PayPerPost: a Web 2.0 witch-hunt

by Mathew on February 1, 2007 · 28 comments

I have a lot of respect for Jeff Jarvis. He’s been pushing the social-media thing longer than just about anyone, and he knows a lot about the media business. And I think Jason Calacanis is a smart guy too, although I know he gets on a lot of peoples’ nerves. But I don’t get why the mere mention of PayPerPost.com seems to drive both of them completely off the deep end (Scott Karp gets into it at The Blog Herald too). There’s a moralistic tone to the whole subject that I find odd.

In the latest installment of the saga, Jeff and some other smart people at the AlwaysOn conference slammed the company and its compensation model for bloggers, and then Ted Murphy — CEO of the company — stood up and took issue with some of what Jeff and the panel said. The company requires that bloggers disclose that they are being paid, he pointed out (although Jeff rightly noted that this came only after pressure from the blogosphere).

witch hunt.jpg

Then Jeff makes fun of the fact that Murphy has a TV crew following him, and compares him to the ill-fated Bubble 1.0 company that was the subject of the movie Startup, something that is echoed by Valleywag. And Jason Calacanis says the PayPerPost “scam” and “train wreck” is coming off the rails and that the “most hated company” on the Web is doomed.

I thought PayPerPost was bad too (although I didn’t call it a “cancer” like some people), because it didn’t require bloggers to disclose that they were being compensated. But now it does, even if that disclosure comes in the form of an overall policy, rather than something that is declared on a per-post basis. And there are plenty of other ways for bloggers to be compensated and become conflicted. What makes Ted Murphy into Satan all of a sudden?

Jeff’s post in particular has a real lecturing tone to it that I find irritating. He holds PayPerPost up to public ridicule, accuses them of giving parents the tools to exploit their children (like parents haven’t been doing that for centuries anyway — and check the comment on Jeff’s blog from the mother he mentions in his post), and then makes fun of the CEO for promoting his company.

Is the startup reality show idea stupid? No doubt. But no stupider than lots of other things. For more on this topic, check out WinExtra’s blog and ZDNet’s Larry Dignan’s balanced take, as well as a nicely-written rant from Jeneane Sessum at Allied, and another over at The Last Podcast.

  • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

    Thank you for the link Michael and while I personall don’t like the PayPerPost method of ding business I did try and be fair in my points on both sides.

  • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

    I need more coffee .. I meant Mathew:) oopps sorry

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    There is a bullying, sanctimonious tone to Jeff’s post and some of the other writing on this today that is troubling. A snobbish elitism that just does not compute. I really, really get by now that certain bloggers want us to know they would never take cash for posts. Great, super. But I also really get that most of us have well enough defined bull-cookie detectors to know when we’re being shilled, and that we don’t really need a Web 2.0 moral purity squad to do it for us.

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  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    Actually, just read Jeneane Sessum on this – she’s got some chops on this issue.

  • Mathew Ingram

    No worries, Steven. And I would agree, Rob. Good post by Jeneane.

  • http://www.calacanis.com Jason

    what you’re hearing is that many folks put years into building the blogosphere and its credibility, and now these folks are faced with a slime coming into the city and taking a piss in the middle of the town square.

    blogs are supposed to be about honesty and transparency and payperpost is STILL about deception. You don’t have to disclose on every post (you can bury it with an icon on the side of your page), and they still allows folks to be forced into writing only positive reviews. the whole thing is just icky for folks who came to blogging to get away from the bought and paid for media players.

    That’s why you hear such a vocal response to payperpost.

    as for the reality show… it’s just sad and odd. these guys have done nothing and they are documenting themselves as if they were the google or youtube founders–hello!?!?!?

  • http://www.floridaventureblog.com VC Dan

    yep, you called it Mathew.

    Interesting to see Rob’s use of “elitism” here, something Scott and I were discussing over at BlogHerald

  • Mathew Ingram

    I understand the emotion, Jason — I know from experience that it’s never fun to watch something you have put a lot of work into change in ways that you don’t like. And I have nothing against you or Jeff or Scott saying that you don’t like it, and listing all the reasons why — many of which I think are valid.

    I just have a problem with the overheated tone of some of the rhetoric, which I think detracts from (and arguably does harm to) your argument. If anything, it seems to be causing people to dismiss you and Jeff and others as elitist A-listers who don’t give a rat’s ass about the little guy, etc.

  • http://www.jimkukral.com Jim Kukral

    I’m with you on this Mathew.

    Jason, I’m not sure I agree that the deception is truly there anymore, is it?

  • http://www.calacanis.com Jason

    From my understanding you have to have a disclosure policy, but you don’t have to have it at the top of the post.

    Everyone knows that 95-99.999% of folks will never see the a disclosure icon or policy on the right hand side of the page.

    Disclosure should occur in the first sentence of the post and if it doesn’t than it’s deception because the majority of folks will not know.

    This is why advertorials are clearly labeled on the top and bottom of pages in magazines.

    So, until PayPerPost has full disclosure they are on my axis of evil list.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    Which was why I used it, VC Dan. :)

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  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    If PayPerPost is a bad business model, bloggers won’t sign up for it and the comapny goes under. The rules haven’t changed. If bloggers do sign up for it, then there are happy users and there must have been a market for it.

  • http://allied.blogspot.com jeneane

    Not just chops, I have MUSIC TOO! ;-)

    Jason, I was blogging before at least two out of the three of the voices in that video debate on PPP. I was there when the blogworld was special. And I’ve watched the punditry of the pompous journaljism-obsessed “pros” do a lot more damage to what once made blogging special than pay per post has.

