PayPerPost and the “corruption” of the blogosphere

This blog, first and foremost, is about strategies that can help fast-growth, entrepreneurial businesses grow. Because of that, I try to stay out of blogging debates that aren’t directly relevant. I’m bending that rule a wee bit today…

I’m a huge Calacanis fan, AND I think he is “months and months behind” on the corruption of the blogosphere:

Note: I’ve been talking to the PayPerPost folks about how to make their service NOT destroy trust in the blogosphere. Right now my position is that any post that is paid for must say so right up top. Not on the side of your blog with some icon that no one will ever see or understand. Not at the bottom of the post where someone might miss it. Not on some blog post you did seven months ago. Every post has to be clearly marked as paid for. Anything short of that falls into the deception bucket.

I don’t buy the disclosure bit … here’s why:

The best restaurant and travel critics eat and travel incognito because they know the experience they receive if recognized is not the same experience the diners they are reviewing for will receive. Andrew Harper, for example, has built a rock-solid reputation in luxury travel by never accepting a comp of any kind from a place he reviews.

From his site:

Who is Andrew Harper?
It’s a mystery – for a reason.
Remaining a mystery lets Andrew Harper critique the world’s finest resorts, hotels and hideaways objectively.
* He travels incognito.
* The resorts don’t know him.
* He pays his own way.
* His respected monthly Hideaway Report accepts no advertising.

When Hugh sent bottles of Stormhoek wine around to bloggers, the bloggers wrote about the wine. They weren’t required to, to be sure. Nor did Hugh have editorial control over what was written. But everything we know about social psychology tells us that when we receive a gift from an influential “somebody” there is tremendous pressure to reciprocate in some form. It’s a classic “loophole” to pretend that a gift or review copy is anything but compensation in exchange for consideration that you hope leads to coverage.

Big media “Ben Metcalfe” made a similar point…

Plus there is certain expectation (be it implied or just passive) for someone to give it a favourable review having received a complimentary bottle.
Of course, that’s nothing different from wine tasting reviews in newspapers or magazines — or any other reviews for that matter. I just hoped that kind of stuff wouldn’t find its way onto the blogosphere.

Which Hugh responded to, correctly, by pointing out…

Give me a break. It never occurs to Ben, the bloggers could have shredded the wine to pieces just as easily. He doesn’t mention that.

True enough, they could have. But, going back to our friend, the social psychologists, the likelihood that they will do so is not “50/50.” In fact, it’s not even a fair fight.

The bottom line is that, regardless of the tone of the post made, the provocation for making it was receiving a gift bottle of wine.

That is compensation.

So…

If someone wrote about Stormhoek without disclosing they received Stormhoek as a gift … have they crossed an ethical boundary?

If you apply the “no deception” standard Jason proposes … I believe it absolutely does cross the line.

(Note, I have no problem with what Hugh did. I think it is brilliant. I also think it is silly to call it anything other than what it is.)

FACT: There is bias in even the most “authentic” of bloggers.

Whether that bias is due to…

  • Cash compensation
  • Gifts or review copies (since starting blogging I’ve receive books, CDs, offers to travel, access to thousand-dollar-plus events for free, and so on … many from “A-list authentic bloggers”)
  • A desire to attract the attention of an “A-lister”
  • A desire to retain insider access (web 2.0 pundits, hello!)
  • A desire to attact and retain an audience for advertiser compensation
  • A desire to keep advertisers (again, HELLO web 2.0 pundits!!!!!!!!!)

…whatever the reason, bias is there. And, while it would be nice if everyone disclosed their bias, the ultimate solution is self-regulation through conversation and readers who enter into any reading with a “buyer beware” attitude. Hell, truth be told, most people aren’t aware of half of their biases to start with!

I believe readers are NOT looking for unbiased info … they are looking for people who they perceive have interests aligned with their own. Witness what TV channels grow … what magazines sell … and what blogs get read and I think my point is made.

I also believe readers are becoming increasingly intelligent about how they sort and filter the information they receive … due in no small part to the wide variety of opinions available on blogs and other social media.

To bring things back to PayPerPost

What is the difference between Hugh offering sample bottles of wine to bloggers to get them writing about the wine and someone offering cash to bloggers to get them writing about a product or service?

The only significant difference is that, using the PayPerPost system the client can approve or deny a post.

So, let me take it one step further…

What if someone using PayPerPost gave up the ability to approve or deny a post and let the blogger write whatever their honest opinion is?

Now where is the difference?

I love blogs, blogging and the blogosphere. But the idea of the blogosphere being “pure” is a joke. Even the most “authentic” of bloggers have their own biases and preferences … and there is nothing wrong with that. Part of the power of conversation is the ability to openly discuss and debate those preferences in an open forum.

