Airing Dirty Laundry: Engadget’s Exclusionist Tactics Are NOT An Isolated Incident

I fully expect this post to take on a life of its own. So, I’d like to start it with a disclaimer. Peter, Ryan, Jason… if you end up reading this, know that I respect all of you tremendously. I believe you pour your hearts and souls into what you do, and deserve every bit of success that’s come your way. Well, almost every bit. Know that I bear no hard feelings, but the time has come for the truth to come out, and this is my contribution to that end.

For the last nine months or so, I have harbored a dispute with Engadget, and until now I have kept relatively quiet. This is the gist. I believe (I’m convinced beyond doubt, really) the writers at Engadget maintain a blacklist. They will obstinately refuse to credit any story that originates (in the relatively fuzzy meaning that the word “originates” has in the Blogosphere) from one of the sites on the blacklist, often preferring to wait quite some time until the same story pops up elsewhere, and then crediting that non-blacklisted site. Sometimes, they will go to even greater lengths to uphold the ban, stepping out of the realm of the unpleasant and squarely into the realm of the unethical. This has happened recently to DAPreview, and lucky for them, they have proof.

What do I mean by unethical? Well, in this particular case, the guys at DAPreview went to CeBIT, and took some pictures of digital music players. They then posted about these on their site, with added watermarks. Well, it seems a writer at Engadget picked up on one of these, and presumably not having been briefed by Ryan or Peter, credited a site on the “blacklist”: DAPreview. Well, some time later, the story was “corrected”: the watermark was removed (through cropping), and the story was re-credited to another site. And, the beauty of this is, DAPreview has proof consisting of a before and after picture of the article in question. This article has been linked to on several sites, such as Digg and Fark.

Now, where do I fit in with all this? Well, it seems that Engadget’s and Weblogsinc’s chosen PR strategy has been to put an interesting spin on things. They are claiming this is an isolated incident. That it’s an unfortunate mistake. That there’s no such thing as a “blacklist”. And I, for one, believe this to be false.

Here are the official statements from all involved, posted in the comments of the Digg article, for background. First from Peter Rojas. Then, Ryan Block, directly after the article in question, on Engadget.

Note from Ryan Block, Managing Editor: due to my own misunderstanding I mistakenly changed the source attribution and image on this post, but it has since been restored to its original form. I apologize for any harm or wrongdoing from this error, and respect DAPreview’s rights, content, and understanding.[Read]

And finally Jason Calacanis.

It’s not a mistake guys. The mistake was getting caught.

Let me tell you why I believe this. When I started blogging seriously, in April of 2005, I decided my “edge” was going to be stranger, quirkier gadgets, not found on big sites like Engadget or Gizmodo. I went to great lengths to find these items, sometimes spending as much as six or seven hours a day on dark and poorly frequented sites, looking for something unique. And, still unfamiliar with proper blogging etiquette, I emailed Peter Rojas directly with tips. Looking back, if I’d have to pick a reason for why I think this whole thing started, I’d have to guess it was that. He responded quite tersely to use the tip form (and I think quietly added me to “The List”).

So, I used the tip form, and something strange started happening. Engadget started writing about many things I was tipping them on… but only a few days after I sent the tip, and crediting other sites. At first, I thought nothing of it. I mean, hey, this can happen, I guess. Then, I get an email from Peter, telling me not to bother sending in tips, that I’m on their RSS reader.

Okay, fine, I think. I’m on their reader, great! Only a matter of time until they link to me. Yet, time and time again, the same thing would happen: I’d write about something strange and obscure… and a few days later, once other sites had picked up on it (sometimes even from me) they’d post about it, crediting them, and not me.

This was frustrating, yet I was willing to accept that perhaps, through sheer coincidence, they really did find all these posts on the other sites, somehow missing them on mine when they appeared (sometimes weeks before they “found” them elsewhere). And then, I came across this Gearlive post and suddenly found out I wasn’t alone. And not only was I not alone, but apparently Peter was in the practice of actively, perhaps even aggressively squashing any allegations of consistent misattribution. To give Andru support (you have to read that post to understand), and perhaps to vent a little, I entered the record in his comment section. Well, sure enough, a while later, Peter came around and flamed me for even saying anything. Check out the comments, they’re priceless.

Finally, you can read this article. It’s somewhat relevant, and quite entertaining as well. Oh, and this.

