Saturday, September 22, 2012


Why are we referring to Pinterest as a crowdscraper?

"Scrapers" were once considered the #1 scourge of the internet. Automated scripts would crawl the web for topical content and images from third party websites, collage it together without sense or logic, slap ads on it, and voilĂ ! A mish-mash website is created, honed with automated search engine optimization trickery, and acts like a honey pot to draw search engine traffic and befuddled visitors, who hopefully will befuddledly click on the advertisements. Most of the time, visitors walked away at the first sight of the bizarre, keyword-stuffed, content-less gibberish that made scrapers instantly recognizable.

Search engineers would work hard to weed out this nuisance out of their result pages. They hired linguistics experts to find ways to distinguish normal syntax from robot word salad.

They also strove to ferret out duplicate content, and set out to find ways to distinguish the copiers from the originators.

The ever-inventive scrapers responded by hiring English-speaking "writers" from the third world with no actual understanding of the topic beyond some ability to concoct stock, sensical sentences such as: "Everyone loves dolphins. Dolphins are important to the world. Without dolphins, there would be no dolphins, etc."

Welcome to the next generation of content scraping: crowdscraping.

There is no doubt that Pinterest is a content scraper.
  • Nearly all its content is directly taken from other websites.
  • Stolen content is collaged and re-organized.
  • No original content anywhere.
  • Sophisticated search engine optimization techniques geared towards massive traffic draw to itself (giving no credit to the links to the original websites with nofollow attributes).
Instead of bots, or third-world manpower requiring salaries, Pinterest has enlisted volunteer scrapers. These volunteers serve two key purposes: (1) scrape content for Pinterest and (2) act as a legal human shield, taking the hit of C&D demands for damages while Pinterest has made itself legally untouchable via its TOU.

The volunteers' reward? Completely meaningless "Likes," "Repins" and "Followers" from complete strangers, which are like catnip to the social animals that we are.

Yet, Pinterest barely qualifies as a social medium. Most social media, even those that are plagued by a fair amount of infringement, have the merit of having been designed as a means of original self-expression. Despite Pinterest's marketing claims that the pictures we like or the images of things we would buy if we had the money are "self-expression," they are in fact the expressions of others.


We can only hope that this will dawn on pinners, that Google will penalize the practice, and that crowdscraping will be but a passing fad.

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