about reading and sharing.

The problem with this is that it breaks sharing. It forces mobile users to use Readability instead of their link-saving app of choice, which might be Instapaper, a service that does treat publishers with more distance and respect. It might be Pinboard or another bookmarking service. A shared link should always, always, always be the original URL, so that users can do with it as they please.

Instead, Readability skipped ads for publishers and showed ads for itself instead. Even on the desktop, though it loads the original page below, it puts the linked story in a Readability.com frame, so the URL still isn’t right.

And that’s not the only reason why one should be allowed to share a link to the original source.

I have contacted Feedly and confirmed that this is a new feature they are testing (and not a bug). Instead, they think it will boost engagement:

This is a tool we are building to help publishers increase the engaged readership in feedly. This also helps mobile users consume content a lot faster. This is still experimental but I will be happy to completely opt you out.

I really have to wonder about Feedly; it’s almost as if they don’t realize that publishers want to engage with readers directly and not have Feedly engage with readers at our expense.It’s kinda the reason I have a website rather than posting everything on (for example) Facebook. Furthermore, what if said reader wants to engage via email, Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section?

Feedly can’t help in those areas, and in fact by changing the way their links work Feedly has actually hurt my ability to engage with readers.

Why they would think this was a good idea escapes me, but I have high hopes that Feedly will drop this publisher hostile policy.

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71 Comments so far ↓

  • igorsk

    Kinda funny seeing you posting this, as all your outgoing links in the RSS feeds go through redirectingat.com. Previously there was also ebookne.ws but it seems you’ve at least dropped that.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      I don’t see the relevance.

      ebookne.ws is a url shortener based on bitly. It doesn’t do anything other the same 301 redirect service offered by bitly. I use it because bitly’s bookmarklet is the easiest way to grab a title and link and then share it either on Twitter or the blog.

      Redirectingat has to do with commission junction’s affiliate service. It’s just a way of tracking links to sites like walmart.

      Neither of the services I use hosts the content; they just link to it in a specific way for specific purposes. Many websites use similar tricks when creating outbound links (including, as of yesterday, Feedly).

      • Kevin P.

        I don’t know about relevance to the post, but it can be a problem when the middleman service becomes unreachable or develops some other issue. I have seen this happen several times with the redirection services that the New York Times uses. I’ll see an interesting NYT article in my RSS reader and upon clicking on the title, I’ll be greeted with an error message from some page with “feedproxy” or whatever in the URL. When that happens, I’m forced to either move on to something else or, if I’m really still interested, search Google for the title (which almost always works, because the Times’ main site rarely goes down).

        • Eugene

          From a usability standpoint, I would agree. However, the main point of this article is hijacking the entire user experience, clicks, content, and ad impressions, not mundane link forwarding, which still leads users to the correct destination.

    • gerg

      I really don’t understand how you think that’s the same at all. One is an affiliate tracker and the latter is a simple url shortener/sharing platform. Neither of them rehost the content and steal page hits and ad views from the content creator, or even delay for ad views. As a website owner, those have no affect on my viewership, but Feedly is literally stealing page hits from my content. Did you miss the entire point of this article, or what?

  • Edwin Khodabakchian

    Hello,

    (This is Edwin from feedly).

    As I mentioned in the email I sent to Nate earlier this morning, the goal of this feature is to 1) help content creators increase their readership in feedly (when a user discovers your content and adds it to his feedly, they are converting a one time visitor into a repeat engaged user) and 2) help user consume content faster on mobile device.

    We are early in the design and implementation of this feature. If you are a publisher and want to work with us on improving this feature (we are working on some interesting features around discovery, call to action, analytics), please email me at edwin@feedly.com If you do not want to benefit form this feature, you can also sent me an email and we will quickly opt you out.

    /Edwin

    • Nate Hoffelder

      This is BS. You’ve already started hijacking links but you are not providing any analytics, thus proving that any claim that there is a connection is nonsense.

      Also, where do you get off demanding that I opt out of your hijacking? It’s like saying that I should have to ask someone to stop hitting me in the face wallet. And yet you think that is reasonable?

      Do you realize that you have just reinforced my point that Feedly is hostile to publishers?

      • Brandon

        It’s your opinion that its hostile to publishers. Feel free to opt out of Feedly if you’re a publisher, I’ll take my attention elsewhere.

        Content is the commodity, and it. is. cheap.