Of course, I don’t have any hard proof that this is happening. Only my impressions of what looks like a pattern. Believe me, in this business, you know when you’re being ignored. And I believe Engadget chooses to ignore news originating from certain sites, sometimes (like now) getting themselves in hot water in the process.

Now, don’t get me wrong. What Engadget has chosen to do with me is not unethical. It is unpleasant for me, but not unethical. Any site faces countless editorial decisions daily, and choosing which site to credit for a story is their prerogative. If they choose to consistently ignore one site as a source, preferring to wait until the story comes out elsewhere, then… well, it sucks for the sites being ignored, but there’s nothing technically wrong with that. But, when you push it to the point where you infringe on someone’s copyright (by removing a watermark), you’ve commited an unethical act.

To be fair, the Engadget staff has apologized for this, and I commend them for stepping up to the plate like that. Whether they would have done anything at all had DAPreview not had proof is a question better left unasked. However, what bothers me is the persistent denial that they have any sort of “blacklist”. Hell guys, you’re not fooling anyone. It’s ok to have a blacklist… you’re allowed. It sucks for us small guys if you do, but well, there’s nothing technically wrong with it. But if you choose to exclude a portion of the blogosphere, for whatever arbitrary reason, then at least be open about it. Don’t go around on every critical site, claiming this was a one time incident. Don’t make me sound like I’m crazy, stupid and paranoid.

I’m not.

You have a blacklist. You enforce it’s application. Sometimes you go too far in this enforcement. And this time, you got caught. You’ve already apologized, and that’s great.

Now don’t go and ruin it by denying it.

59 thoughts on “Airing Dirty Laundry: Engadget’s Exclusionist Tactics Are NOT An Isolated Incident”

  1. Interesting. We just found one more, pointed out to us by our readers:

    Check this link –

    Notice how Engadget mentions this Gear Live article:

    They even use an image from Gear Live.

    They even MENTION Gear Live by name. Notice – there is no link to Gear Live. Let me guess – another database error, right?

  2. I don’t think Engadget realise how important inbound links really are to them – this could turn round and bite them hard if just a few of the other big players blacklist them. If they have blacklisted you then I would say you should blacklist them – that’s your prerogative.

  3. In all fairness, I believe that I originally found this site through an Engadget story. Granted, that was about a year ago and it may have been Gizmodo. Either way, I haven’t seen anything attributed to this site on either of the aforementioned blogs in a very long time.

    Being part of a larger conglomerate, it would certainly make sense for a site like Engadget to keep traffic within the Weblogs, Inc. family. As you said, sleazy but not in violation of any standards I know of. This would also make more sense than an arbitrary “blacklist”. I’m not one to jump to conclusions, but I will certainly keep my eye out and let you know if I see any such patterns. I read both your site and Engadget on a daily basis and come to your site specifically because I will not get the same kind of repetition I get from bouncing back and froth between Engadget and Gizmodo. If there is any truth to this, it should be noted and corrected. You deserve some recognition for your hard work.

  4. Perform a search for “OhGizmo” on Engadget and on Gizmodo. Engadget has a single link while Gizmodo has several. I don’t think that’s coincidence. Weblogs, Inc is full of a bunch of jackasses. Not all of them, but as a whole the company sucks.

  5. Perhaps you should create a list of the sites that have been black listed by engadget.
    Call it Sneaky/ Interesting stuff!?
    – don’t forget to explain that every one of thses has tipped and not been credited.
    [This is really a method of detectingparticular activity by using statistics. ]

    Perhaps you can then use this as your edge – Identifing intentional misdeeds by statistical methods. I think that this might have a much
    larger and more useful applications then appears at first sight.

  6. You are paranoid. It’s run by people, not by some omnipresent, omnisentient machine. Of COURSE they’re going to have favorite sites, and that’ll be reflected in what gets posted from where. Get over yourself.

  7. Of course, I don?t have any hard proof that this is happening.

    Good. Then shut up.

    Honestly, if this is what you need to do to get attention (levelling accusations you don’t have “hard proof” for) then you aren’t working hard enough.

  8. It is not a question of tipping engadget, for eg – If they find a good story on your site instead of linking back to you they will link to the source from where you took the story. I have experienced this myself. I have stopped tipping engadget. Only a few select sites are linked from engadget.