In the end, it’s not that I find the idea of forcing disclosure to be “bad.”

I do believe it is futile, and is being applied with a healthy double-standard (see 2nd PS).

P.S. FWIW, I have never “hired” PayPerPost, nor do I intend to. I’ll never “sell” my posts. Because, in the end, I believe building a business which uses blogs as a tool to interact with its market is far superior to building a business that is a blog (the advertising model).

P.P.S. The classic defense of advertising supported blogs is that they make it clear the advertisers are advertisers and that there is no implied endorsement. This, of course, is horse-puckey. The fact that is sits on your site is an implied endorsement. Period. You know what happened when newspapers started to require “advertorials” (ads that look like newspaper columns) put “this is a paid advertisement” at the top? NOTHING. It gave the media “ethical cover” and didn’t effect response rates in the least. Same thing with television infomercials. If you accept the advertising, there is implied endorsement. Period.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mridula singh August 16, 2009 at 12:52 pm

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2 Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 5:40 pm

What you have written about the payperpost program hits the nail on the head. However, I have found a guy named Jason Ryan Isaksen that has figured out a few back door techniques to payperpost that seem to put the odds in the favor of the marketers. I am testing out these techniques of Jason Ryan Isaksen right now, and so far most of my ventures are doing well, as far as the ROI when it comes to my advertising campaigns. I am very optimistic about the possabilities of payperpost and any of my advertising campaigns at the moment but Jason Ryan Isaksens techniques seem to be helping immensely. Have you ever heard of this guy, Jason Ryan Isaksen or any of his books? Right now all of this seems way too good to be true, and you know what they say about that. I would like to hear some feedback from you on this topic.

sirjesse

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3 Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 10:40 pm

What you have written about the payperpost program hits the nail on the head. However, I have found a guy named Jason Ryan Isaksen that has figured out a few back door techniques to payperpost that seem to put the odds in the favor of the marketers. I am testing out these techniques of Jason Ryan Isaksen right now, and so far most of my ventures are doing well, as far as the ROI when it comes to my advertising campaigns. I am very optimistic about the possabilities of payperpost and any of my advertising campaigns at the moment but Jason Ryan Isaksens techniques seem to be helping immensely. Have you ever heard of this guy, Jason Ryan Isaksen or any of his books? Right now all of this seems way too good to be true, and you know what they say about that. I would like to hear some feedback from you on this topic.
sirjesse

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4 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 4:28 am

Ben,

While A is true, B is not.

A: This comes back to my original point.

To remain consistent, you’d also have to require people who recieve samples to disclose, people who review an advertiser to disclose, and so on.

The best people (see someone like Arrington) already do so, voluntarily. My guess is he would not accept advertising that required (or even gently suggested) he do anything else. And, using PayPerPost, the posters have the option of not taking jobs that disallow disclosure.

Again, we are back to “do you trust the writer?”

And we are at that point whether the blogger accepts advertising, uses PayPerPost, recommends products using affiliate programs or wants to impress the A list.

B: My understanding of PayPerPost is that this is false. You can use PayPerPost and indicate that you do not care whether the review is positive or negative.

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5 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 9:28 am

Ben,
While A is true, B is not.
A: This comes back to my original point.
To remain consistent, you’d also have to require people who recieve samples to disclose, people who review an advertiser to disclose, and so on.
The best people (see someone like Arrington) already do so, voluntarily. My guess is he would not accept advertising that required (or even gently suggested) he do anything else. And, using PayPerPost, the posters have the option of not taking jobs that disallow disclosure.
Again, we are back to “do you trust the writer?”
And we are at that point whether the blogger accepts advertising, uses PayPerPost, recommends products using affiliate programs or wants to impress the A list.
B: My understanding of PayPerPost is that this is false. You can use PayPerPost and indicate that you do not care whether the review is positive or negative.

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6 Anonymous October 23, 2006 at 4:16 am

“My gripe is people railing against PayPerPost while the simultaneously a) accept advertising from the people their sites review, and b) don’t acknowledge that sampling (or preferential treatment … or links … or a chance to be part of the in-crowd) is any less of compensation.”

I don’t accept advertising on my blog- I don’t hold any AdSense/etc accounts.  I also agree that people may artificially give a product a positive review in order to suck-up (I said so above).

I’m also not against advertising (as I said above).

To be really clear: The two issues with PayPerPost are a) you don’t have to disclose your posts, or that you just participate in the program generally and b) you don’t get paid unless you give a POSITIVE review (er, hello!!!)

