Mike gets all medieval on PayPerPost

In case you hadn’t heard already, the blog-vertising startup called PayPerPost is “officially absurd” — according to Mike Arrington at TechCrunch anyway. In a recent post, he describes how the company (which compensates bloggers who write about PayPerPost clients), has set up a site called DisclosurePolicy.org, and is encouraging bloggers to adopt a disclosure policy for their blogs by either choosing one from the site or crafting their own.

The idea is to disclose as openly as possible the conflicts of interest or compensation that one might receive for blogging, whether it’s free products or ads or whatever. One of the knocks against PayPerPost has been that it doesn’t require bloggers to disclose that they are being paid, something I have been critical of in the past (although not quite as critical as Jason Calacanis, who calls it “stupid and evil”). Other startups doing similar things, such as ReviewMe, do require that bloggers disclose their compensation.

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In his post, Mike argues that the setting up of DisclosurePolicy.org is effectively a distraction tactic, a way of throwing a bone to critics while still maintaining PayPerPost’s evil agenda. He also says that DisclosurePolicy deliberately blurs the line between the kind of paid blogging PayPerPost engages in and other, more subtle forms of compensation such as free products, personal relationships with blogging subjects, etc. (something that many critics have accused Mike himself of not disclosing properly).

For what it’s worth, I think Mike is letting his hatred of PayPerPost get the better of him. I actually think something like the DisclosurePolicy website is a pretty good idea, regardless of whether there’s a bit of PR prestidigitation (i.e., sleight of hand) going on. As Dave Taylor points out, one of the difficulties with blogging is that there aren’t really any rules. Things like DisclosurePolicy and the Blog Honor code could theoretically help make things a little more “transparent,” to use an overused term.

TDavid points out that all of Mike’s bluster, ironically, is really just free advertising for PayPerPost — and includes a video commentary from Loren of 1938 Media on Jason Calacanis which I think is hilarious. Drumsnwhistles is similarly unimpressed with Mike, and Minic has more on the issue over at The Blogging Times.

Yes, blogging can be a business

I’d love to know which journalist Jason Calacanis of Netscape was emailing with recently when he decided to post a big chunk of the interview and his responses on his blog (something Megaphone Mark Cuban has been known to do from time to time). Was he frustrated by the dumb questions about whether blogging can be a business or not, or was he just trying to share his thoughts with the blogosphere? Hard to say with Jason. In any case, his comments about the blogging business are pretty much to the point, and worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

We are an eight figure a year business today. In terms of profitability the blogging business is better than the magazine or newspaper business in two main ways: 1. there is no distribution cost to blogging (i.e. printing, shipping, and postage), and 2. we don’t have the large management cost structure because our bloggers are not edited.

Jason goes on to say that blogging is “the most profitable media business today” and describes a good blog as being almost as hard as working at CNN, because the pressure to produce never stops. And then he tells the journalist this:

I think so far you’re looking at blogs are one big thing, and they are not one thing — they are many things. There are blogs done by companies to promote their products. There are blogs done by friends and family to keep in touch with each other. There are “faux blogs” created by unscrupulous marketers to abuse the public. There are blogs that are run as publications in order to make a profit.

And Jason adds that blogs have become “a vital part of the media ecosystem,” in that bloggers are interacting with journalists and “helping them build their stories.” He says the media business has moved from a handful of people speaking on their pedestals, to dozens of folks at hundreds of tables having conversations about an issue. Not a bad description. More chaotic? Definitely. Far from perfect? Absolutely. But in my opinion, still an improvement.

MySpace — so popular no one goes there

Is MySpace losing its edge? A piece in the Washington Post entitled “In Teens’ Web World, MySpace is So Last Year” seems to suggest that it is. Teens say the social networking site is old news, and they are moving on to other things. Ironically, some of them seem to be moving to Facebook now that the formerly restricted site has opened itself up — something that critics said might lead to a loss of users (for what it’s worth, my 17-year-old daughter and all her friends have signed up with Facebook, and so have I).

