In another groundbreaking move, The Guardian newspaper in Britain has launched a plugin for the popular blog-publishing tool WordPress (see disclosure below) that allows web sites to embed the full text of Guardian news stories and other content for free. The plugin comes with a catch though: Sites also have to embed the newspaper’s advertising. The new tool is part of an ambitious program of opening the paper up to the web — a move that got its start in May of this year when The Guardian launched its “open platform,” which allows developers to use the publisher’s open API to create apps and services that include the newspaper’s content.
Matt McAlister, lead developer at The Guardian and the architect of both the open platform project and the open API, says the rationale behind both the open platform and the WordPress plugin is the same: to allow other sites and services to make use of the newspaper’s content, and at the same time to enlist them as partners in monetizing that content by carrying advertising (The Guardian also has platform partners who share the revenue from their services with the newspaper). The paper has had thousands of developers sign up to implement the open API.
At a time when newspapers like The Times of London and the Sunday Times are implementing paywalls — both papers erected them yesterday — and other newspaper, such as the New York Times, are working on their own pay restrictions, The Guardian’s move toward creating an open platform is unusual. But despite the newspaper’s losses, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has said that an open strategy is the key to the newspaper’s future.
The big unanswered question is whether any web sites — or enough to make it worthwhile — will actually want to implement either The Guardian’s open API or the new WordPress plugin. Since the newspaper already provides an RSS feed of its full content, some sites may simply decide to use that instead of carrying the paper’s advertising. It’s also not clear whether embedding another publisher’s news stories is something that a lot of sites or publishers want to do: Silicon Alley Insider, run by former stock analyst Henry Blodget, has had an “embed this post” feature for some time, but such posts are rarely seen on other sites (Blodget said the feature gets “solid use” but didn’t provide any numbers).
So why not just use The Guardian’s full-text RSS feeds? McAlister said in an email that since the feeds are designed for personal use, the paper would handle sites republishing it the same way they do “scrapers” — that is, “request they use our API. Then chase them legally if we have no other choice.” The plugin makes it easier for sites to use Guardian content, he said, because it doesn’t require anyone to implement an API. And it allows the paper to develop a relationship with bloggers such as Tim Kevan, who blogs at BabyBarista.com. Kevan severed his relationship with The Times when it announced it was putting up a paywall, and will now publish at The Guardian and use the WordPress plugin to post it to his own blog simultaneously.
One could even see an open blog network evolving, in which bloggers publish through The Guardian as well as on their own blogs, and then both sides share revenue from the advertising sold around that content. Regardless of whether The Guardian’s platform and plugin turn out to be a runaway success or not, however, it is refreshing to see a newspaper opening up to the web rather than trying to shut it out. In the video embedded below, Chris Thorpe — then the Guardian’s developer advocate — talks about the open platform and the rationale behind it:
Disclosure: Automattic, the maker of WordPress, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): What We Can Learn From the Guardian’s Open Platform