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7 Anonymous October 23, 2006 at 9:16 am

“My gripe is people railing against PayPerPost while the simultaneously a) accept advertising from the people their sites review, and b) don’t acknowledge that sampling (or preferential treatment … or links … or a chance to be part of the in-crowd) is any less of compensation.”
I don’t accept advertising on my blog- I don’t hold any AdSense/etc accounts.  I also agree that people may artificially give a product a positive review in order to suck-up (I said so above).
I’m also not against advertising (as I said above).
To be really clear: The two issues with PayPerPost are a) you don’t have to disclose your posts, or that you just participate in the program generally and b) you don’t get paid unless you give a POSITIVE review (er, hello!!!)

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8 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 3:33 am

Something to add…

When I bring up accepting advertising = influence w/my web 2.0 friends, they instantly say that just because you have an advertiser doesn’t mean you will write good things about them. Fair enough.

Just like when someone uses PayPerPost and specifies that the opinion can be anything (I think they call it “neutral”). Oh, but wait a minute … the people taking ads don’t see it that way. Somehow they are immune to the influence while PayPerPost users are not.

Elitist BS.

I say that, in the end, it comes down to this question: DO YOU TRUST THE PERSON DOING THE WRITING?

One person could be swayed by an advertiser, while another may not. And it is up to you and the conversation in the blogosphere to determine who is who.

Mike Arrington, who I disagree with plenty and respect enormously, could accept as an advertiser every company he recommends. AND I would still trust him to be fair in his reviews on TechCrunch. There are other major blogs who even when they don’t have a company they review as an advertiser … I believe they are whoring themselves to try and ATTRACT them as an advertiser.

It all comes down to CONVERSATION and TRUST.

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9 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 8:33 am

Something to add…
When I bring up accepting advertising = influence w/my web 2.0 friends, they instantly say that just because you have an advertiser doesn’t mean you will write good things about them. Fair enough.
Just like when someone uses PayPerPost and specifies that the opinion can be anything (I think they call it “neutral”). Oh, but wait a minute … the people taking ads don’t see it that way. Somehow they are immune to the influence while PayPerPost users are not.
Elitist BS.
I say that, in the end, it comes down to this question: DO YOU TRUST THE PERSON DOING THE WRITING?
One person could be swayed by an advertiser, while another may not. And it is up to you and the conversation in the blogosphere to determine who is who.
Mike Arrington, who I disagree with plenty and respect enormously, could accept as an advertiser every company he recommends. AND I would still trust him to be fair in his reviews on TechCrunch. There are other major blogs who even when they don’t have a company they review as an advertiser … I believe they are whoring themselves to try and ATTRACT them as an advertiser.
It all comes down to CONVERSATION and TRUST.

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10 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 3:13 am

Hugh, I agree that starting by pushing your own buttons is huge.

Rutledge, I agree that Hugh has not disputed that there is a hidden hand of influence that encourages bloggers to artificially “puff up” products like Stormhoek.

Bottom line is that people gift samples to influence reviews. This is nothing new, it has been done in all media since the dawn of time. My gripe is people railing against PayPerPost while the simultaneously a) accept advertising from the people their sites review, and b) don’t acknowledge that sampling (or preferential treatment … or links … or a chance to be part of the in-crowd) is any less of compensation.

Only when the bloggers who are against PayPerPost renounce an advertising model (like Consumer Reports, for example) do they have a leg to stand on when talking about PayPerPost. As it currently is, they are pointing at the obvious example (PayPerPost) in the hopes that no one realizes they have an equal potential for being “bought and paid for.”

Let’s see one of the Web 2.0 pundits drop an advertising model in favor of a subscription model——then, and only then, can the criticize without being the pot calling the kettle black.

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11 Michael Cage October 23, 2006 at 8:13 am

Hugh, I agree that starting by pushing your own buttons is huge.
Rutledge, I agree that Hugh has not disputed that there is a hidden hand of influence that encourages bloggers to artificially “puff up” products like Stormhoek.
Bottom line is that people gift samples to influence reviews. This is nothing new, it has been done in all media since the dawn of time. My gripe is people railing against PayPerPost while the simultaneously a) accept advertising from the people their sites review, and b) don’t acknowledge that sampling (or preferential treatment … or links … or a chance to be part of the in-crowd) is any less of compensation.
Only when the bloggers who are against PayPerPost renounce an advertising model (like Consumer Reports, for example) do they have a leg to stand on when talking about PayPerPost. As it currently is, they are pointing at the obvious example (PayPerPost) in the hopes that no one realizes they have an equal potential for being “bought and paid for.”
Let’s see one of the Web 2.0 pundits drop an advertising model in favor of a subscription model——then, and only then, can the criticize without being the pot calling the kettle black.

