I've talked a lot about it on this blog of late, being breast cancer awareness month and all, and given my wife's current battle. But this time, the kind of cancer I'm referring to is different. And it's shaking up the blogosphere at its foundations.
I'm all for the small guy making it big. But when the competition, a “big guy” (owned by a Fortune 500 company) starts calling you a cancer on his personal blog, you know that something has certainly gone amok.
It's pretty controversial, too. Large players in the blogosphere have their knickers in a twist about this — and I couldn't resist talking about it, and sharing my views.
Let's enter the playground, kiddies. Shall we?
Jason Calacanis, the creator and now former owner of Weblogs, Inc., who was once touted as earning over a million dollars in Google AdSense in a year with his blogs, and who has recently sold his mega-successful blog network to Netscape (AOL/Time Warner), has created quite a stir lately by calling a small-time competitor…
… A cancer.
Suffice it to say that Calacanis won his record AdSense earnings with the help of over 100 bloggers on his payroll, paid to maintain blogs and post content. (This is important, and you'll soon realize why.)
And also keep in mind that this whole kerfuffle started when the news broke that this “smalltime” competitor had just received $3 million in vencap funding.
OK, the story is this.
PayPerPost.com, run by geeks Ted Murphy and Peter Wright, is in my estimation a fabulous service.
Like eLance.com for example, you create an account, place a requisition to their “network” for people to review your blog and post about it on their own, with a link back to your site in exchange for a small fee.
We're talking a few bucks here.
$2. $3. Maybe $5.
All in all, nothing to sneeze at.
But these are real bloggers running real, legitimate blogs. Not junk sites or link farms or splogs (i.e., spam blogs). And most of them are not even sites monetized with pay-per-click ads.
We've tested this, and the results were fantastic.
We asked people to review our blog (or the blog's topic like, say, breast cancer), post about it on theirs, and link back to our blog. That's about it.
Some posts were positive. Others were not. A few were neutral. But the posts and linkbacks we received — links from posts by very talented writers whose blogs are filled with great, original content — created some pretty impressive traffic. Nothing earth-shattering, but great results for just a few bucks, nonetheless.
Not only that, but some of the content blew us away. It was fresh, it was incisive and a lot of it was in-depth; going beyond the requisition's mandate where their posts pointed out things that indicated they've taken the time to read our blog.
These are real bloggers writing real content. Look at it this way: it's no different than hiring ghostwriters. The benefit, from the pay-per-poster's perspective, is that they get paid to do something they love to do. And it gives them something to blog about, too.
From the advertiser's perspective, you get linkbacks to your site. Legitimate links — not from splogging or ad-filled junk sites with low PR ratings, but from genuine, content-rich sites. We were astounded at how innovative, fresh and incredibly informative some of these sites were, too.
Bottom line? PayPerPost generated traffic for us and link popularity. The sites that are linking to us also have respectable rankings themselves. Not only are many of them bloggers who blog in addition to the occasional paid post, but they also have subscribers and followers.
And they have written posts for us with commentary of all colors — not hype-filled fluff only meant to advertise. Some were opinion-based reviews that were both good and bad, and others were simple notifications that our blog exists and may be of interest to their readers.
OK, now here comes the rub.
Like any other network out there (like eLance.com, PayPal.com or eBay.com), there is a potential for abuse. Posters are not required to disclose that they are being paid for their “posts” (i.e., their links). And some advertisers will only accept positive ones, which may be misleading to a degree.
But it's up to them. And it's up to the poster to accept the job. And it's also clearly disclosed on PayPerPost.com, too.
In my mind, this is no different than ghostwriting, hiring someone to write articles for you, or hiring a service or buying a software to submit your articles to directories and article sites.
In other words, it's no different than, say, paying a prospective client's lunch in an attempt to woo their patronage.
Calacanis was a respectable dude. And the keyword here is “was.” I used to love his blog. But now I'm questioning his motives and tactics.
I used to love his sometimes harsh opinions and controversial stances. It's Jason, after all, the millionaire network owner himself who paid over 100 bloggers to provide AdSense-donned content on his blogs.
But to resort to name-calling and bullying tactics in what seems to be a disingenuous way to drum up traffic to his sites — who needless to say sport affiliate ads and links, too — and hiding it under the smoke-and-mirrors' guise of “ethics” and “deceptive advertising” is highly hypocritical, if you ask me.
The moral issue, according to Calacanis, is that PayPerPost lacks transparency. Such as those dogged laws that force newspapers to place “this is an advertisement” near an paid-for advertorial in their publication, or “Ads by Google” links next to AdWords' ads, he wants PayPerPost to force posters to disclose they are being paid for their content.
I agree that the lack of transparency, which in itself is not immoral, can open the door to allow some people who are up to no good, and who can find ways around it to mislead, to abuse the system.
And I agree that some websites out there are blackhat bitbuckets, which thrive on junk content and give the blogosphere a bad name. So “transparency,” as Calacanis points out, is indeed an important issue that cannot be ignored.
