As Nico mentioned, we had a glimpse of Afrigator on Mike’s MacBook yesterday morning at First Tuesday. It didn’t take long for posts to start appearing about Afrigator. In fact when I took a look at all the posts Afrigator has from chilibean, it seems to have been tracking chilibean since 1 March 2007. I signed up on Afrigator to test out the account options and see what was available to me as a blogger. What first struck me is that Afrigator has been tracking my blog posts for a while now even though I hadn’t registered on the site yet. This is a pretty handy feature because it means that bloggers who haven’t registered on the site yet will have their content indexed.
So what does Afrigator do? Well, for starters, it tracks posts pretty much as they are posted. I published a post this morning about using Word 2007 as a blog editor and when I started working on this post, that earlier post was listed on Afrigator.
Another thing I noticed about the post listing is that if you click on the title of the post, Afrigator will display the full content of your post right there in the window. In this way, Afrigator pretty much becomes a grand blog aggregator because you could theoretically use Afrigator to view blog posts if you are happy to sift through posts that are of little interest to you to get to the content you want.
This raises a few issues, though. For one thing there is a possibility of copyright infringement as the full text of a post is reproduced on the site, potentially without the consent of the author of the blog in question. Afrigator may benefit from the limitation of liability afforded to service providers in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act assuming Afrigator qualifies as a service provider in terms of the Act but this is subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. (Update: As Heather correctly pointed out, this doesn’t mean Afrigator isn’t infringing copyright where the content license doesn’t permit this sort of reproduction, only that Afrigator is protected from liability if it plays by the rules set out in the Act)
In terms of the Act, a service provider is defined as a party that provides information system services which are, in turn, defined as follows:
"information system services" includes the provision of connections, the operation of facilities for information systems, the provision of access to information systems, the transmission or routing of data messages between or among points specified by a user and the processing and storage of data, at the individual request of the recipient of the service
For starters, a service provider is not liable for copyright infringement where the service provider is a neutral conduit of data over its network. The conditions for this limitation of liability include qualifying for this protection under the Act, not initiating the data transmission in question, selecting the recipient of the data transmission, facilitating the transmission using automated systems and not modifying the data as it flows across the network. A service provider will furthermore not be liable for copyright protection where the service provider is not aware that there is infringing content on its network (either by virtue of "actual" knowledge or facts or circumstances which clearly point to the presence of infringing content) and if it acts expeditiously to remove infringing content from its network on receipt of a so-called "take down notice" requiring it to take that content down.
Another issue to bear in mind is that republishing a blog’s content on Afrigator could be contrary to the author’s licensing terms. chilibean’s content is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 South Africa License. This means that our content can be republished provided we are credited as the source, the content is not used for a commercial purpose and our content is altered, transformed or built upon using the same or similar license. If Afrigator is intended to be a commercial enterprise then reproduction of our content (and anyone else who uses a similar license) may be problematic if the author of the content objects (in which case that person would need to issue a “take down” notice calling on Afrigator to remove the content. Similarly, given that the Afrigator site is published under full copyright, there may well be a violation of Share Alike-style licenses.
Lastly there is the practical issue that being able to read a blog’s content in Afrigator means that the source blog is deprived of either the traffic to the site or the subscriber to the feed. This is exacerbated by the fact that there are feeds on every page of the site (aside from this issue, feeds on every page is a great idea!). Of course these issues are only issues if the bloggers in question object to how Afrigator handles their content. I do suggest that bloggers be given an opt-out option and the option to have their content truncated on the site.
Afrigator does more than what is set out on the front page. There is a blog ranking page that shows blogs that rise, fall and stay the same in the blog rankings (handy tool to see how the blogosphere changes from day to day) and a tag cloud that also shows you which tags are the hot tags of the day.
There is a Muti/Digg element to the site in that posts can be rated and the top rated posts are listed in the sidebar along with new blogs that are added to the site. A big appeal of the site is its African focus and the fact that we can see blogs from all over Africa appearing on the site. Already there are channels for Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.
On the back end there are stats engines available to bloggers who want to track how their blog is doing in terms of traffic. I noticed that there were stats on my one blog when I created my account and before any embedded tracking code would have had time to give any traffic feedback so it isn’t clear what value the tracking code you are invited to insert into your blog when you sign up has if traffic is being tracked already (I am also curious how the traffic is being tracked in the absence of tracking code). I would like to see the ability to add multiple blogs to one account (Justin Hartman, the genius behind SA Top Sites and the blog equivalent, Grabble and our saviour on a number of occasions told me that this is planned for a future release).
All in all, the site is a great idea, particularly with its African focus, although I do have a few concerns about the reproduction of blog content. Mike, Justin and Mark have done a great job with the site (I see that Tyler had a brief Q&A with Mike about the site)!
If you would like to find out more, I have bookmarked a couple sites with reviews and thoughts about Afrigator on del.icio.us (feel free to add your own or other pages you come across by tagging them with “reviews” and “afrigator”).