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12 Anonymous October 22, 2006 at 5:12 pm

Look, you keep making points I agree with and don’t address the ones discussed here. You’re dodging the obvious.

Of course you have passion and only write about things that push your buttons. That’s YOU and why people like you. It made you an influencer. I’ll sing your praises ‘til the blogs come home. That’s all background for the current endeavor and no one is saying you have a hidden agenda or questions your intention or integrity.

Of course advertisers would LOVE if the products they pimped inspired genuine emotional feelings, but I’m not talking about how to run a blog campaign (there’s only one step in that process: tell the truth). The issue here is why bloggers are inclined to reward an A-lister based on status.

I’m sure your wine is great and receives wonderful reviews outside of the blogosphere and from people who have no idea what a Technorati ranking is. But the fact remains that there is incentive for some bloggers to hype your wine. They want the association, your recognition, they want to be your friend. Of course they could just leave a comment on your blog about any old topic and you’d be more than happy to respond to them but nothing says blog love like link love.

RIGHT, Michael?

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13 Anonymous October 22, 2006 at 10:12 pm

Look, you keep making points I agree with and don’t address the ones discussed here. You’re dodging the obvious.
Of course you have passion and only write about things that push your buttons. That’s YOU and why people like you. It made you an influencer. I’ll sing your praises ‘til the blogs come home. That’s all background for the current endeavor and no one is saying you have a hidden agenda or questions your intention or integrity.
Of course advertisers would LOVE if the products they pimped inspired genuine emotional feelings, but I’m not talking about how to run a blog campaign (there’s only one step in that process: tell the truth). The issue here is why bloggers are inclined to reward an A-lister based on status.
I’m sure your wine is great and receives wonderful reviews outside of the blogosphere and from people who have no idea what a Technorati ranking is. But the fact remains that there is incentive for some bloggers to hype your wine. They want the association, your recognition, they want to be your friend. Of course they could just leave a comment on your blog about any old topic and you’d be more than happy to respond to them but nothing says blog love like link love.
RIGHT, Michael?

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14 Anonymous October 22, 2006 at 10:07 am

1. Hire A-Lister blogger.
2. Get him to pimp your product.
3. Wait for the ass-kissers to start flooding in.
4. Profit!

I think if that’s how blog campaigns actually worked, we’d be seeing a lot more of that going on. And a lot of bloggers like me would no longer have to work for a living.

Secondly, I honestly think if that was my original strategy, all I’d have to show for it is a shattered reputation and a lot of unsold wine.

I think with blog campaigns you have to do it in a way that’s genuinely interesting to yourself… that’s where so many traditinal ad campaigns fail. They’re just trying to push other people’s buttons. Much more effective in this space to start by pushing your own buttons wink

Right, Michael? [Don’t ask me why I wrote “Dave” last time. Was distracted by something else. Mea culpa.]

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15 Anonymous October 22, 2006 at 3:07 pm

1. Hire A-Lister blogger.
2. Get him to pimp your product.
3. Wait for the ass-kissers to start flooding in.
4. Profit!
I think if that’s how blog campaigns actually worked, we’d be seeing a lot more of that going on. And a lot of bloggers like me would no longer have to work for a living.
Secondly, I honestly think if that was my original strategy, all I’d have to show for it is a shattered reputation and a lot of unsold wine.
I think with blog campaigns you have to do it in a way that’s genuinely interesting to yourself… that’s where so many traditinal ad campaigns fail. They’re just trying to push other people’s buttons. Much more effective in this space to start by pushing your own buttons
Right, Michael? [Don’t ask me why I wrote “Dave” last time. Was distracted by something else. Mea culpa.]

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16 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 9:02 pm

Who the hell is Dave? Nevermind Dave, he’s probably drinking Bud Light or doing a keg stand right now.

You seem to be ignoring your very own marketing schtick. People are enticed to buy or promote something when there’s a personal value proposition. “What’s in it for ME?” I can tell you exactly what’s in it for a blogger who raves about your wine, and sorry chap, it’s not the good taste. It’s the feeling they are supporting YOU, an A-lister, and that you or other Hugh-fans might recognize them. By golly, maybe they’ll even get a *link* out of it. Yippee!

If you totally dismiss the concept of “sucking up” then you have a lot to learn about human psychology.

They also want the “coolness” that comes with the association from a premium blogger brand, be it Gaping Void or Gawker Media or Techcrunch. I drink Stormhoek wine, let’s have sex! Makes them feel better about themselves. “Coolness” is of course relative here, we are after all talking about it in terms of the blogosphere. smile

Do I have to explain to you why celebrities have been used for product endorsement since the dawn of advertising? Or why successful brands expand into other product lines or license it out? (My daughter has to have the Barbie lunchbox because it’s *cool* and a plain one, that works just as well, won’t do.) Get real. This is pretty basic consumer behavior stuff.