But to stir up controversy by lambasting a competitor and hiding it behind a thinly veiled side-issue of attempting to “protect the legitimacy of the blogosphere” is no different than both:
- The anti-spamming, anti-marketing, socialistic Nazis who think that a mere link to a business site in an email is considered spam;
- As well as, on the other end of the spectrum, the fraudulent scamsters and spammers who hide behind the anonimity of the web to push their wares.
(Er, something smells rotten in Blogoland.)
Let's also not forget that this is the same Jason Calacanis who, in a recent interview on JenSense, said the following about his million-dollar AdSense paycheck:
“JenSense: What single change do you think made the biggest leap in your AdSense income? Calacanis: 1. Taking off the borders around the advertisement, and 2. making the links the same color as the links on the blog.
(That's pretty transparent, doncha think?)
And then, to take potshots and call a competitor like PayPerPost a “cancer?” A legitimate, successful service who's business model is solid enough to command significant attention and funding?
Gimme a break.
Talk about the issue at hand. Sure.
Bring substance to the table. No problem.
Voice an opinion and back it up with concrete, logical and commonsensical points that, while arguable, are significant enough to bring to the blogosphere's attention (and let them make a decision thereafter). Fine.
But don't resort to bullying, smallguy-bashing, name-calling and fear-mongering only to prop yourself up, or your traffic, or your own revenue, that only demonstrate the mere hypocrisy behind your childish attempts.
If you want in on what's going on, you can read the latest post (one of a dreadful many, I fear) on Calcanis' own blog.
You will find that most of the comments on Jason's blog were in favor of his “righteous” stance. Pity. But some of them were on PayPerPost's side. In fact, one of the most insightful comments came from Dave Taylor, who said (edited for brevity):
“(…) PayPerPost is no different to many other online traffic monetizing venues, and it's hard for me to understand how it's different from, say, the thousands of bloggers who have their writing influenced by the desire to attract valuable contextual advertising (think Google AdSense).
“The big difference with PPP is that Peter and his team are being *honest* and *straightforward* about their structure, rather than hiding it behind some sort of curtain or parading it about as some sort of moral or ethical issue.
“(…) All PPP's doing is creating a marketplace, just as eBay creates a marketplace but shouldn't logically be held accountable for auctions that are really just advertisements for online stores, say.”
Couldn't have said it better myself. But this whole situation got me irked enough that I felt compelled to say something, too.
On PayPerPost's Peter Wright's blog, where a back-and-forth tirade was going on in the comments section with Calacanis himself, Jason responds with this gem:
“I just looked at the sad, sad advertisers using PayPerPost. We don't sell ads to losers like this. We sell ads to the top 100 advertisers on the Internet.”
So Calacanis is saying that PayPerPost's sole purpose is to allow bloggers to “whore” themselves for a buck. (Yes, he did say that in another post.) But hey, only accepting “large advertisers who have the big bucks to advertise and brand clout behind them” doesn't make you a whore, right?
By Calacanis' standards, it doesn't make you a whore. It makes you a high-class escort.
Or a pimp.
Anyway, this is where I felt an itch and the need to add this tidbit:
“Jason, since you are promoting products on the sidebar via affiliate links, meaning you do get kickbacks from people to buy the stuff, are you transparent enough to tell people you are getting paid if they buy? Maybe you should put, like Google Ads, a link that says “Affiliate Links” near your ads. If you want everyone else to be transparent, then you shouldn't cast the first stone.
“Since large advertisers will only advertise on sites large enough and with enough traffic to justify the investment, many of them still do it covertly. And sometimes, they are not paid in actual dollars.”
Ultimately, is it really about transparency? No. It smells more like snobbery, bullyragging, and hypocrisy to me.
PayPerPost is a fabulous service that can help put any unknown blog on the Internet's map. Even if the posts are bad or neutral, they are still linking to your site. And link popularity is what drives search engine rankings, doesn't it?
That said, sure there are opportunities for misuse and abuse. But the onus is on the blogger accepting the fee to make the post, not the service itself. Just like it is on a spammer trying to phish for your PayPal account, and not on PayPal itself.
Speaking of illegal or immoral, this is not like Napster and the whole file-sharing debacle, which is a service that, while it has some legitimate uses, is mostly used for contemptible ends. PayPerPost.com is a legitimate service that has the potential of being misused.
(And in this case, “misused” is defined as used for “misleading” or “deceptive” purposes. Not outright illegal or criminal ones, like spam or scams.)
Speaking of spam, email purists might contend that spam has tainted emaildom. But has it stopped? No. It in fact created more opportunity and legitimacy for email, and even forced “good emailers” to find newer, more effective ways to get their message accross. Such as writing better copy.
(D'uh, who would have thunk?)
Like email, blogging is just another publishing platform anyway. Legitimate services like PayPerPost doesn't give it a bad name. It's people like Calacanis who try to bully its smaller-sized competitors, and drag them out from the pubs and into the streets for some good ol' fashion fisticuffs, just to attract attention to itself.
Beer and popcorn, anyone?