    Rule number one about guys who run around to speak at conference after conference: It’s expensive and they’re not doing it as a philanthropic act. It seems pretty two-faced for jeff — mr. sidebar-and-RSS-feed-made-of-ads guy — to sit there on that panel and imply that mothers who write for PPP are being duped while he’s building his own brand by harping on the company at a fucking (can I say fucking here?) conference he’s using to make himself a more valuable advertising comodity! Give me a break.

    If the real issue is around what PPP is doing to search — which serves ads inside of the more tame advertising model Jeff makes money in — then he should say so.

    I’m not saying Murphy’s clean or PPP is clean. It’s just another way for bloggers to make some money in a medium where ‘real’ voices are in short supply.

    And, on a less ranty note, thanks Matthew for the nod.

  • Mathew Ingram

    You are more than welcome for the nod, Jeneane — and please drop by and say fucking any time you like :-)

  • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

    Jason it is all well and good to lambase PPP as the newest demon of the blogosphere and while I do not like their specific business model you and people like Mr. Arrington slam any and all pay for review model.

    Just because you have more money in the bank that I will see for a lifetime and Mr. Arrington lives the high life of confrences and hobnobbing many thanks to his advertising model not all bloggers are so lucky but they still have bills to pay as they attempt to make a career in this profession.

    As any profession that depends on income derived from advertising you are going to have those who will willingly hand over their ethics for any amount of money (just look at any of the AdSense farm blogs); however to lump those of us who don’t and wouldn’t think of not disclosing and conflicts is insulting.

    so rather than argue this from your unretractible position why not be constructive and help draft a set of guidelines for bloggers who wish to go this route to follow. Wouldn’t that prove to be more beneficial to the whole blogosphere than all your mealy mouth (like did you realy need to use the word “slime” – talk about demeaning) rantings against a company that deserves to earn a living the same way you do.

  • http://drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Resounding applause, Mathew! As a point of clarification, posts will be rejected which don’t have disclosure inside the post. it’s no longer acceptable simply to have the general disclosure link on the blog. If you look at the last couple that I’ve done, the disclosure is right at the top of the post.

    Now I reviewed RockStartUp (the reality show) back when they launched the first three episodes with full disclosure there, too — mainly that I wasn’t a huge fan of reality shows at all and this one was no exception. However, there are lots of folks enjoying it, and it’s not any worse than some of the other crap on the web.

    I’ve been debating all day whether to blog about this myself, but I think what I’ll do is link to yours and Jeneane’s post as more reasonable. It is exactly what you say — it just causes otherwise reasonable people to get a bit…passionate, and in this case, I’d say the term bullying applies.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks, Karoli. And thanks for mentioning that disclosure will now have to appear in the actual post. That will help dispel at least one of Jason’s criticisms of the service.

  • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

    An interesting side note you might be interested in. Mashable! just posted an announcement from PPP about a new service to rolled out Monsy

    http://mashable.com/2007/02/01/payperpost-video-ads/

    —————————————————–
    On the upside, PPP is also launching a disclosure unit on Monday, which will mean a “sponsored by” message and an advertiser logo appears at the bottom of paid-for posts. The lack of disclosure was one of the more dubious aspects of PPP, so this should fix some of those issues.
    ——————————————————-

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    It’s all about disintermediation – of the current A-listers! They don’t like that.

    You know what the blog evangelists would say if they were in favor of this, hailing it as a marvelous disintermediation of the old monolithic priesthood of the high barrier to entry media payoffs, compared to the hip new democratized PEOPLE-POWERED PAYOLA.

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  • http://www.cellounge.com Shane Coffey

    Here is my view, outside of the blogosphere no one knows Jason Calacanis. Pretty much the entire internet could give a rats ass about him and his opinions. He built weblogs inc with 10 ads on each one his blog. Seems a little hypocritcal to critisize people for making money and you have been a google whore for the better part of two years or more. Let me just say Jason that WordPress, Blogger, and Adsense have done more for the blogosphere then you could ever hope to do. So what you had a couple of blogs, got lucky, made some millions. So what gives you the right to tell my mom or my dogs mom that they don’t have a right to make money. I have to say I remember the same thing being said about adsense when it was first introduced. Now adsense is everywhere, the truth is that someone besides an “A-lister” thought of something and beat you to it.

    You’re biggest concern was disclosure, and now payperpost requires that their bloggers disclose that the post is paid for. Please stop trying to be the morality police on the internet, its annoying and your arrogance is astounding.

    If I misspelled any words, oh freakin well, move on with your life.

  • http://leighhimel.blogspot.com Leigh

    Have you seen the Paul Kedrosky note on the payperpost “model” and climate change?

    http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2007/02/02/taking_the_payp.html

    I hope Jeff and Jason will take heart at the irony of the naming of your post. The witch-hunt in fact was created and financially backed by one of the biggest lobby groups in medieval times, the Catholic Church.

    Manufacturing consent is a dangerous business. Today it’s about product X but tomorrow it could be about things that dramatically impact our lives. Disclosure is one thing, but in our digitally connected search world, it isn’t the individual posts with their disclosure claim on them that is the issue. It’s the fact that because these blog posts link to whatever the story is, current search engine technology will put that piece of media at the top of the results page.

    While I get what you are saying Mathew about the tone of their concern, in the world where I consistently hear that “business is just business” I will take moralistic to immoral any day of the week.

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  • http://ericrice.com Eric Rice

    Go tell this story to a broke-ass myspacer.

    I want to hear what poor people have to say.

    I don’t want to hear what the crazy uncles have to say. I love the crazy uncles. They need to go out for a pipe and let the kids have a breather.

    And I’m thinking that the conversation might be different.

    Cuz we are certainly scared of our crazy uncles. They give us wedgies and noogies and make us feel embarassed.

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