I am a prolific sharer on social networks like Google Reader and Twitter. On this Thanksgiving, let me share some of my observations about attribution, and how I try to practice it. Specifically, I discuss attribution while sharing on social networks, not while writing blog posts, which has fairly well-understood practices.
Attribution while sharing in social media, as I understand it, is crediting the author who created or the person from whom you discovered, the content that you share with your network.
When I Discover Content
If I have discovered the article, I share it on Google Reader without any additional effort. On Twitter, I try to include the author’s Twitter handle “by @authorname” while sharing it. In this way, users reading my tweet can easily follow the author if they like the content and wish to do so.
In many cases, ReTweet buttons on blogs do not generate a tweet that includes author names. If I happen to know the Twitter handle, I insert it myself. There are times when I don’t, and here I fail to attribute the author.
Tech Blogs Auto-Tweeting Posts
I like how TechCrunch and The Next Web append “by @authorname” to their automated tweets. This is the blog’s way of attributing content to their authors, possibly increasing their author’s Twitter followers and influence.
I observe that other blogs like Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, and MakeUseOf don’t do so. This may be to shorten the number of characters to make their tweets easier to retweet, or simply an act of omission.
Sharing from Google Reader to Twitter
If I discover a post shared by someone I follow on Google Reader and share it on Twitter, I try to include both the author of the post (by @author) and the person thanks to whom I discovered it (via @source). This of course, assumes that the person has a Twitter account (true in almost all cases), and is very easy to do.
Most tools that ease transfer of your RSS share to Twitter don’t credit the intermediary. Thus, if you share on Twitter via Feedly, FriendFeed, Reader2Twitter, etc. your followers on Twitter have no clue from whom you discovered your content. Ease of automated sharing is at the cost of attribution. This is why I do not use any such tool. I try to include my source in my Twitter shares, and my “via @source” tweets are my way of saying “Thanks to”.
Sharing from Twitter to Google Reader
When I discover something via another’s tweet, and share that in Google Reader, I find it extremely difficult to attribute the source. Because Google Reader was not developed as a social app from the ground up, attribution is incredibly difficult. This is an element that I think has not been discussed in the dozens of blog posts surrounding the Google Reader vs. Twitter war. Twitter makes attribution very simple, Google Reader doesn’t.
There are many additional factors and complications involved when you bring Facebook into the discussion, which I will not discuss here.
Is Attribution Important?
It depends on you. I personally believe in Thanksgiving as a way of life, not something to be done once a year. Also, sharing your sources helps your network discover good sources, which in turn increases your relevance and influence as a curator of content. Your sources value your attribution and this positions you as a Trust Agent in their eyes.
This is how social media thrives and I try my best to practice attribution diligently. Sure, it takes additional effort, but then who said it was all easy?