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17 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm

“If Stormhugh is completely average wine, the tech/blog community you push it on will rave about and promote it anyway on the principle of goodwill and sucking-up alone.”

Disagree with Rutlidge on that one too, BIG TIME.

They might promote it, or they might be in the mood for, like I said, a feeding frenzy. Rut’s assumation that positive outcome we had was knowable in advance is just hindsight, not insight.

One thing I have learned about the nature of blog marketing… you never know the outcome in advance, so the best thing to do is play nice and be upfront as possible. Right, Dave?

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18 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 11:25 pm

“If Stormhugh is completely average wine, the tech/blog community you push it on will rave about and promote it anyway on the principle of goodwill and sucking-up alone.”
Disagree with Rutlidge on that one too, BIG TIME.
They might promote it, or they might be in the mood for, like I said, a feeding frenzy. Rut’s assumation that positive outcome we had was knowable in advance is just hindsight, not insight.
One thing I have learned about the nature of blog marketing… you never know the outcome in advance, so the best thing to do is play nice and be upfront as possible. Right, Dave?

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19 Michael Cage October 21, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Hugh,

I agree, it would have gotten out if Stormhoek tasted like cat piss.

The more likely situation in a “gift for a blogger from someone influential” scenario (not specifically Stormhoek, but any product or service) is that something “ok” or “good” gets bumped to “great” in a review … not that something horrible gets trashed.

But, even in that scenario, in the end, I believe the power of open conversation wins out as non-compensated buyers get into the game. If they find a large contrast between the reviews and the actual product or service, a counterbalance of conversation happens.

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20 Michael Cage October 21, 2006 at 10:34 pm

Hugh,
I agree, it would have gotten out if Stormhoek tasted like cat piss.
The more likely situation in a “gift for a blogger from someone influential” scenario (not specifically Stormhoek, but any product or service) is that something “ok” or “good” gets bumped to “great” in a review … not that something horrible gets trashed.
But, even in that scenario, in the end, I believe the power of open conversation wins out as non-compensated buyers get into the game. If they find a large contrast between the reviews and the actual product or service, a counterbalance of conversation happens.

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21 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Hugh, congrats on NOT bottling cat piss. Big accomplishment, but let’s make this more reasonable and address the actual point I was getting at, mmmkay? If Stormhugh is completely average wine, the tech/blog community you push it on will rave about and promote it anyway on the principle of goodwill and sucking-up alone.

“Pay attention party guests, look at me your fabulous host. Would you like some groovy wine with this even groovier Gaping Void cartoon on it? Trust me, it makes the wine taste so good!”

Maybe it’s called “slurping-up” in this case. So what about transparency? It’s about as foggy as a monster hangover. Like I said before, more power to you for extending your own well-earned brand into another unrelated one. It’s a time-tested model. Don’t confuse it for anything else.

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22 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 10:30 pm

Hugh, congrats on NOT bottling cat piss. Big accomplishment, but let’s make this more reasonable and address the actual point I was getting at, mmmkay? If Stormhugh is completely average wine, the tech/blog community you push it on will rave about and promote it anyway on the principle of goodwill and sucking-up alone.
“Pay attention party guests, look at me your fabulous host. Would you like some groovy wine with this even groovier Gaping Void cartoon on it? Trust me, it makes the wine taste so good!”
Maybe it’s called “slurping-up” in this case. So what about transparency? It’s about as foggy as a monster hangover. Like I said before, more power to you for extending your own well-earned brand into another unrelated one. It’s a time-tested model. Don’t confuse it for anything else.

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23 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 4:10 pm

Disagree with Rutledge. If Stormhoek had tasted like cat’s piss, word would’ve gotten out, and quickly.

And poor ol’ me would’ve been special VIP guest at the feeding frenzy. Heh.

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24 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 9:10 pm

Disagree with Rutledge. If Stormhoek had tasted like cat’s piss, word would’ve gotten out, and quickly.
And poor ol’ me would’ve been special VIP guest at the feeding frenzy. Heh.

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25 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 2:49 pm

“Paid for” blog posts should be called Blogtorials and should be introduced as such.

This will allow blogs to remain somewhat pure.

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26 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 7:49 pm

“Paid for” blog posts should be called Blogtorials and should be introduced as such.
This will allow blogs to remain somewhat pure.

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27 Michael Cage October 21, 2006 at 5:05 am

Ben,

Thanks for the comments.

