The Devil and Daniel Blogger

Is it true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity? I’ve always wondered about that — I’ll bet whoever owned Tylenol didn’t think so after it poisoned a bunch of people way back when (now I’m dating myself). In any case, Ted Murphy and PayPerPost.com have certainly been testing that motto today. It all started with an article in BusinessWeek by media writer Jon Fine about Ted’s new venture, which involves bloggers getting paid to make positive posts about companies.

Then Marshall Kirkpatrick posted about it on TechCrunch, saying it entices bloggers to “sell their soul,” and all hell broke loose. My pal Scott Karp got his knickers in a royal twist over the idea, saying that the whole concept of blogging has “now been starkly divided into the pre-PayPerPost era and the post-PayPerPost era” and that blogging has “been irrevocably tainted” (Scott has since followed up with a more thoughtful post).

Pete Cashmore of Mashable says that PayPerPost is “a terrible, terrible idea and totally unethical,” and Shel Israel says on Naked Conversations that he hopes this “nasty, cynical, ugly idea crashes and burns quickly.” Should be a fun time at the blogger dinner that Ted Murphy is co-hosting with Jeremiah Owyang and Shel in a couple of weeks, since Shel effectively calls him the devil.

And I thought some of the stuff that has been written about Jason Calacanis was bad. Ted Murphy must be wondering what he did to deserve all this, and to his credit he appears to have responded on several blogs in an attempt to do some damage control. Is PayPerPost the end of blogging as we know it, or a disaster that ruins the credibility of every blogger? Hardly.

Yes, it is kind of dumb, especially since there is no requirement for the blogger to mention that he is being compensated for his posts. But I think the comparison to the mainstream press is a good one — everyone knows there are publications that get paid for their content, and people take them less seriously. Credibility is won a post at a time. PayPerPost doesn’t change that — it just makes it more obvious.

And for what it’s worth, I think slamming Ted Murphy is kind of an immature response. Don’t like his company or his idea? Fine. But suggesting that he’s the devil is taking things a wee bit too far for my liking. Rob Hyndman and Mark Evans also have some thoughtful responses to the whole brouhaha.

Has blogging jumped the shark?

I’m tempted to declare that blogging — once the domain only of Web geeks and teenaged girls — has officially jumped the shark, with the news (via Bloggers Blog) that a reference to blogging appeared in a Family Circus comic on Wednesday. In Dilbert, sure. In Archie, even. But Family Circus? That most boring and suburban of comics, renowned for recycling those same “Billy tries to get somewhere but gets distracted” comics every month?

Yes indeed — Billy’s sister is running a lemonade stand and tells the customers that Billy is her advertising manager, and he’s inside blogging about the business. I kid you not. So that’s it, folks. Time to wrap it up and move on to something else. Oh yes, and speaking of “jumping the shark,” that phrase has also officially jumped the shark, since the site that popularized it has been bought by TV Guide magazine. Is nothing sacred anymore?

family circus

Is Photobucket Web 2.0?

I’ve been meaning to blog about something for a few days now, but various events in my personal life (including a move to a new house and a sick family member) have kept me from doing so. The something I wanted to blog about was a post by LeeAnn Prescott of the Web-tracking firm Hitwise, which looked at the traffic stats for various photo sites, including Flickr and Shutterfly (which is controlled by former Netscape CEO Jim Clark and has filed to go public).

One of the interesting things about the numbers LeeAnn provided, which drew a lot of commentary on techmeme.com, was that Flickr — despite being by far the most widely talked about photo site, at least from a Web 2.0 perspective — came in fairly far down on the list of top 10 photo sites. Number one by a landslide was a site hardly anyone talks about: Photobucket, which (unless I’m mistaken) gets the vast majority of its traffic from MySpace and other social networking sites, by providing an easy photo hosting service for blogs.

