Web18* owned In.com, according to a report in Afaqs, has surpassed Rediff.com, in terms of Unique visitors worldwide. Do check the report for exact numbers from Comscore. With this, In.com can lay claim to being the largest Indian portal. But is this comparison really right? In.com isn’t really entirely a content site – much of its news content is sourced from, linked to, and hotlinked from sites; as the Afaqs report also clarifies, In.com aggregates traffic for it’s major online publications – Ibnlive.in.com, Cricketnext.in.com* and Tech2.in.com, a process which it began in 2008. Sure, competitor Indiatimes and Rediff also aggregate traffic across multiple websites on its site, but most of them are their own websites.

Some of In.com’s traffic, specifically at Connect.in.com, is being aggregated in the following ways, not necessarily fair to content owners:


–  Traffic From Hot Linking Images That May Be Under Copyright: In.com creates photo galleries hotlinking images that may have been published by someone else, on some other website, and aren’t owned by Web18. Naina Redhu of  Studio Aside recently wrote about Web18 using her photographs at In.com without her permission. The images were being served from her website, utilizing her bandwidth. I had emailed senior Web18 executives, including CEO Lakshmi Narasimhan about the same, following which the images were removed. Here’s another instance of copyright issues. In.com clearly hasn’t stopped hot-linking. This image of Jennifer Aniston is hot-linked from the La Times blog, via another site hotlinking it.

In.com is not serving images as search results, but creating content galleries featuring news and images that link to each other: this works brilliantly from a Search Engine Optimization perspective, which allows traffic to be driven to that site better, because the pages are richer in detail, media formats (images and videos) and links. Where this also differs from Wikipedia or Google Image search is that, as you can tell from Naina Redhu’s screenshots, In.com is also serving advertising.

Since Redhu’s post, In.com has (by the looks of it) removed advertising from gallery pages, and added a method for alerting about copyright infringement, offensive content among others. Why should In.com auto-create galleries using other peoples content, and then remove only if alerted?

– Traffic from news content aggregated, or within a frame: A few months ago, we alerted Simran Sablok, then Head of Marketing with Web18, about MediaNama content being served within In.com. We didn’t (unfortunately) take screenshots, but it was essentially an In.com page, at the centre of which was an iframe, which served a MediaNama story from our servers, with our content. There was also an In.com advertisement on top, though our advertisements were also being served within the iframe. That page was removed. Since then, we’ve only come across pages which are are ‘Fair Use’ pages, but use SEO to drive traffic to it: like many spam blogs (splogs), they aggregate the first few sentences, and link back to websites, driving traffic to them. An example here.

What we couldn’t figure out, is how In.com decides to link. Take a look at the profile for Tanla Solutions: The Economic Times is linked to directly, while other sites like Andhra News, CTO Forum and even MediaNama have a frame on top, the kind that aggregators or some URL shortening sites add. Apart from this, In.com also benefits from the search engine optimization, which means that users can land up on In.com instead of the original publishers, based on search results. Similar tactics by the Business Insider, have previously been called dirty.

Indiatimes (Times Internet Ltd) also has a site similar to Connect.In.com, called OneClick.Indiatimes.com, though it isn’t as comprehensive, nor have we found any instances of hotlinking, frames. An example of a Blackberry story linked to, here.

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Our take on In.com is that it needs to decide what it is – an aggregator or a content site. In its current avatar, since it is mixing its own content with that from other publishers (and some of it being hotlinked without permission) comparison with Rediff or Yahoo isn’t right.

Update: As Amit Agarwal points out on Twitter, In.com creates pages on the fly to suit queries. The syntax – connect.in.com/<insert-keyword>/profile.html . For example: http://connect.in.com/you-are-kidding/profile.html or http://connect.in.com/suresh-kalmadi-rocks/profile.html

Update (September 7th 2010): following this story, it appears that all links to MediaNama content have been removed from In.com. All dead links at http://connect.in.com/search.php?search_data=medianama&isitsearch=search

Note: We had asked Web18 CEO Lakshni Narasimhan for details of their practices related to external content last month, in the interest of fairness (for this story), but there was no response to our email.

Disclosure: Web18, which owns In.com, was recently an advertiser with MediaNama, for its portal CricketNext. Yahoo.com had also recently advertised with MediaNama.