One of Web Platform Docs’ core tenets is attribution. Attribution is as central to our mission as our founding principles, the three pillars of Pragmatism, Inclusion, and Consensus.
So, just what is attribution? In our case, it is keeping track of who has contributed what, and sharing that information with our users. Web Platform Docs tracks attribution in two key ways: for content submissions by individuals, we log every edit by user name; for content contributed in bulk by organizations, or transferred over from another project like MDN or MSDN, we explicitly note the original source.
As an open collaborative project, attribution is critical from a legal, practical, and motivational perspective.
On the legal side, our license is CC-BY, or Creative Commons Attribution. When users agree to the site license, we all agree to honor this. Failing to provide attribution, or removing past attribution, is a violation of the letter and spirit of this license. Note that there are a couple of exceptions to this.
On the practical side, attribution is used for fame and blame. Fame is praising the original contributor for their content, so people know who to credit and thank when they are reading, learning from, or reusing the content; it also helps us to think about who to ask to do future work. Blame is the flip-side of the same coin… it helps users (and reusers) to evaluate any possible bias on the part of the original contributor, as well as identifying contributors who need guidance (and spammers). Provenance is a powerful and versatile tool.
On the motivational side, we are lucky enough to have many primary bulk content contributors (such as Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Opera), and we hope to have large numbers of community contributors over time. In addition to altruism, part of what motivates these contributors is that well-deserved fame. Remove that attribution, and you undermine motivation, and the project suffers. Even people who don’t want notoriety per se still have a sense of fairness, and may be discouraged if their contributions are not afforded equal treatment; potential contributors may be either encouraged or discouraged by seeing how contributions and attributions are handled.
For existing resources, of course, attribution itself is not enough; they must be willing to contribute their content to Web Platform Docs. Where the source material isn’t already available under a compatible license, we need to seek an agreement with the owners to reuse it under our license. Even where licenses are compatible, such as on a site that uses CC-BY, we want to ask that source to use their material first, so we maintain our reputation as a good citizen of the web documentation ecosystem.
So, we encourage all of our contributors to always get permission and give credit when adding content, and only to remove existing attribution after community discussion. And we invite our users to feel free to reuse our content with confidence, knowing just where the material came from. For more detail, you can read our guidelines on external attribution.