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Popular Stack Exchange mobile webapp Stack Mobile was recently added (perhaps erroneously) to the list of illegal SE network scrapers.

This raised some discussion about how apps using the SE API should give proper attribution. The network has rather strict attribution requirements, which are not currently being met by Stack Mobile (or a lot of the apps listed on Stack Apps, for that matter). However, this answer by Kevin Montrose (one of the API devs) implies that if the content of apps isn't being indexed by search engines, they don't need to follow those stricter requirements as long as they give attribution.

This is a bit confusing. What constitutes sufficient attribution for apps using the API? Should there always be a link back to the original URL for a user/question/page? What if the data is being used in such a way that it isn't feasible to do so (i.e. not something that corresponds directly to a page on the site)? Is it sufficient to say somewhere in the app that the data comes from Stack Exchange, and give a link back to the main site?

It seems that the current attribution guidelines are geared toward websites. How should applications using the API give proper attribution?

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FWIW, StackMobile is indexed by search engines. –  David Z Jan 23 '12 at 5:48
@DavidZaslavsky only kind of. Sites and tags are indexed, but questions, users, search, and badges are not. Although it seems the robots.txt may not correspond to the present URL structure... that may need updating. –  nhinkle Jan 23 '12 at 5:49
Yeah, I need to update the robots.txt. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Jan 23 '12 at 5:59
To clarify - I originally was having trouble coping with the traffic Google was dumping on the server and only had the lists of content indexed and not the pages with post content. That was before the new code and theme was deployed. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Jan 23 '12 at 7:34

1 Answer 1

I am the author of StackMobile, so I'll try to shed some light on the issue.

First of all, StackMobile intends to comply with the attribution requirements as much as possible (this in and of itself means nothing, but it's important to note that I'm not trying to do something fishy here like sell ads and make money off Stack Exchange content). I'm just a regular Stack Exchange user trying to write useful applications that benefit the community.

On to the attribution requirements - things get a little complicated here. It is obvious that some mediums (such as mobile platforms in this case) suffer from limited screen space and inserting a bunch of links would clutter the page to an unmanageable degree. That doesn't excuse the application - but it does highlight a problem.

Each page on StackMobile contains a button in the upper right corner that displays a menu linking directly to the original question (or the appropriate entity if the user is not viewing a question).

StackMobile does directly meet requirement #3 - usernames are listed next to all posts. Clicking the usernames does not lead to their user profile on the site but rather their user profile on StackMobile. From that page, the user can bring up the menu and jump to their user profile on the site.

At the bottom of every page is a link that leads to a page indicating that the content is retrieved from the API and that the data is available under a cc-wiki with attribution license. None of the links anywhere on the site are nofollow'ed.

You bring up an important point though since a lot of other applications on Stack Apps also theoretically violate these attribution requirements. There is even another mobile front-end with the exact same problem (and without the backlinks that StackMobile has).

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Thanks for your reply to the specific concern over Stack Mobile. As I mentioned, I think it was probably incorrect to add it to the list of "scraper" sites - obviously, you're not profiting from the site, and it appears that the app meets the attribution requirements properly. I do want to get a more official answer from the Stack Exchange team regarding this though, since it affects most of the apps. –  nhinkle Jan 23 '12 at 6:16

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