        • Michael Donohoe

          “It’s your opinion that its hostile to publishers”

          It is mine too and I’ve worked for various publishers for almost a decade.

          Let me be clear though – in its current form it IS HOSTILE to publishers.

          That said, I expect there are other features (of which this is just one) that Feedly would push out that would help counter the impact of this change.

          At least I hope so. If not, then this is certainly a shitty move on Feedlys part.

          I’m going to hope Feedly does right by publishers on this one.

          “Content is the commodity, and it. is. cheap.”

          I originally wanted to reply with a “Well, fuck you” just for that as it just came across as completely disdainful for a lot of people I know and respect. However I’ve said plenty of things that weren’t meant as written and I’m sure you had a different point to make.

        • Shy Anne

          Wow, THAT is not an attitude that I, as a CONSUMER of content and up to now a customer of Feedly, like to hear. I can take my reading habits elsewhere. Aggregators are YOUR commodity, and they. are. WAAAAY cheaper than good content. Buh-bye, Feedly.

        • Jacques

          Content is NOT cheap. Sure, bad content might be, but good content isn’t cheap to produce, and it can single handedly make or break a business.

        • Vicki Farmer

          “Content is the commodity, and it. is. cheap.”

          Brandon, if this is what you honestly think, you are displaying staggering levels of hubris and lack of understanding of the aggregator’s place in the blogosphere food chain.

          Is a good RSS aggregator of value to me, a consumer of content? Of course it is. But the content does not exist to serve the aggregator; the aggregator exists to allow me access to content that *I* have deemed to have value for me. Honestly, as long as the aggregator does its job adequately, any one is as good as the next, and unless I have been well-served by a particular aggregator for a long time, I’m not going to feel any particular allegiance to it. My interest is in the content.

          BTW, of equally great value to me is the time and energy I have put into curating the content that I am subscribed to. Your sneering disdain for my content is a personal slap in my face.

          Suggesting that the aggregator is of greater value than the content is like saying that my Otterbox is more valuable than my iPhone. Hey, I love my Otterbox, but if I didn’t have an iPhone, I wouldn’t need the Otterbox; I have an Otterbox to serve my iPhone and not the other way around.

          Brandon, I don’t know enough about the Feedly org chart (and don’t care, honestly) to know if you speak for them or not, but this was not a good moment for you. Try again.

      • Hannah

        Edwin – as a reader, I’m frustrated at the fact that you’ve taken away my ability to share information and articles as I choose. As a consumer, I am appalled that I don’t get to choose to throw support behind the websites I enjoy. These websites and blogs reap no tangible benefit from Feedly’s shady practices. Moreover, as an educator, I am frustrated that I can’t properly cite articles I find on Feedly for my students, except through using Google. Perhaps this was Feedly’s plan all along.

        This DOES NOT help publishers or writers. It makes life more difficult for readers and consumers.

        Also, if anyone else from Feedly is reading this, fire your boy Edwin, or find someone with more sense to respond to customer complaints. He has singlehandedly turned off this entire thread of readers. Horrible business practices.

    • Dave Mackey

      I’ve got to agree with Nate on this one…This seems like a low blow by Feedly. I hope you’ll backtrack on this quickly, b/c if the decision stands, I’ll be looking for another reader.

      • Will

        I agree as well.

        I liked feedly, but when you see the owner/representative come out and act like a douche telling people to leave it if they don’t like it rather than listening to people’s concerns and addressing them in a positive manner, you can pretty much bet they won’t be around for long.

        I too will promptly start looking for an alternative.

  • Carolyn Jewel

    I noticed this with Feedly links that started showing up in my twitter stream. I was confused when I ended up at Feedly and did not see the website I expected. When I tried to get to the original site, that proved to be impossible. I wanted to see the comments to that post. And the Feedly link made that impossible.

    Great. //sarcasm

    For this user, the Feedly links were a complete fail.

    This is hijacking the destination and it is not good behavior.

    :If you do not want to benefit from this feature::

    Right. How is that a benefit to anyone but Feedly?

  • Paul

    As a publisher its not behavior that I see any benefit from, and increases the suspicion that as Nate suggests, the only benefit goes to Feedly. Now if the site redirected through feedly so they could track it, I would be fine with that (i.e. share a link, person clicks on link, link goes via feedly through some bit.ly type service but user ends up on the main source page in their web browser, that’s fine. But publishers want to know who is reading their stuff, where they are based, how many pages did they click around their site, and hopefully, did they go to a subscribe page. None of that information would be collected if its pointing to feedly.

