Attribution

There seems to be a smidgen of controversy regarding Mary Papova's newly created Curator's code. I have pledged my own support to the cause, feeling that there's some value in the project that is worth the effort. Some of my favourite writers disagree. The accounts I am referring to are those by Benjamin Brooks, Jim Dalrymple, Marco Arment. (There are certainly other arguments against, but I would like to focus on a specific feature of these accounts.)1

For anyone who isn't familiar with the Curator's code it is a short hand system of notation for attributing both original sources of content and referrals to original content. To recognize the former you use a ᔥ ("via") and for the latter a ↬ ("hat tip"). I won't paraphrase each of the complaints laid against the Curator's code (you can read them for yourself) but the way I read them, they each have the character couched in economics.

I understand the internet is a transaction medium for some, and perhaps even to most. There's a great economy in pageviews and visits that is the primary source of income for many bloggers. I am not one of those bloggers. So, it should come as no surprise that my argument disagrees entirely from those who do. I do not see attribution as being a tool of economics.

Attributing your primary and secondary sources is instead about respect. I have never placed a link at the foot of a post to try and compensate someone for their hard work that I profit from. No, they are the creator, they deserve all of the credit/profit/whatever. My role is merely to provide awareness (not that anyone reads this site) for things that I believe have value and that other people would benefit from knowing about. I am not, as Mr. Dalrymple or Mr. Brooks might say, trying to "steal other people's shit" and profit.

Almost the same goes for the "hat tip", if I find something through your weblog, then you should have some mention. I respect whatever work, regardless how small, you did to share that information with me. (Especially when you have taken the time to find the original source and attribute them as well.) Like with the content creator this is not an economic function. I am not trying to compensate you through pageviews, there is no check in the mail.

For each of the instances above the content creator and whomever shared that content with me are rewarded with my respect. That said, there is another significant benefit to consider: acknowledging all of your sources adds value for the reader.

To illustrate my point, imagine the difference between a "works cited" list and a bibliography. Every source who shapes the final product even if they are not directly quoted is included in the latter. In an essay, a blog post, an academic paper this only amounts to extra work for the writer, but for the reader it adds a greater dimension and depth to the work. Anyone could follow the narrative you have laid bare from conception to finished product in nearly the same fashion you did. They are able to verify and authenticate your work, hence, provide a strong foundation for further work to be done atop your own. And regardless the fact that they may never do so, the option is there should they choose.

To press forward with my analogy the Curator's code then becomes less of an directive and more of a citation style with an implicit claim to transparency. Like the academic world there are different citation styles, the web will undoubtably have different methods for attributing sources. Whether you employ the "via", "ht", or "source" syntax shouldn't matter, so long as you consistently take effort to give credit, spread awareness, and allow for your readers to better understand your own work.

That is what I hope the Curator's code stands for.


  1. There are of course other issues that arise from the Curator's code but those are beyond the scope of this essay. I will get to some of the others shortly. 

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