Why I dislike Bo.lt

bo.lt logoWhen I released my updated WordPress SEO article a few weeks back, my buddy Avinash was kind enough to tweet it. He tweeted it, at first, with a bo.lt link. Bo.lt is a sharing service that allows you to basically make a copy of a page and add some notes or even some changes to the page. The idea is nice, as a webmaster though, I hate it. Let me explain why.

You see, bo.lt makes a copy of the page at the moment it’s prepared for sharing, they say they do that because of speed. As Avinash tweets a lot, he probably made that copy a couple of hours before he shared it. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if I hadn’t added stuff to the page in the mean time and fixed a lot of typo’s. Everyone who’d use Avinash’s link wouldn’t see those changes. And bo.lt decided that for me, without asking me anything, or even worse, giving me the option to opt-out.

SEO Impact

Surely those bo.lt guys are at least trying to give the rankings for those pages people share through its service their links back? No. They don’t. Well, not unless you’re not already adding rel="canonical" elements to your site yourself. Each user has its own subdomain. Avinash’s subdomain is zqi.bo.lt. As you can see for yourself, quite a few of his shared pages are indexed by Google. That shouldn’t be possible. Bo.lt should add a canonical back to the original page if there isn’t one in the source already.

No Analytics

They claim a webmaster gets all his normal stuff, ads and analytics etc. Except that for both Clicky and Google Analytics there are no views measured for that bo.lt link, because Clicky refuses pageviews from other domains and I’ve filtered those out of Google Analytics to prevent others from rendering my analytics useless (yes, people do try that). So, “my” visitors don’t get the changes I made to the copy, making me look stupid and I can’t track which visitors those were and where they came from… At this point, I want out.

Opt Out

I’ve gone through their documentation, both normal and for developers, and there simply is no documented way to opt-out. So I decided to dive a bit deeper and figure out which user-agent bo.lt uses. It turns out that they actually do have a page about their user-agent. The next step would normally be simple: add a line to your robots.txt blocking bo.lt. Unfortunately, in my tests, bo.lt never actually retrieved the robots.txt file so they’re not adhering to the robots.txt protocol. They really should. They’re taking my content, they’re not asking for permission and they’re not allowing me to opt-out. Someone could sue them over that. I’m just going to request, through this blog post:

Bo.lt, please add an option to opt my sites out of your service.

Also, in my opinion, if you’re using bo.lt, you should probably start considering alternatives.

Disclaimer: please be aware that I like Avinash a lot and don’t blame him for anything. He’s a great guy and an inspiration to a lot of us in the online marketing industry. It’s the bo.lt service I dislike and I think that after reading this he will switch to something else as well.

A “hard” out

I figured out a “hard” way to get out of bo.lt doing its thing, add the following to your .htaccess file:

RewriteBase /
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} bo.lt/ua
RewriteRule . - [F,L]

This will block bo.lt, giving it a “forbidden” page.

14 Responses

  1. Wendy
    By Wendy on 22 April, 2012

    Wow! I hadn’t heard of Bo.lt. I’m not sure I want to disallow it altogether. If I add rel=canonical tags in my headers, the bo.lt pages won’t be indexed, and I’ll get the linkjuice, right? I’ll decide if I’m worried about the other stuff later.

  2. Marshall Sorenson
    By Marshall Sorenson on 22 April, 2012

    My first impression is that the bo.lt service is engaging in widespread copyright violations, or at the very least enabling its users to easily violate the copyrights of content owners.

    You made a point to mention that you weren’t contacted to request permission, or given the opportunity to squash the page copy, so essentially your content was re-distributed without permission.

    I don’t feel that the bo.lt service falls under the umbrella of the web proxy, because proxies are “dumb” and only cache pages on demand. The cached pages also update and expire automatically since most proxies send an if-modified-since request on every cache hit, or as often as the proxy admin has configured.

    At the very least, bo.lt should be treating the page copies as “proxied content” (if that is even a real term) and keeping its “cache” fresh.

  3. Gemma W.
    By Gemma W. on 24 April, 2012

    Hi, thanks for the heads-up.

    I’m against this type of thing so I definitely want to block it. But in my .htaccess file, should I be adding the snippet to the end or at the beginning of the file?

    Also, which plugin are you using for displaying code?

    • Oscar Gonzalez
      By Oscar Gonzalez on 30 April, 2012

      I think you can paste it after your existing rules and it should work.

  4. Pali Madra
    By Pali Madra on 24 April, 2012

    Amazing that Bo.it is operational.

    Someone please help me to understand how they are different than content steamers.maybe a formal complaint to Google would help. Come to think about iGoogle should have banished them from their search results.

  5. RoseGUst
    By RoseGUst on 27 April, 2012

    All of you are Correct, it is better if you didn’t use Bo.It!!!

  6. Oscar Gonzalez
    By Oscar Gonzalez on 30 April, 2012

    Thanks for posting this Joost. The interesting thing is that they’re just starting out (private beta) and they’re already off to a bad start, in my opinion, and evidently yours too.

    Thanks for the htaccess code.

  7. Raj
    By Raj on 2 May, 2012

    Before reading this stuff, I thought that Bo.lt is one of the best services to share the content online.. now I realize that I should look for the alternatives..

  8. Coupons Canada
    By Coupons Canada on 5 May, 2012

    Wow, thanks for the post! I totally thought it looked like a great way to share content – but can see why it’ll lead it to issues. Glad your making us aware.

  9. Richard
    By Richard on 7 May, 2012

    What you could do is use the useragent sniffing like you’re using in your .htaccess but instead of returning a 403, return a frameset with a single frame, referring to the requested URL (with an extra parameter to avoid an endless loop). The bo.lt still works but without all the disadvantages.

    (yeah frames are ugly but it’s a means to an end)

  10. Michael Belk @workplace issues
    By Michael Belk @workplace issues on 8 May, 2012

    I never heard of Bo. It. either. It seems like another thing to deal with.

  11. Renee
    By Renee on 11 May, 2012

    Oh my goodness! And I just clicked on your link “”see it for yourself”, it took me to Google with the search term “site: bo.lt yoast” and the top listing was someone’s WordPress dashboard! Of course clicking anything else took me to the login page, but this site still seems like it’s breaching privacy as well!

  12. jewelraz
    By jewelraz on 15 May, 2012

    This is the first time i heard about bo.it, I need to check it before making any comments about their services. Thanks for this article.

  13. Marcel
    By Marcel on 17 May, 2012

    I share your concerns, an opt-out would be nice. But think the impact of a Bo.lt shouldn’t be that big.

    – An user shares something that he things a that moment is nice to share, so making a snapshot of that moment seams defendable. Of course it would be nice if they showed that a newer version of the page is available.
    – Of course it can be an copyright violation, but I like the open internet. It is still clear who is de owner of the article, so the damage doesn’t seam that big.
    – Think most blogs are kind of fast indexable, Bo.lt will be used later and every user has a subdomain (with not that much autority) and Bo.lt links to the original. So in most cases Google will know the right original document.

    Reporting is possible with every document and the service is still in Béta. So have good faith that they will do something with your feedback.

    But still, you make a good point, but not something to completely ignore the service.