    Plus the user wouldn’t know or see links to any other content the publisher produces based on this model.

    • Edwin Khodabakchian

      Paul,

      The comments feedback is one that we collected a few times over the last week and tomorrow’s iteration will address it.

      The need for better analytics is also one that we are hearing a lot about (independently from the url shortener feature). We are working on analytics tools which will offer content creators insight into their readership and engagement tools to better interact with them.

      For example, Nate has aggregated a community of 1,000 readers in feedly. It would be nice for him to know how many of them are really passionate and read every article? who are the most influencers? what is the aggregated interest graph of that micro-community? It would be nice to allow Nate to ask readers about their profile so that he can get a list of actual people (like twitter and facebook). It would be nice to allow Nate run campaigns (events, e-commerce, fund raising, etc…) if he wants to.

      We are going to start with analytics but there is a lot more we want to offer content creators who want to take advantage.

      We are also going to make it easier for both content creators and users to opt out. This way it will be clear who has the control.

      • Uneducated Guess

        Links are everything on the web. The fact that you don’t care is yet another reason I will never use Feedly.

        • Nate Hoffelder

          I already have the analytics, but more importantly all that analytics stuff is irrelevant to the point that Feedly is hijacking links.

          • Juvenall

            Well, just to play this point for a moment, no, you really don’t. What Feedly could offer you here is insight into the outside effectiveness of their platform. For example, how much of your traffic is coming from RSS readers who discovered you through their service and then shared that with an influential site like Reddit. How frequently this happens, and what articles specifically drove the most RSS subscriptions are among other data points that could reveal tons in terms of your own monetization efforts.

            I can agree, however, that Feedly’s method for this is simply unacceptable when there are countless alternatives for achieving the same goal. A simple url parameter appended to the string would be benign and have zero impact. Then, some client side scripting could parse that, post the data back to feedly, then bind itself to an RSS signup link to monitor click throughs. That’s just the easy way (from experience).

            If Feedly wants to continue this obnoxious method, fine, but they need to make it opt-in, not opt-out. Let me, as a publisher, decide if the value of Feedly’s data services is more important than that of multiple, high profile links scattered across the internet.

          • Nate Hoffelder

            Actually, I have more analytics data than I know what to do with, including Google Analytics, Feedburner, Webmaster Tools, Statcounter, bitly, Facebook, and AddThis.

            And I’m not even making use of all of the services out there.

            Do you know what?

            There is so much analytics data out there that it makes me wonder whether Feedly can add anything worthwhile. That service only represents about 10% to 15% of my RSS followers. I’m not sure Feedly will tell me anything I can’t find out elsewhere.

          • Juvenall

            Understandable. Metrics is a career unto itself and getting useful information out all that data is tricky. That isn’t enough to discount the value the data has, however, and once you’re able to put it all together in a cohesive way, marketing and monetization efforts become significantly less emotional.

            Data from Feedly would have significant value to publishers who see a sizeable portion of their traffic volume coming from RSS. Knowing what type of articles drive more traffic, which drive more subscriptions, etc would be invaluable as a tool in developing more reader engagement through content (and in turn, what sort of RSS adverts will drive user action). That’s just the tip of what you can get from that sort of data.

            Again, though, I want to be clear that I’m in no way defending Feedly’s scummy approach to this. This is exactly the sort of anti-user desperation move you see from startups about to go under. I mean, I sympathize with them in their desire to drive up user numbers through exposure, but pissing off publishers isn’t the best way to accomplish that.

          • Nate Hoffelder

            “the sort of anti-user desperation move you see from startups about to go under”

            This was so ineptly handled that I don’t know if it was desperation or simply Feedly’s usual not thinking things through. Given how much Feedly is charging for the pro service, they could be feeling desperate.

            If Feedly is in trouble then they could always do what The Old Reader did: downsize their userbase. Seriously, the previous owners of TOR were so overwhelmed that they decided to fire something like 96% of their users:
            http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/07/29/the-old-reader-to-close-doors-in-2-weeks-a-victim-of-its-own-success/

            The only reason it didn’t happen was because the service was sold.