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This question of whether MySpace might fade in popularity has been going around for some time now. My friend Scott Karp wrote about it back in May, and coincidentally enough I wrote about it back then too, including a column in the Globe and Mail in which I compared social networks for teens to nightclubs, in the sense that there’s always a new one coming along (Cynthia Brumfield chooses a different metaphor that is just as apt: the TV show). Here’s what I wrote then, which is now behind a pay wall:

In the end, [Friendster] may simply have been a victim of the shifting enthusiasms of its young audience, who grew up and moved on. In many ways, social networking sites are like hot nightclubs — they become popular and then flame out as the hip crowd moves on, and they are very difficult to manufacture.

My friend Rob Hyndman has also written about MySpace and the social networking phenomenon, and wonders whether it isn’t time to question the received wisdom about how smart Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of MySpace was. Maybe MySpace just isn’t cool because so many mainstream media outlets and unhip dads like myself are writing about it, or because it’s so popular. As Yogi Berra said about one of his favourite restaurants: “It’s so crowded no one goes there any more.”

Mommy bloggers marketing pile-on

We all know that marketers are targeting bloggers, hoping to get some word-of-mouth going. And it seems they are going after mommy bloggers in particular, no doubt influenced by recent stats that say most moms prefer receiving advice about products from other moms. Here’s an anecdote that appeared in Saturday’s National Post from the recent Motherlode conference in Toronto, where Jen Lawrence of MUBAR (Mothered Up Beyond All Recognition) spoke.

When she wrote a wry post about the idiocy of Tom Cruise, her blog hit the mainstream and she was deluged: “Would I be interested in sampling a baby blanket worth several hundred dollars? Would I be interested in offering my readers access to exclusive [advertising] content? Would I like two tickets to the sold-out show of my daughter’s favourite TV character?

marketing dork

According to the story, Ms. Lawrence — a former banker turned blogger — says “the extent to which these blogs are becoming commercial ventures should give pause to the mothers who turn to them for sage counsel”:

“It is an open and honest medium with such great potential for community-building and I just hate the idea that marketers are actively trying to infiltrate our conversations.”

Throughout the blogosphere, the same conundrum keeps cropping up. Blogs are a direct conduit to people who care about a particular subject, and the fact that they are open and honest also makes them tremendously appealing to marketers, who naturally want to hitch a ride on all that openness. But then marketing — particularly if done badly (see the Edelman-Wal Mart controversy) inevitably detracts from the very things that make blogs powerful in the first place. It’s a Catch-22. Of course, Rob Hyndman says that blogs aren’t always as honest as we might want to think they are.

Is Google flirting with the e-word?

So here’s the scenario: You’re surfing the web, and you come across a webpage that includes an ad for Volvo. When you hit the page, it drops a “cookie” on your machine, and then for the next few weeks (or months) the traffic-tracking firm comScore Media Metrix follows you around the Internet to see whether you search for the word “Volvo,” whether you visit the Volvo website, how long you stay there, and so on. And who is helping comScore put this little package together? Why, your friend Google, according to the Washington Post.

Does that seem just a little bit evil? It does to me, although I can’t really say what I don’t like about it. I know that lots of sites use cookies, and I know that comScore tracks people all the time — and I know that Google keeps all kinds of information about my search history. Heck, I volunteered to let them do that, because I thought it would help their search technology get better.

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So why does the Volvo thing bother me? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that comScore’s tracking software is pretty close to spyware, as this post describes, even though the company says that those who download it are fully informed.

I know that Google has to find ways of making its ads more relevant for advertisers. Not only is AdSense click fraud a potential cancer eating away at the heart of the massive Google profit machine, but the company obviously wants to expand into new markets, and so it has to find ways to convince advertisers that its advertising works. I just wish it didn’t have to look over my shoulder and watch what I’m doing — and then give it all to an advertiser — without telling me.