There is a lot to respond to, so I will do a follow-up post. Let me offer a few short bits here before I close out for the night.

1) WRT bias, I should have said “I believe people are too smart to believe in the “tooth fairy fantasy” of totally unbiased information.” The idea of an “objective” media, for example, has shriveled up in the face of the diversity of opinions on the Internet. The closest I can think of is my favorite pub, the Economist, but even that has its detractors.

I believe the strength of the Internet (and social media specifically) is that it offers instant/rapid alternative viewpoints on the same page. Much as people are reading your comments along with my “illogical” rant. wink

I believe that people are sophisticated enough to understand that, disclosed or not, there are many reasons influencing how someone arrives at a conclusion.

And I believe that more and more people are intentionally taking in multiple viewpoints as opposed to searching and trusting in a “single, unbiased source” … because they understand the point above.

2) What prompted my post was Jason (see links above) claiming that undisclosed cash compensation will ruin the blogosphere. Rereading, I understand that may not have completely come through, so let me give a one-sentence version of my point (which I think you agree with): There are many ways bloggers are and have been compensated to write reviews/posts/whatever above and beyond cash. And that if you rail against one you should also rail against the other. (As you did with Hugh and again here, I believe.)

3) I believe it is a stone cold fact that bias is not disclosed far more than it is. I am not advocating this, but I do believe it is a fact that existed well before PayPerPost ever came on the scene. For an ugly example see the recent Edelman debacle. How many thousands of others slip through the cracks without anyone noticing?

I believe blogs should transparent … and I also have enough confidence in the blogosphere to self-correct through the power of open discussion. PayPerPost is only making something that was done quietly and often condoned (gifting review samples, for example) and making it explicit for what it is.

I believe in realism, then, that companies (and politicians and non-profits and…) will not stop trying to influence media. That whether the influence comes through advertiser supported bloggers, through “swag” distributed at events, or through other forms of subtle influence … the one certainty is that it WILL continue to come.

I don’t think people can keep up with who is being influenced by who … even if there were a thousand versions of people like the folks who brought down the Edelman/Walmart scandal … so my solution to the problem is to say, “hey … everyone has a viewpoint which may or may not biased. Find someone whose interests seem aligned with your own, who, based on the evidence you see is a match-and-fit for you, but also seek out other viewpoints to balance and flavor the conclusions you draw.”

I’ll write more and clear this up tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by.

Oh, and congratulations on the startup. grin

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28 Michael Cage October 21, 2006 at 10:05 am

Ben,
Thanks for the comments.
There is a lot to respond to, so I will do a follow-up post. Let me offer a few short bits here before I close out for the night.
1) WRT bias, I should have said “I believe people are too smart to believe in the “tooth fairy fantasy” of totally unbiased information.” The idea of an “objective” media, for example, has shriveled up in the face of the diversity of opinions on the Internet. The closest I can think of is my favorite pub, the Economist, but even that has its detractors.
I believe the strength of the Internet (and social media specifically) is that it offers instant/rapid alternative viewpoints on the same page. Much as people are reading your comments along with my “illogical” rant.
I believe that people are sophisticated enough to understand that, disclosed or not, there are many reasons influencing how someone arrives at a conclusion.
And I believe that more and more people are intentionally taking in multiple viewpoints as opposed to searching and trusting in a “single, unbiased source” … because they understand the point above.
2) What prompted my post was Jason (see links above) claiming that undisclosed cash compensation will ruin the blogosphere. Rereading, I understand that may not have completely come through, so let me give a one-sentence version of my point (which I think you agree with): There are many ways bloggers are and have been compensated to write reviews/posts/whatever above and beyond cash. And that if you rail against one you should also rail against the other. (As you did with Hugh and again here, I believe.)
3) I believe it is a stone cold fact that bias is not disclosed far more than it is. I am not advocating this, but I do believe it is a fact that existed well before PayPerPost ever came on the scene. For an ugly example see the recent Edelman debacle. How many thousands of others slip through the cracks without anyone noticing?
I believe blogs should transparent … and I also have enough confidence in the blogosphere to self-correct through the power of open discussion. PayPerPost is only making something that was done quietly and often condoned (gifting review samples, for example) and making it explicit for what it is.
I believe in realism, then, that companies (and politicians and non-profits and…) will not stop trying to influence media. That whether the influence comes through advertiser supported bloggers, through “swag” distributed at events, or through other forms of subtle influence … the one certainty is that it WILL continue to come.
I don’t think people can keep up with who is being influenced by who … even if there were a thousand versions of people like the folks who brought down the Edelman/Walmart scandal … so my solution to the problem is to say, “hey … everyone has a viewpoint which may or may not biased. Find someone whose interests seem aligned with your own, who, based on the evidence you see is a match-and-fit for you, but also seek out other viewpoints to balance and flavor the conclusions you draw.”
I’ll write more and clear this up tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by.
Oh, and congratulations on the startup.