  9. My guess – this is all about pagerank, why credit/link to a low ranking site if you can find a similar link on another higher ranking site which will give you better googlejuice… just a theory

  10. I guess one question is — how would you ever know who originally found a gadget? I mean, unless you are sitting right next to the person when they had that “ah-hah” moment. Doesn’t every blog take from toehr blogs? Heck, don’t magazines take form other magazines? The fact is, you can’t copyright the idea of covering something. In some ways, credit and links are all just a nice “hat tip” (as they say) anyway. But, what concerns *me is that OhGizmo is tkaing up the issue in public (but seems very nice about it) while the forum responses from the other sites have been pretty sarcastic and rude.

  11. Thanks for speaking up against the biggest and worst content rip off offenders:Engadget. I have seen my content sucked by Engadget on many occasions but then curiously the same posts appear days later on Engadget. Of course who do they credit? Another weblogsinc site or just a throw away “Thanks Mark” comment like they do. I will never link to Engadget. Never. I’d love to see bloggers everywhere start subscribing to this same theory. I link to the B-Z blogs not the A blogs. I especially won’t link to a weblogsinc site. They’re a bunch of incestual link whores.

  12. I think Engadget only wants to credit the sites they don’t feel threatened by, and I think it’s now that strategy is going to backfire since this news came out.

  13. Well this is mighty interesting. I started reading Engadget 2 years ago. Yep, right from the beginning. Unfortunately, since I started blogging for Weblogsinc, I haven’t had much time to read it anymore…
    But I have to say a few things, of course, in defense. Now I have never met Ryan, Peter, Marc, etc. I have spoken at length with a few Weblogsinc people, and every single one of them was above board. Weblogsinc has been the best company I’ve ever had the honor of working with, and I’d wager any blogger currently working with them will tell you the same– from the published authors to the stay-at-home moms.

    I can tell you from my personal experience that sometimes, in the fog of blogging, the source of sources will pass us by. I’ve been burned by tips that seemed to link to the origin, but just linked to their blog, trying to get hits.

    Do we link to each other? Yes, it’d be stupid not to. But do that too much and we lose Google juice, because they can just say we’re a link farm.

    Keep this in mind: there is no Big Brother when it comes to Weblogsinc. Calacanis gives us nothing but “be true, be real” all the time. Seriously, the guy does give a damn about credibility. I don’t know what’s been going on with your particular situation, except that I’d bet between the volume of posts and bloggers running around (and no real central authority, as is our nature), the links have slipped through the cracks.

    This could be a matter of perspective. Or it *could* be a massive conspiracy. I’m not sure to what end, as it would be detrimental to our blogs overall to treat any level blog this way…

    So I apply the Judge Judy rule, if it doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t true. What’s more likely, that GW Bush arranged for the Taliban to fly planes into the towers (yet he’s an idiot anyway???), or that some nutcases decided to go nuts? Is Engadget involved in a cover-up program of blogging billions proportions, or are they humans, prone to screwing up on an individual basis? I’ll let everyone else be the judge.

    I read your blog though… once in a while…

  14. Being a editor myself of a small but reputed site, I m ust agree 100% with what you have posted. We have also seen in the past Engadget do the same thing to us. We also got the same email about the tips form…was rude as well. Not using the tip is one thing but crediting someone else (they use other sites) yup happened to us too is simply backstabbing. Perhaps they think they are like Google, big enough to maintain a “black list” ?

  15. I’m glad you finally wrote something about this engadget business, it’s been going on for far to long, I have no doubt that there is some sort of blacklist of sites they refuse to link to. I remember last year how Rojas wrote me a letter accusing me of ripping them off (which was totally bogus, I had found the story somewhere else) anyways the hypocrisy is hilarious.
    Kudos to David

  16. Victor, personally I am willing to accept that Engadget screws up. But if that’s the case then they certainly screw up a lot and quite often in regards to the same sites. So I guess it’s either intentional or incompetence.

  17. I am a casual tech blog reader, and care more about the articles than their sources. I believe I found OhGizmo from a Gizmodo or Engadget article about a blog awards vote. I looked through the other blogs up for the competition and quickly bookmarked your site. You fill a unique niche in this blog crazed tech world, and I thank you for it. Keep up the good work. Your site deserves to be compared to theirs. I will continue to read both.

  18. AJ said “So I guess it’s either intentional or incompetence”, this is completely true, there is really no other alternative. I personally would not want to have people with either of those traits submitting news, or editing news from a site I visit regularly.