LeeAnn’s Hitwise item sparked a fairly extensive response from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, who tried to post a comment on TechCrunch but apparently had difficulty getting it past the spam filter. I wound up seeing his comment a day or two later on Paul Kedrosky’s blog. Paul liked Stewart’s comment so much that he later elevated it to post status.

Stewart’s comment/post is worth reading, if only to see the (in some cases) large discrepancies between Hitwise traffic numbers and those from Comscore Media Metrix and Nielsen/NetRatings. But it also brings up the issue of whether Photobucket and Flickr really compete or not. One is a community — Web 2.0 if you will — and one is just a hosting service, which is more Web 1.0. And yet Photobucket is the plumbing behind a very Web 2.0 service such as MySpace, and it has 48 per cent market share and is still growing.

Google Checkout — future of micro-payments?

It’s not the PayPal-killer that everyone was hoping it might be, but Google has launched a payment system — known as Google Checkout — that could still wind up disrupting the existing online payment game, if only because the search engine has the cash hoard to finance a prolonged battle for market share with advertisers. The service is tightly integrated with Google’s AdWords program, and will give advertisers who use it a break on their charges for the keyword advertising system.

This is a smart move, and arguably a lot smarter than launching a direct head-to-head attack on PayPal, which has a substantial market share with eBay sellers (which is what compelled the auction service to buy it in the first place). For one thing, as Forrester analyst Charlene Li notes on her blog, integrating Google Checkout and AdWords could make the advertising service that much more attractive to companies and even individuals — provided Google can show that shoppers will “convert” to being buyers at the same rate they do with existing checkout schemes.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company’s intention is to make the process of buying something as fast and as painless and possible, and to a certain extent that’s what PayPal tries to do as well — it just does it mostly for auctions on eBay. But if Google can get sufficient traction from the retailers in its AdWords program, it would be relatively simple to roll the Checkout service out to just about anyone, including individual website and store operators. And the fact that Google’s fees are lower than either PayPal or Visa/MasterCard will make it that much attractive as well (more details here).

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Google Checkout could become the fast and easy micro-payment system that many Web-heads have been anticipating for so many years. What if a website or blog network or micro-publication of some kind could sell access to stories or other merchandise, and get a deal on their ads to boot? That could be a powerful tool. Whether Google wants to go down that road — and whether consumers are willing to have Google be their online bank — is the big question.

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at TechCrunch is disappointed that it’s not a stored-value system, and wonders what’s in it for him, and Om Malik makes the point that Google’s main interest in launching Checkout isn’t to bash PayPal or even Amazon for that matter, but to enhance its advertising model by moving towards a “pay-per-action” rather than a “pay-per-click” model. Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 (who should maybe change the name of his blog to Advertising 2.0) says Checkout is a very 1.0 shopping engine.

NBC and YouTube, sitting in a tree

Not that long ago, NBC was beating up on YouTube.com for hosting copyright violations like the brilliant “Lazy Sunday” video clip from Saturday Night Live. This struck me as completely asinine, as I mentioned at the time, because the viral quality of the clip — which was downloaded more than 5 million times in a couple of weeks (and that during the Christmas holidays) — gave NBC and the normally lame SNL show millions of dollars worth of free publicity. Not only that, but telling YouTube to take it down made them look heavy-handed and uncool.

It seems that someone at NBC finally woke up and got a clue about the marketing impact of an event like that, and the potential that a site like YouTube offers, because the two have now struck a deal whereby the video site will promote clips of NBC’s new shows and host a contest as well. YouTube CEO Chad Hurley said that the deal is clear proof “that we’re building a viable, long-term business, and it’s showing there’s common ground between traditional and new media.”

This comes at the same time as Warner Brothers has struck a deal with a video site called Guba to sell and/or rent full-length movies and TV shows. Warner has also signed a partnership with Bram Cohen’s BitTorrent to use the peer-to-peer technology to distribute content. Of course, said content will be all crapped up with Microsoft’s DRM (digital rights management) restrictions, but it’s a start.