      • Uneducated Guess

        Also, can we look forward to a Lifetime Ransom option for those “better analytics”? That would be swell.

      • Peter Oliver

        Treating people like they just don’t understand the value you are going to create is a pretty awful sales tactic. You are just making people distrust you. It’s obvious what is happening here.

        • Educated Guess

          Sweet taste of irony, the publishers that never told their readers how they’d promote content are now the ones who cry when Feedly is offering a better reading experience than their blogs…

          Let me grab my popcorn.
          http://persephonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/kingofpopcorn1.gif

          • Nate Hoffelder

            I’m not sure I understand your point.

            I have always supported readers choosing to read my posts elsewhere. This is an option I value highly as a reader so i don’t want to deny it to folks who read this blog. It’s not the issue here.

            The problem here isn’t the quality of the reading experience but that Feedly has decided to hijack the links and cut me out. That is a completely different issue.

          • Peter Oliver

            I have no idea what you are trying to say.

  • Will

    This seems to be a “feature” of sharing directly through Feedly only. I use RSS readers (in particular, Mr. Reader and Newsify) and use Feedly only as the backend aggregator. When sharing links, Mr. Reader gives a direct link to the shared article while Newsify uses Google’s Feedproxy redirect, but you still end up on the originating web site. So there are ways to use Feedly while avoiding the hijacked links problem.

    Another way, of course, is to find another service for RSS aggregation. Thanks for alerting us to this new behavior.

  • Stephen McDonald

    Bummed out Feedly users: if you’re looking for a no-nonsense slick RSS reader please have a look at https://kouio.com – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised :-)

      • Stephen McDonald

        Thanks Nate, would love to get your feedback – feedback@kouio.com

        • Will Norris

          Just signed up for Kouio to try it out, only to discover that shared links have http://kou.io/* URLs. Why even bother mentioning Kouio as an alternative when you do practically the same thing. Granted, you still 301 redirect to the real URL instead of proxying the content, but proxying the URLs is just as bad in my opinion.

          • Stephen McDonald

            Will I just read your blog post and I understand your point.

            Yes we use a short URL. I don’t think that’s the gripe being described here with Feedly though which as I understand is outright extracting and re-publishing content.

            With a short URL you still end up at the original source. Twitter does this with every single link.

            I don’t think calling these practically the same thing makes sense at all.

          • Nate Hoffelder

            I’m not sure that is a fair criticism, given that practically everyone does this kind of 301 redirect.

          • Will Norris

            Stephen and Nate: oh, I’m well aware that Twitter (and many other services) do this regularly… that doesn’t make it okay. If a publisher chooses to use a third-party shortening service for affiliate tracking, analytics, etc, that’s totally fine because it’s their content. When the sharing service does it, it’s getting in between readers and publishers with (I would argue) no real benefit to either. If all you care about as a sharing service is short URLs, then parse the page for the rel=”shortlink” link.

          • Nate Hoffelder

            In that case I probably run afoul of your rules. I share the shortened links everywhere as well – and it’s not just my content.

            I use shortened links because they are simply too convenient. I see them as being in the same category as feed readers – they’re so useful to so many that the convenience outweighs the downside.

          • Will Norris

            If you choose to share content using a third-party URL shortener, that’s entirely up to you. What I object to are applications or services that do it automatically and don’t allow me to share the original URL. It’s the removal of choice that I have a problem with.

    • Bob Monsour

      Kouio.com looks very nice. Fortunately, Feedly allows export of your OPML file and Kouio allows import. Off to a good start. I’m going to try them side-by-side for a bit. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Average Joe

    I doubt feedly even has the legal right to copy others’ content to their servers.

  • Paul R. Dillinger

    I tried Feedly, but I didn’t like it. I switched to NewsBlur when GReader went away, and I couldn’t be happier. I understand some liberties might need to be taken when presenting the content of a feed, but modifying links and copying content is sketchy at best.

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  • Keishon

    I dislike what Feedly is doing as well. This whole epiosode just reaffirms my choice of using a paid alternative: Feedbin. I’ve been with Feedbin for 5 months at least and recommend it.

  • John

    I actually switched to newsblur about a month before the reader shutdown announcement. Definitely a good decision.

  • Bibin

    Very sad move by Feedly !. I used Feedly and now only Newsify on my iPhone. Came to this original page from the app, and read the comments .. I want to know what people think/comment about the content written above !!!!..

