Redditors are claiming a blogger for Gawker Media’s popular Gizmodo.com may have co-opted an unknown blogger’s work for their own. The post in question on Gizmodo is “Christmas Lights, The Brief and Strangely Interesting History Of,” by Giz contributor Chris Jacob. It’s a fairly long post for any Gawker blog, and at this writing it’s received nearly 17,000 hits. The alleged victim of content theft is the quirky and comparatively unknown Jim On Light, a blog “about light: lighting, light and art, lighting devices, lighting control…” you get the picture. At the end of November, Jim On Light, run by Jim Hutchison, began a series of posts titled, “JimOnLight.com’s Guide to Christmas Lights, Part 1: History of Christmas Lights.”
The question really seems to be: is this a case of two bloggers unavoidably trapped by history – there are only so many ways to word a depiction of past events, in this case, the unfolding of the history of Christmas tree lights – or is this an instance of a hugely popular site blithely stealing a niche site’s research, maybe even content and giving no credit in return?
The reader may just have to judge for themselves.
Jim Hutchison’s history of Christmas Lights stretches over 3 posts [1, 2, 3] and is nothing if not detailed. It is also surprisingly entertaining, even for someone (me) who had never even wondered about the subject in question. Hutchison clearly knows his stuff and enjoys the subject. Each post is filled with images illustrating the history – several of the same images, resized, appear on Gizmodo’s post.
It is hard to say there are direct lifts from Jim On Light to Chris Jacobs’s Gizmodo piece, but there are paragraphs that make you wonder. Gizmodo (emphasis added to both quotes):
Unfortunately, the only way to add Christmas lights to a tree back then was with candles. Obviously, this was a pretty bad idea. So bad that, unlike today, the tree would only be put up a few days before Christmas [PDF] and was promptly taken down afterwards. The candles would remain lit only for a few minutes per night, and even then families would sit around the tree and watch it vigilantly, buckets of sand and water nearby. It’s kind of like the old-timey equivalent of deep-frying a turkey: People knew it could burn their house down, but proceeded to do it anyway.
Jim Hutchison, Jim On Light:
Back when people could only use candles on their trees (you know, because christmas lights hadn’t even been invented), the tree would only get put up in the house for a few days, if that long. It’s that funny way that fire interacts with dry timber that made it hard to really do much but watch the tree to make sure that it wasn’t going to burn down your whole neighborhood.
The preceding quotes could possibly be excused by both bloggers working from the same source material. More suspicious is how Chris Jacobs name-checks the iconic film A Christmas Story (emphasis not found in the originals has been added to the following quotes):
Alas, in 1968 the NOMA Electric Company stopped manufacturing lights, and the bubble lights became more of a novelty, soon to be joined by a host of ridiculously shaped Christmas lights, including chili peppers, flamingos, beer cans and a miniaturized version of that leg from A Christmas Story.
As does Jim Hutchison, in his 2nd post:
In the case of LED source christmas lights, no matter what size lamp you get – G12, G25, C7, a light shaped like the state of Massachusetts – the “shape” part of the light (strawberry shaped, globe, Massachusetts) is typically a plastic or acrylic lens of sorts that diffuses the light. Incandescent C-7s and mini lights are glass, of course – even in the case of something ridiculous like a string of chili pepper lights or a string of little fat santas or something, the shape around the source is a plastic shape, and the light inside is probably a mini. The plastic figure just sits over the lamp.
You probably already knew that, huh. Well, in case you didn’t, check out these completely ridiculous set of leg lamp christmas lights from the movie “A Christmas Story” AAAAAAAA!
Just as striking at this point in the Gizmodo post is Chris Jacobs’s apparent choice in images. Do a Google Image Search for the stupid lamp from Christmas Story and you get over 800,000 results. Why did both bloggers happen to choose the exact same image? How big a coincidence is it that in a post that already resembles portions of Jim Hutchison’s work, Chris Jacobs decided to also use the same size of the same image Jim On Light chose to punch up a joke?
The Gizmodo piece was posted at 8 p.m. on Sunday night. By early Monday morning, Chris Jacobs had linked and mentioned Jim Hutchison’s blog by name – on Gizmodo.com:
However, the same post on Gizmodo’s Aussie incarnation still lacked any mention whatsoever of Jim anybody – as of 3 a.m. ET, anyway:
Are the screencaps above further, concrete evidence the Gizmodo blogger sourced most of his original post from Hutchison’s Jim On Light without credit, as Redditors claim? [EDIT: To be fair to Gizmodo, it’s worth noting that the Aussie version of the blog did link JimOnLight.com in the words “three major types.” But that still seems pretty weak.]
Our answer will probably be in how long his name remains on Gizmodo’s masthead.