Does Google hate PayPerPost?

Ted Murphy of PayPerPost has a post up about what appears to be another Google PageRank restructuring, which Ted says is specifically directed at PayPerPost — and posts from Andy Beard at WebProNews and PPP-using sites like Big Foot Marketing and 5xmom.com (whose somewhat unsubtle real name is Make$ Money$) seem to confirm that PayPerPost users have seen their PageRank not just fall but drop to zero.

Is that fair? Ted and a small legion of PPP users clearly would argue that it isn’t. In fact, as TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley notes, Ted wants supporters to write to their Congressman to complain, and tries to make the case in his post that Google is just “defending their monopolistic stranglehold on search and online advertising,” and wants to put PayPerPost out of business because it’s an alternative to AdSense.

I wrote about this a little while ago, when Google used its PageRank hammer against a bunch of sites — including mine, which dropped a couple of ranks — for using paid links such as TextLinkAds. Some sites, such as the above-mentioned 5xmom.com, have decided to bend to Google’s will and get rid of their paid posts and links. Others, such as John Chow’s money-making site, have decided that it’s worth more to them to sell ads than it is to be in Google’s index, which is an interesting choice.

The question remains: is Google just trying to maintain the purity of the search experience, so that people don’t get misled by paid posts? If so, that’s a fairly noble goal (PPP’s disclosure policy requires bloggers to say somewhere on their site that they use PayPerPost, but not on the individual post). Or is the search giant just concerned with others selling paid links because that’s competition for AdSense? If so, that’s not such a noble goal. And how do we tell the difference?

Terry “PoMo” Heaton says that he has no problem with Google stamping out the “evil” that is PayPerPost, and that he would rather have Google policing such behaviour than any government. I’m not sure I would go that far. And Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests thinks that Google may actually be trying to send the webosphere a message that PageRank isn’t really that important.

Video: "The most evil man in the room"

One of the highlights of mesh — for me and many others — was the chance to see Mike Arrington of TechCrunch call PayPerPost CEO Ted Murphy “the most evil man in the room” when Ted asked a question during the keynote conversation I had with Mike on the first day. As part of his “Rockstartup” video series, Ted had someone filming the whole thing — including a chat between Ted and Loren Feldman of 1938media — and the video has been posted to YouTube, and I’ve embedded it below. A classic mesh moment.

 

Robert: Disclose that bag of pretzels too

Well, Scoble has gone and done it again, it seems. He agreed to accept a speaking engagement from none other than PayPerPost, everyone’s favourite blogosphere whipping boy. At first, the deal was that they would pay him for appearing, as well as paying for his flight and accommodations, but John Furrier and PodTech apparently decided that wasn’t such a great idea — poor “optics,” as the political types like to say — and so he turned it down.

Duncan Riley says that Scoble “has balls” for doing the speech, but also that he has become “a paid shill” for the company, and that he has every right to “whore his presence.” I think we’re back to where we were just the other day when the latest PayPerPost brouhaha erupted (which I wrote about here). Everyone is being held up against an impossible standard, just because PayPerPost is seen as the blogosphere’s version of a “sidewalk hooker,” — as Scoble’s friend and co-author Shel Israel says in his disapproving comment.

Robert_Scoble.jpg So Scoble was going to get a fee for speaking at a blogging conference. Big deal. Speakers at conferences get paid all the time, and even if they don’t get an honorarium, they usually get free plane flights and hotel rooms and food. That’s how it works. Is this conference somehow different because PayPerPost is sponsoring it? Like Jason at Webomatica, I think more disclosure is definitely good, but I don’t see why he should be subjected to a public flogging. He’s not speaking at the Aryan Party’s annual meeting, for pete’s sake. Mike says he’s making a mistake.

PayPerPost may not be the model that I would like to see bloggers adopt, but it is one of the alternative for people who don’t get enough traffic to make their blog pay, and it has definitely gotten better since it launched. According to an email I got from CEO Ted Murphy, the company will soon be launching a new feature that would place a disclosure button (with a rollover ad included) at the bottom of any post sponsored by an advertiser, although it will be up to the advertiser to decide whether to use that feature.

Update:

Tony Hung has a long and thoughtful post on the subject of the “impossible standard” bloggers are being held to. And both Duncan Riley at 901am and Jim Kukral of Blogkits (which I use, in the interests of full disclosure) think that Ted Murphy of PayPerPost is a marketing genius.

PayPerPost: a Web 2.0 witch-hunt

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.

Blog payola, round three (or four)

Looks like round three (or is it round four?) of the “blog payola” debate is upon us, something I expected we would see more of in 2007. Over at The Blog Herald, my friend Tony “I Never Sleep” Hung has the 411 on a new PayPerPost-style blog review service called SponsoredReviews, which is reportedly about to launch in beta.

Tony has the details, and Mike Arrington at TechCrunch brings the outrage, in a post that says the “blog payola virus is spreading.” In a response in the comments, someone says that services like PayPerPost fill a need, and Mike responds that drug dealers fill a need too. The bottom line, he says, is that such services mean “misled readers, search engine pollution and credibility questions around the entire blogosphere. All for a few dollars a post.”

bribe.jpg

SponsoredReviews, like PayPerPost, appears to require disclosure — although it’s not clear yet whether that will be a general, site-wide disclosure like the one PPP allows, or whether compensation will have to be disclosed on each and every sponsored post, which is the way I think it should be done.

SponsoredReviews is also trying to carve out a variation on the model by allowing bloggers to set their own rates, with a bidding system determining the eventual payola level. And the service says that it will have a rating system, although it’s not clear what that will consist of.

I’ve got a great idea: How about instead of requiring disclosure, SponsoredReviews requires bloggers to post the details of the entire monetary transaction that led to the post in a small box next to the post — complete with all the various bids and the final price that was paid for the review. Transparency is good 🙂