    Think about it like a book (books and blogs/news blogs are both forms of writing after all), a book by an incompetent writer is not usually a good book, otherwise you would call the writer very competent indeed. And forging where the stories come from? Anyone ever been to univeristy? Please, tell the people what happens if you’re caught for plagarism.

    Neither is good, and they have to be one or the other…

  19. None of this would be an issue if people used trackbacks whenever they posted articles, the source would be notified. Somewhere along the long the source has to be shown and when it doesnt post dates will reveal.

    Engadget does not use trackbacks, therefore it is not a blog. They try to fool you by having a link entitled linking blogs when it’s just a technorati search.

    The answer is simple demand for engadget to use trackbacks, ping their sources AND post the link to the source.
    It’s simple etiquette ALL “real” blogs should follow

  20. This is why I often check all the blogs. In fact, OhGizmo usually has whacky, off-beat stuff that Engadget and Gizmodo never pick up, or do so days late. Also, I think that OhGizmo is the blog that pointed me to Trendir a few times.

  21. I’m not sure if I buy it (although I do think Enadget, like lots of blogs, leeches other people’s content like crazy), unless someone can give me a motive for maintaining a blacklist. Obviously Engadget links to some sites– so why not others? Perhaps it has to do more with design, the amount of ads on a page?

    I’m just trying to figure out, how does it benefit Engadget not to link to you?

  22. Ted, Engadget doesn’t benefit by not linking to us. Without getting into details, there’s more to this than simple economics and logic. Sadly, blogs are written by people, and sometimes people have human emotions, and sometimes these emotions can get in the way of rational decisions. I’m not saying that’s the case here. I can’t really say that’s the case here, for the simple reason that’s it’s so easy to refute. But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there are details to this story that I’d rather not divulge in public, for the sake of keeping the tone of the conversation civil.

  23. David, if it’s valid, completely legitimate and helps to further substantiate the claims presented you have the right to share it.

    The tone of the conversation is subjective, besides don’t fight your gut feeling. It’s a reason that thing keeps wanting to come out. that’s because it needs to be shared.

    It may be ugly but from the way you describe it, it will probably make everyone see things clearly and more than likely will help us all.

  24. Original post:

    Of course, I don?t have any hard proof that this is happening. Only my impressions of what looks like a pattern.

    Recent Comment:

    But as I?ve mentioned elsewhere, there are details to this story that I?d rather not divulge in public, for the sake of keeping the tone of the conversation civil.

    Okay, I’ll ask… When were you lying? When you said you didn’t have proof or when you said you did?

  25. Ellie, I believe I’ve gone as far as I’m willing to go publicly. To make the decision to air all this in front of people is not a small one, and you have to make decisions about how much information is enough, and how much is too much. While the extra info I have IS pertinent, what I have said so far should be sufficient.

    In a way, I feel that my mentioning this “extra info” has been a mistake. People are pouncing on it, and blowing it out of proportion, as if I had some sort of smoking gun that I’m, for some devious reason, purposely hiding. It’s nothing of the sort. If it was pivotal to the case, ugly as I feel it is, I would have mentioned it. It’s just a few more little details that, when considered as part of a greater context, help paint a slightly clearer picture.

    If you wish to know more, you may contact me directly, and we can discuss this privately. The email is always “editor” at this domain. Only know that I have every intention to keep what I tell you private.

    And Vinny, when you learn to adopt a tone that isn’t agressive and confrontational, maybe I’ll pay attention to you. I “noticed” you in the digg comments just fine, I’m just choosing to ignore you.

  26. Ignore me all you want. Probably ’cause I just proved you’re full of crap. Calling me confrontational after the post you wrote here and the drama you keep dragging on is quite ironic.

    Way to go, liar.

  27. It’s pretty obvious that Engadget is blacklisting all sites that could be a potential threat.

    They know better than anyone that a new site can come from nowhere and become a high-traffic site. Isn’t that how Engadget was born?

    It is also true that Weblogs Inc is a linkfarm. It’s not really illegal to do so, obviously, but that’s the way it is.

    If you don’t like them, don’t link to them, or do the same thing as they do: link some other obscure blog instead of linking to engadget.

  28. I know someone who writes for a Gawker blog and they have confirmed this very thing to me. That’s how I even found out about it.Yet, Engadget will still deny it.

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