    Going to Feedly site gives me nothing as a Reader, and fails the purpose of what it is meant to be. An aggregator !

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  • Ariel Meadow Stallings

    Thank you so much for writing about this. I sent Feedly this email over the weekend:


    Hey guys! I’m both a pro Feedly subscriber and a professional web publisher, and I wanted to check in with y’all about something I just noticed with your Pinterest integration.

    I use Pinterest heavily as a traffic generating tool for my websites, and I love using Feedly’s Pinterest integration to pin photos from the feed of my website, offbeatbride.com, to the site’s associated Pinterest account at http://pinterest.com/offbeatbride.

    Today, however, I realized that when I use Feedly’s Pinterest integration, the URL linked from the pin isn’t offbeabride.com — it’s feedly.com.

    For instance, when I pinned this image:
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/171418329540632754/

    From the Offbeat Bride feed of this post:
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    The URL linked from the pin is this:
    http://feedly.com/e/qBmgZ03g

    Now, of course that does potentially benefit me, because someone might subscribe to follow Offbeat Bride’s feed via Feedly. But I’m a publisher who lives and dies off of my pageviews. I’m realizing now that when I use Feedly to pin, I’m essentially LOSING MONEY by giving those clicks from Pinterest to feedly.com.

    This is pretty sobering for me as a publisher… I had no idea that was how the Pinterest integration worked, and it’s a surprising thing to learn. In my experience, if a user is as surprised as I am right now… something’s not clear in the UI.

    I want to make it clear that I adore Feedly. As a user, it’s a tool I’m proud to support and use pretty much all day, every single day. As a publisher, I’ve promoted Feedly heavily to my readers because I think it’s a great tool: http://offbeatempire.com/2013/06/google-reader-dying-in-3-2-1

    But! As a publisher who uses Pinterest heavily for traffic generation, I’m pretty surprised and disappointed with how you guys have integrated RSS pinning. I hope you’ll reconsider the functionality, or at least make it more obvious that pins from Feedly point to feedly.com pages, NOT original source pages.

    Thanks for listening,

    Ariel Meadow Stallings
    Publisher, Offbeat Empire
    http://offbeatempire.com

    ————-

    I received no response. It’s so great to see that others have been in contact with the Feedly folks about this issue, and it seems that they’ve reverted it? I still see my Feedly-shared pins as pointing to feedly URLs… but they immediately redirect to my site.

    As I hope my message to Feedly makes clear, I’m longtime fans… but wow. This was a mis-step.

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  • MarkWebb

    I’m going to stop using Feedly if it is stealing clicks/page views from original content pages. I don’t mind ads on Feedly – they’ve got to eat too – but if I click through I want to go to the publishers page so the publisher gets the benefit of any of my click-throughs after that.

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    • Nate Hoffelder

      That’s new, actually, but equally despicable.

      • Alan Roberts

        This should receive more publicity… A lot of services (not only news readers) are doing URL shortening but all of them are using clever short domain names, not their actual ones. Feedly seems to be doing this for the sole purpose to shove their brand in everyone’s faces, while utterly disrespecting publishers and users.

        • Nate Hoffelder

          I’m more upset about the suggestion to open the post in the Feedly app. That’s stealing page views.

          • Alan Roberts

            Ah yes… I just noticed that too (It’s not visible on the web, only in Twitter App). This is really outrageous!

            P.S. after clicking the shared “short” link, for a split second you could actually see the landing page you mentioned in this article. They are doing JavaScript redirection to fool back-end crawlers that they actually own the content.

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  • Jenny

    Thanks for this enlightening post. I’ve never been all that satisfied with Feedly, but this is real inspiration to check out alternatives.

  • Molly

    This is so frustrating. I want to save the URL to a blog post I found through feedly, and I just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get out of feedly and into the site. Wtf? I need to save that direct URL. Grrrr.

  • Brittany Ruth

    Okay I just realized that a lot of my page hits were coming from feedly.com. I had never registered my blog with them yet there were all my blog posts available for people to see without my permission. And I even had subscribers that I had no idea about. But really Feedly has these subscribers because they are stealing my content. I use bloglovin as an ereader but if you click on the link they at least take you to your own site with your side bar and own blog design. Feedly is acting like they are producing my content! And you can’t even leave a comment on there that leads to my blog. This is a serious infringement. What do I do?

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