Reply

29 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 4:41 am

Hi, this is “small startup” Ben Metcalfe here (I haven’t worked at the BBC for sometime).

So apparently this is ‘the truth’.  and not just ‘the truth’ but ‘the TRUTH’, according to someone called Rutledge, and that it took ‘guts to say it’.

Wow, I don’t know about ‘guts’ but seems to me it took the lack of a spine to write this crap.

“I believe readers are NOT looking for unbiased info [on the blogosphere]”.

Say what?  Are you insane? I don’t just look for unbiased info on the blogosphere – I look for unbiased info in every medium I consume… on the internet, on the TV, in print, etc etc.  True, I maybe not be able to find unbiased sources everytime, but that doesn’t mean I’m content with what I find instead.  But by striving to find such sources I’m at least keeping the concept alive.  And I certainly don’t take much interest to sources with an overtly biased approach such as Fox news et al.

With this all in mind, the Internet is perhaps the last main place where unbiased media occurs.

Now don’t confuse ‘unbiased’ with ‘not having a view point’… It’s about how that viewpoint was arrived at and whether other factors were at play that were not disclosed or have an overbearing consequence to the original point (eg working for the company being talked about, etc).  People can write an ‘unbiased’ review—ie come to a conclusion.  But coming to the conclusion that the wine was good because they were given a free sample or are trying to suck up to an ‘A-list’ blogger is just wrong, and doesn’t provide any value to the reader—not even you who seems to think this is OK (that’s why I don’t get your point on this—it’s not even helpful to you!).

To say that “[people] are looking for people who they perceive have interests aligned with their own. Witness what TV channels grow … what magazines sell”

I think that maybe true of a certain sections of society around certain topics (politics, for example where the common man doesn’t always know what to think).

But as people become more aware and more sources other than 5 newspapers on the newstand become available to people, then folk begin to think for themselves.  That’s one of the reasons, in the UK, at least, newspapers with a particular politcal slant are on the decline.  People don’t want to be told what to think any more.

But back to blogging – what you seem to be advocating is biasedness that’s not even disclosed.  You speak of seeing out ‘people who have preferences that are aligned to your own’… well with PayPerPost the only preference that might be aligned to you is the desire to get paid.  If someone signed up to PayPerPost is blogging about the virtues of a coffee maker on their blog, doesn’t mean they actually have any real interest in coffee whatsoever.  I don’t see how that’s of any benefit to coffee drinkers (people who one would have a perceived alighment of preference with the original blogger)?

Commerce and making money from blogging isn’t bad – but selling out is.  There’s better ways to make money from blogging, and selling out isn’t one of them.  It undermines your credability – how can I, you or anyone else believe the validity of the next post being made on that same blog?  How can I be sure that a cash bung wasn’t made to write that positive view—or cash paid to write a NEGATIVE view (even more deceptive)?

It almost beggers belif that you think this is a positive, legitamate approach to blogging.  It doesn’t even help you, let alone those of us who want unbiased viewpoints.

Perhaps you could follow up with another post cos what your advocating isn’t even logical.

