David Hembrow, an Englishman living in the Netherlands, has deleted his Dutch cycling infrastructure blog, ‘A View from the Cycle-Path.’
This blog "inspired a whole generation of cycle campaigners in the UK" said a posting on the website of the campaign group Cycling Embassy of GB.
The blog had provided "an absolute gold mine of facts, photos, analysis, comment and video over the years," said the Embassy’s Sally Hinchcliffe, adding "[David Hembrow’s blog] formed part of the inspiration behind the Embassy and his presence shall be missed."
Blog co-writer Mark Wagenbuur – producer of Dutch cycling infrastructure videos, many of which have gone viral on the web – has now created his own blog, Bicycle Dutch.
"Now that [View from the Cycle-Path] has become inaccessible, I felt it was a pity for all the blog posts I had written. When questions about broken links from my video channel to the blog posts started coming in, I decided to open my own blog to re-post some of the posts I wrote that have turned out to be the more interesting stories."
The deletion of the blog has caused an outpouring of support and dismay from cycle campaigners on Twitter.
In an explanatory note of why he deleted his popular and much linked-to blog (this Cycle Embassy of GB page has five links to ‘View from the Cycle-Path’, none of which now work), Hembrow said:
"Unfortunately, the amount of work required to maintain the standards that I had set for myself grew well beyond what anyone can do merely as a hobby. The blog had no real income but was consuming a large part of my life.
"However, it increasingly became apparent that commercial organisations including magazines and newspapers, other websites and transport related organisations including the London Cycling Campaign, European Cycling Federation and Environmental Transport Association were taking an interest in my work. In some cases my text and photos were copied without asking me and without giving any credit…Photos have been taken from our website and edited to remove our watermark image. I find this all quite abusive."
When asked whether any content lifting had taken place, London Cycling Campaign said "No."
Julian Ferguson, Communications Officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation said:
"We wish David all the best and many in the cycling world will miss his blog. But his allegations of us lifting his work for commercial use are misplaced."
Yannick Read, head of communications at the Environmental Transport Association, said Andrew Davis, the ETA’s director, used a photograph by David Hembrow without first seeking permission. Following an email exchange, a credit and link-back was added to the blog posting in question. In a phone interview, Read said:
"Andrew had saved the image to use internally ages ago and used it on his blog without attribution by mistake. David was upset at this; Andrew replied to his email, stressing that a credit would be added. It was."
"While some people from commercial organisations took the time to tell me that my work was "valuable", never did this "value" extend to offers of payment when they asked me to work for them. Some people seem to take a delight in pointing out that they have "no budget" to pay others while they themselves draw a regular salary.
"I’m not willing to be taken advantage of in this way. I am not doing other peoples’ jobs for them without being paid their salary to do it."
Hembrow will continue to offer his study tours of the Netherlands, which flags good Dutch cycling infrastructure.
"Well paid professionals want free advice," said Hembrow.
"They will actually start planning based in good part on what they have read on a blog. However, they won’t pay our modest fee to be shown a good part of what they really need to know in order to do their jobs properly."
Stating that "knowledge has no value" and that maintaining his blog had "become a chore" Hembrow said:
"While there are people who make a considerable amount of money out of blogs which consist of "reviews" and photos, that does not happen if you take the time to create long and original content. Really profitable blogs target people who want to buy things, because they click through on advertising. Writing paid for advertorials and "recommendations" also helps. I didn’t do this. As a result, total income from advertising on the "A view from the cycle-path" blog never reached more than €18 per year. That’s under 35 cents per week. This doesn’t even cover minimum wage for the time taken to delete spam comments, let alone trying to correct misconceptions, find out who the latest person is who has started "borrowing" from me or to create original content.
"Eventually I had to accept that the value of something is very much what people are willing to pay for it. These days, knowledge has no value. Maintaining the blog has become a chore. This is not sustainable. For this reason, the blog has been deleted."
On Twitter, in reply to David Hembrow’s deletion announcement, US blogger ‘Flying pigeon LA’ said:
"Damn shame to remove the gift you gave the commons. Imagine if others did the same? There is something eternally civilized about toil and thought digested and delivered to the commons."
Chris Hill of the CityCyclingEdinburgh blog, sympathised with Hembrow, and wrote:
"It’s sometimes a fine line between being a ‘campaigner’ and actually being enough of an expert that people attempt to put into practice some of your ideas without understanding enough about ‘what works in the Netherlands’ – and that it might not work if directly copied into the UK."
On Monday 27th February, BikeBiz.com emailed David Hembrow with the following questions:
1. Should you wish to resurrect the site, could you do so? Would all the former links still work, if you did resurrect?
2. I copied the text from your website last night but some parts have slightly changed today (or last night). Why were those edits necessary?
3. ECF and LCC have said content was not lifted. Yannick Read of the ETA has just been in touch and said ECF lifted one of your images "by mistake" and used on an Andrew Davis blog posting. ECF said they later added the credit. Is this a fair reflection of what happened?
4. Might your blog postings be made into an e-book, as suggested by Jack at The Bike Show? Or could the blog go behind a paywall?
5. If cash was found to resurrect your site – from, say, sponsorship – would you re-think the deletion? How much cash would be required?