One of the things that I really appreciate about Stack Overflow is that it dislodged the perpetually low-quality but pervasive Experts Exchange from the top spots in search results. I'm consistently amazed at how quickly relevant, informative answers are provided.

That being said, there's a worrying trend where clone sites like "efreedom" are moving up in the search results simply by capitalizing on the large corpus of data generously provided by Stack Overflow.

While I appreciate a licensing model that allows people to share the content contributed by so many users, this will be subject to rampant abuse and without some kind of mechanism to restrict the activity of these clone sites I worry that Stack Overflow's success will be its failure, drowning in a sea of identical results, just one site of many with exactly the same information.

We have the ability here to down-vote, close, or delete questions that are inappropriate or somehow damaging to the community. Google provides no similar method for demoting parasitic sites.

Wikipedia suffers from the same sort of problem, but as their subject material is extremely focused and highly optimized for searching by the manner in which it is defined, it is not as significant an issue. Searching for information on a subject by name is an entirely different process than trying to resolve a tricky technical problem or track down how to overcome a particular error where there is no standard approach to be taken.

Is there anything that can be done from a licensing perspective that prevents the whole-sale duplication of answers without infringing on the reasonable rights of people to make use of the data for more constructive purposes?

  • It is interesting to note that "efreedom" + ".com" cannot be posted in the body of the message. – tadman Jan 21 '11 at 19:42
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    Not unless Stack Exchange both authors and aggressively enforces their own license, and I think that would be a very bad idea. – Tim Post Jan 21 '11 at 19:47
  • I was just lamenting this myself yesterday... Was saddened to see the parasites as high as 3rd in Google's search rank, even above SE content. – squillman Jan 21 '11 at 20:01
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    Jeff has been ranting about this quite a bit lately, see codinghorror.com/blog/2011/01/… – Tim Post Jan 21 '11 at 20:13
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    If the Stack Exchange community of sites had a unified search interface, I'd probably use that instead of Google. – tadman Jan 21 '11 at 20:37
  • @tadman - you can use search engines like blekko to set up slashtags that just pull from certain places. Some of mine pull from SE sites, as well as the personal sites of various SE participants. – Tim Post Jan 21 '11 at 21:36
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    @tadman - if the SE sites had a halfway decent search engine, I'd use it in a heartbeat, but there are so many things google does to find what you're looking for that it's hard to settles for less. – Adam Davis Jan 21 '11 at 22:17

Having lived through CDDB and IMDB, where individuals offered a free database anyone could access and contribute to, then stopped distributing it freely, then started adopting draconian policies regarding accessing their site and data in any manner, I was quite relieved to see that SO adopted a CC license from the start. If they had not, I would not have participated to the degree that I have, if at all.

I understand that it's frustrating to have to wage a battle against copycat sites, given that the vast majority of hits come from google, and that the majority of advertising revenue depends on new people coming to the site.

However, it would be a huge slap in the face to many of the developers who have spent years giving content to stack overflow, only to have them pour it into a walled garden by adopting a stricter copyright.

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    +1 plus, it wouldn't be that easy to change licenses anyway. A new license could only apply to any new content coming in. I largely agree with Jeff's Google rant - it's time for them to fix this really, not SO. – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 22:11
  • @Pekka - They could stop distributing the existing content. They aren't required to make it easy to obtain CC licensed material. They can then make it difficult to screen scrape the site. It'll still be cc, but not practical or easy to get. People may continue to distribute older data dumps, but even those would eventually be hard to find. Any new content could fall under a new license, and they could legally pursue damages for sites found to be infringing. There are lots of ways to be a jerk about copyright if one wants to be. I doubt they will take this route, anyway. – Adam Davis Jan 21 '11 at 22:15
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    true. Yeah, I can't see them taking that route, neither. – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 22:22
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    @Lennart links to a Google corporate blog post that makes me reasonably optimistic: ...And we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content. – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 22:47

I doubt there is anything Stack Exchange can do to make other sites not misuse the content, even if SE does draconian encryption or restriction of content; if you can read it then so can the evil sites.

If the problem is search engines ranking scraped content before the original content, the problem has to be addressed by the search provider. Google claims they are addressing this.


As long as the sites like efreedom doesn't only copy the answer, but also link back to the original answer (as required), they in fact contribute to SO's page rank as well.

Yes, it's unimaginative copying that might earn them some advertising revenue, but I don't think it's an actual problem. SO will stay above them in the search results.

SO will have to make sure that the attribution policy is followed, though. And the two sites linked to in Jeffs post are down now, so it seems to be working.

  • According to Jeff's rant though, this (SO being above the copycats) is not always the case. Although it should. That is a major problem – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 22:41
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    @Pekka: If Google indeed fails to fix this, then it is a problem. googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/… – Lennart Regebro Jan 21 '11 at 22:45
  • thanks, that blog post gives some hope. – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 22:46

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