Reply

30 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 9:41 am

Hi, this is “small startup” Ben Metcalfe here (I haven’t worked at the BBC for sometime).
So apparently this is ‘the truth’.  and not just ‘the truth’ but ‘the TRUTH’, according to someone called Rutledge, and that it took ‘guts to say it’.
Wow, I don’t know about ‘guts’ but seems to me it took the lack of a spine to write this crap.
“I believe readers are NOT looking for unbiased info [on the blogosphere]”.
Say what?  Are you insane? I don’t just look for unbiased info on the blogosphere – I look for unbiased info in every medium I consume… on the internet, on the TV, in print, etc etc.  True, I maybe not be able to find unbiased sources everytime, but that doesn’t mean I’m content with what I find instead.  But by striving to find such sources I’m at least keeping the concept alive.  And I certainly don’t take much interest to sources with an overtly biased approach such as Fox news et al.
With this all in mind, the Internet is perhaps the last main place where unbiased media occurs.
Now don’t confuse ‘unbiased’ with ‘not having a view point’… It’s about how that viewpoint was arrived at and whether other factors were at play that were not disclosed or have an overbearing consequence to the original point (eg working for the company being talked about, etc).  People can write an ‘unbiased’ review—ie come to a conclusion.  But coming to the conclusion that the wine was good because they were given a free sample or are trying to suck up to an ‘A-list’ blogger is just wrong, and doesn’t provide any value to the reader—not even you who seems to think this is OK (that’s why I don’t get your point on this—it’s not even helpful to you!).
To say that “[people] are looking for people who they perceive have interests aligned with their own. Witness what TV channels grow … what magazines sell”
I think that maybe true of a certain sections of society around certain topics (politics, for example where the common man doesn’t always know what to think).
But as people become more aware and more sources other than 5 newspapers on the newstand become available to people, then folk begin to think for themselves.  That’s one of the reasons, in the UK, at least, newspapers with a particular politcal slant are on the decline.  People don’t want to be told what to think any more.
But back to blogging – what you seem to be advocating is biasedness that’s not even disclosed.  You speak of seeing out ‘people who have preferences that are aligned to your own’… well with PayPerPost the only preference that might be aligned to you is the desire to get paid.  If someone signed up to PayPerPost is blogging about the virtues of a coffee maker on their blog, doesn’t mean they actually have any real interest in coffee whatsoever.  I don’t see how that’s of any benefit to coffee drinkers (people who one would have a perceived alighment of preference with the original blogger)?
Commerce and making money from blogging isn’t bad – but selling out is.  There’s better ways to make money from blogging, and selling out isn’t one of them.  It undermines your credability – how can I, you or anyone else believe the validity of the next post being made on that same blog?  How can I be sure that a cash bung wasn’t made to write that positive view—or cash paid to write a NEGATIVE view (even more deceptive)?
It almost beggers belif that you think this is a positive, legitamate approach to blogging.  It doesn’t even help you, let alone those of us who want unbiased viewpoints.
Perhaps you could follow up with another post cos what your advocating isn’t even logical.

Reply

31 Michael Cage October 20, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for the comments.

Just for the record, I have no problem with what Hugh did. I congratulate him for it.

I just think that it is silly to pretend what he did is any different than currying favor through travel, cash, better than average service, samples or anything else. The only difference is YES/NO control (which I mentioned in my post) … but I suspect even if PayPerPost made it so you could not give a thumbs-down to a post, people would still say it was “bad.”

The answer is informed readers, not “regulation” that has no chance of success.

Reply

32 Michael Cage October 21, 2006 at 2:47 am

Thanks for the comments.
Just for the record, I have no problem with what Hugh did. I congratulate him for it.
I just think that it is silly to pretend what he did is any different than currying favor through travel, cash, better than average service, samples or anything else. The only difference is YES/NO control (which I mentioned in my post) … but I suspect even if PayPerPost made it so you could not give a thumbs-down to a post, people would still say it was “bad.”
The answer is informed readers, not “regulation” that has no chance of success.

Reply

33 Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 2:11 am

Wow, someone finally stood up and spoke the TRUTH. Takes guts. Of course those bloggers who received gift bottles wouldn’t knock Hugh’s wine even if it tasted like cat piss. (I’m sure it doesn’t, just saying.) We all want to curry favor with people who have more influence than us. We wouldn’t have blogs if we didn’t care about that. Instead we’d be writing in pads with pencils.
No one’s been bold enough to write the real effects of the “A-list bias” as you have. Same thing used to happen whenever Nick Denton would launch a new Gawker Media blog. Did anyone dare say it sucked? Not if they were interested in social climbing. Hugh’s getting a free pass too on his wine due to past accomplishments and maybe he should. He definitely made a great name for himself on his own exceptional merits. Why not expand the brand and use one talent to get a leg up on the competition in a completely different area?
Ya know, if Robert Scoble decided to start selling homemade cookies available for purchase online, they could be dog discs and he’d still make millions.

Reply

34 Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 9:11 pm

Wow, someone finally stood up and spoke the TRUTH. Takes guts. Of course those bloggers who received gift bottles wouldn’t knock Hugh’s wine even if it tasted like cat piss. (I’m sure it doesn’t, just saying.) We all want to curry favor with people who have more influence than us. We wouldn’t have blogs if we didn’t care about that. Instead we’d be writing in pads with pencils.

No one’s been bold enough to write the real effects of the “A-list bias” as you have. Same thing used to happen whenever Nick Denton would launch a new Gawker Media blog. Did anyone dare say it sucked? Not if they were interested in social climbing. Hugh’s getting a free pass too on his wine due to past accomplishments and maybe he should. He definitely made a great name for himself on his own exceptional merits. Why not expand the brand and use one talent to get a leg up on the competition in a completely different area?

Ya know, if Robert Scoble decided to start selling homemade cookies available for purchase online, they could be dog discs and he’d still make millions.

Reply

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