News Genius

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News Genius is a silo that allows users to highlight and annotate any webpage by prefixing it with http://genius.it/, or using plugin or bookmarklet, and is being widely criticized for enabling harassment of smaller (indieweb) sites.

Contents

Blocking

  • Savant: A script to redirect from a [genius.it] wrapped page to the original url. Discussion on their site
  • Genius Defender: An approach that poisons the page with unicode invisible separators.
    • Looking at the code this is an O(n^2) process on your site that expands it by a factor of 10 in length (yes gzip will help) that can be reversed with a O(n) regex to filter them out again. Not recommended.
  • genius-blocker: broader technique that will block the plugin and bookmarklet too.
  • Alternative approach (based on savant).
  • Samboy's Genius Blocker - includes a list of additional blockers as well as some history and references

Criticism

The site works by proxying the original page, with the user's Browser signature, and injecting javascript to enable annotation. It puts in a base tag that makes relative css and script work, but not code that uses window.location, so breaks the webmentions on eg kevinmarks.com

It does not respect robots.txt so an author cannot block annotation of their site.

Glenn Fleishman:

The Genius Web Annotator is a hybrid of citation and appropriation that doesn't respect the source's owner nor have any mechanism to opt out or block it. The site retrieves the original page through a proxy server and then rewrites it with added JavaScript, which lets it overlay its commentary tool. I wrote the company earlier in the week through its general feedback form asking about how to opt my sites out. I've received no response so far.

Ella Dawson:

Although the coverage of News Genius praises it as a feature hosts can code into their site, anyone can lay comments on anything by adding some language to a URL address. That is the entire point: according to the annotator’s Twitter bio, “The Genius Web Annotator lets you add line-by-line annotations to any page on the Internet.” Because my blog is currently a free WordPress website, anyone can use Genius to annotate my posts without my control. It is not opt-in for the creator, and if I want to engage with the annotations, I have to sign in using a Genius account. I see no way to report an annotation for abuse or harassment—perhaps that is only available for users?—and I see no way to block a user from annotating my content. Genius is officially worse than Twitter: I can block a user on Twitter, and they can then go and scribble whatever they want on my website using Genius.

Rosie Pringle

There are dangers in painting with broad strokes. Treating large news orgs with the same software as independent bloggers seems a little shortsighted. If the focus of the company is to hold large news orgs accountable, why not implement a whitelist of large, high traffic news organization domains and offer an opt-in option for independent bloggers who want it as their comments system of choice?

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