What's the Difference Between Business Insider and Instapaper?

Writer Marco Arment airs his grievances with the site

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Players: Marco Arment, tech writer, creator of the app Instapaper and the lead developer of Tumblr through September 2010; Jay Yarow editor at Business Insider which just scored $7 million in fresh funding.

The Opening Serve: Arment kind of hates Business Insider. Today on his personal website, spurred on by this Reuters piece questioning the "journalism" of Business Insider and their recent good fortune, he detailed his gripes about the site. "[T]hey’ve linked to nearly every significant article I’ve written for the last few years, often automatically by scraping Techmeme," he wrote. "When humans have been involved, they’ve rewritten my titles to be more inflammatory and attract more clicks, which irritates me more than how much their cluttered, ad-overloaded site “design” buries the link to my article...[Arment included screen shots to illustrate his point]" Robot-generated aggregation, clunky design and poor traffic, in Arment's opinion, aren't even the worst things about Business Insider:

But what offends me even more than rewriting my titles and burying my links is how their layout so strongly implies that I’m a Business Insider writer and I endorse my name and writing being splattered all over their site

Why wouldn’t I want to be associated with Business Insider? It has nearly everything that offends me as a web reader and writer: linkbait headlines, more ads than content, more sharing buttons than original words, top-list “slideshows” that make readers click for every item and defraud advertisers into thinking that their pageviews are legitimate, Tynt messing with copy and paste, Vibrant Media’s double-green-underline ads, generic images slapped next to each post (often poorly Photoshopped®), and tabloid coverage of every rumor and inflammatory non-event so they can fight all of the other tabloids for Google’s pennies...

And, if given the choice, I wouldn’t trade 8,891 hits [the traffic he gets from BI] for my name and writing being used on their site like this.

The Return Volley: Business Insider's Jay Yarow, fired back a response this afternoon. "You don't like our headlines, our slideshows, our sharing buttons and a bunch of other things," wrote Yarow. "That's fine, we don't mind that our taste isn't your taste. Millions of other people like our site, so it's not a big deal that you don't."  Yarow continued, "While it's true that your articles occasionally end up in the bowels of our site, we're hardly engaged in "mass replication" of your posts." He explains that Arment's stories are a part of an low-traffic section of the site--hence the meager numbers. Yarow then pointed to Arment's projects: Instapaper and Tumblr. "Instapaper is built largely on scraping the content of publications like Business Insider, BusinessWeek, or the New York Times. You take long form content, strip it of ads, then serve it to the reader in a nice clean format," Yarow wrote. "But how do you reconcile accusing us of mass republication with the fact that your business is built on mass republication? Especially since there's a reason BusinessWeek, et al chop up their stories in pages, and you want people to do 1/3 as many clicks, which hurts impressions, which hurts revenue."  He continues:

Tumblr, another fantastic service, is helped by mass republication. (You were there as a CTO for years). It scrapes content from all over the web and spreads it virally. Nothing wrong with that! We're just curious how you make the delineation between what Business Insider does, what Instapaper does, and what Tumblr does.

We've emailed you, but you didn't write back, opting instead to merely tweet, you got "two nasty emails from BI high-ups accusing me of worse offenses, betraying a lack of understanding of what Instapaper actually does."

Arment responded via Twitter. "I think I tapped a common sentiment. This post has gotten much more traffic in a short timespan than anything else I've written this year," Arment wrote. "I should send their host a DMCA takedown notice for that (second) uncredited use of a derivative work of my photo. They've gotten so many easily-verified facts about Instapaper and Tumblr so blatantly wrong that it's not even worth engaging in discussion."

What They Say They're Fighting About:  Business Insider's brand. If Business Insider is "scraping" or reproducing Arment's work and if Arment's involvement in Tumblr and Instapaper makes him a hypocrite. After taking jabs at its design, Arment makes a point that he wants nothing to do with the site or its 8,000 or so hits.  He seems offended and embarrassed to be associated with the site.  Yarow makes no mistake in mentioning The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek as, in his opinion, two of Business Insider's peers.

What They're Really Fighting About: Who is cool enough to copy stuff on the Internet. Yarow's point that reader services like Flipboard and  have some serious copyright implications has been made by others before. But services like Instapaper and Tumblr, which have been embraced by the digerati, Business Insider and Huffington Post have been rendered "uncool," as Business Insider's Henry Blodget noted in a post on today's backlash.

Who's Winning Now: Arment. Obviously this dispute hits close to home. The problem with Yarow's "you do it too" argument is that it's an implicit admission to Arment's charges and doesn't explain the value that Business Insider adds to Arment's articles, while Arment's Instapaper has a pretty clear value proposition (even if it's legally hazy). Why not defend the site's prestige, credibility, awards, speed, exposure--the $7 million has to be paying for something, right?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.