The Byrne frame controversy

Many educators follow the blog posts of Richard Byrne whose Free Tech for Teachers [] provides frequent suggestions and tutorials on the use of technology in the classroom. Mr. Byrne used to teach, but now makes his income by speaking, conducting inservice workshops, and generating ad revenue from his online content.

Byrne has been aggressive in protecting practices that he believes infringe on his rights as an online author. If you follow him on Twitter, you will receive tweets in which he calls out services that display his material without permission.

The reason I am commenting on a specific Byrne complaints is that a recent target of his ire employs a practice that may seem similar in some ways to a practice I have defended – the layering on annotations on the work of another author []. The similarity is that in both cases the original author loses some control over how his/her content is displayed.

Byrne’s most recent target is a service you might be familiar with as an educator – EdTech Update []. This site aggregates articles on educational topics. If you visit the site and spend much time reviewing the work of those who write about education, you will likely recognize many of the sources. So, as an educator, you may be looking for a one-stop shop for online education content and this might be a valuable source. As I understand the strategy of the site it does some other things. For example, it provides a list of what are the most popular (trending) articles. So, the site is collecting data and using these data to improve the service provided.

As I understand the Byrne criticism, this service operates without the approval of the original authors and does so through the use of RSS and frames. I hope my interpretation is accurate. Many of us use RSS as individuals. RSS is a method by which a service follows work posted on sites you designate and lets you know when something new has been posted. Most blogging platforms, the wordpress platform I use for example, enables an RSS feed. This is very helpful to readers as they are notified when an author on one of the potentially hundreds of sources they follow has written something new. It is not necessary to actually visit each of the sources to see if something has been added. Depending on the RSS system, the information provided is usually the title and a snippet from the source. You read these short segments and make a decision of whether or not you want to connect to the full post. Byrne is complaining that EdTech Update is doing something similar, but not for personal use. The snippets are aggregated and served to users by EdTech Update. If you visit the Update site, you should see what I am describing.

In addition, when a user selects the snippet made available by RSS, EdTech Update takes you to the full post, but does so within a “frame” from the EdTech server. If you are checking on my description by visiting the site, take a look at a sample URL to see what I mean.

So what is happening this URL is that you are viewing a post from Ditch The Textbook displayed within a window controlled by edtechupdate. If you follow a link within the Ditch the Textbook site, you will still see this new information displayed within this same window.

This may sound like situational ethics, but it could be worse. You do see the ads as intended by the content author so I assume that the original author still receives any revenue generated by his/her work.  Of course, it does not have to work this way. Many of us write blog posts pointing to resources we find valuable, We substitute our personal effort for an automatic process. The frame technique is what I consider the most egregious issue. Moving from snippets to the source is how RSS typically works when you use an RSS reader. I admit I do not understand the motive to keep content within a frame, but it does seem a step too far when relying on content generated by others.

I have explained this issue as I understand it. I welcome corrections should others feel my interpretation is incorrect.

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