Stories of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Ugly: PayPerPost
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks you may have missed the discussion of PayPerPost‘s business model that’s been spreading like kudzu: just to pick some names you might recognize, Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, Jason Calcanis, Jeremy Wagstaff, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington have all weighed in of late. Or you could just check Technorati.
For those of you who haven’t been following along at home, PayPerPost’s gig is…playing bloggers to post. To post about specific things, of course, based upon the “opportunity requirements” that the companies advertising those things have set forth.
So the arguments around this are probably pretty clear to you: start from “nobody has to post anything that they wouldn’t write anyway, so they might as well get paid for what they write,” move through “it depends on whether and how this potential conflict of interest is disclosed,” and then after a little jaunt through “back in ought-two we blogged for the sheer joy of it, uphill, in the rain” move along to “this is traditional publishing’s age-old editorial vs. advertising conflict writ small, no good will come of it.”
It seems pretty clear that PayPerPost is a quasi-organic way for advertisers to build up Google juice, rather than a real effort to astroturf the blogosphere, so I suspect that it’ll have a relatively short shelf life regardless of what people think about it. The way I see it, this is an effort to make use of the broad, shallow influence exerted by small readership (or no readership) bloggers.
The problem here is that Google isn’t known for reacting particularly well to attempts to game their system; either PayPerPost isn’t successful for advertisers and the business can’t afford to pay the long tail bloggers for their influence, or PPP is successful in channelling that influence and Google bitchslaps them (and possibly their clients) into irrelevance.
The Bad: Walmart/Edelman
In the “bad as in stupid” category, we have another entry for those who can’t get enough discussion of blogging and ethics: enjoy the Walmart/Edelman fiasco. As you might expect, Richard Edelman’s comment on the matter is pretty dull reading, so I’ll point you to gapingvoid’s take on it, as well.
The summary? There are these people, see, and they’re driving across the country in their RV, spending nights in WalMart parking lots. And they’re blogging the whole experience. Wholesomely delicious, right? Well, there’s the little matter that Walmart sponsored the trip — a fact that wasn’t disclosed on the blog until the news leaked through other channels.
I can easily accept that WalMart wouldn’t know any better, but Edelman? Come on, now. I expect that the logic was “people won’t read the blog with an open mind if they know that WalMart is paying for it, and it’s not like WalMart gets to edit the posts, so where’s the harm?”
Dumb. Very, very dumb. I have a very simple tool that I use in both my personal and professional life: if I’m not disclosing some piece of information, I ask myself “what will you say when this information becomes known to others?” If the best answer that I can come up with is “well, I just really, really need to make sure that nobody else finds out” then I’ve got a problem, Houston. Those are the cases where you get screwed.
The irony here is that the blog might well have been more effective with the WalMart connection disclosed. Sure, many, many people wouldn’t have believed the page that said “We at WalMart believe that we make a positive impact on communities across America, so we’re sponsoring this journalist and photographer as they make their trip, and we will in no way spindle, fold, or mutilate whatever they post.” Hell, I wouldn’t have believed it, but still: the discussion surrounding the site would have been very, very different, and cast everyone involved in a very different light.
Again, it seems like it’s Edelman that really fucked up here: somebody bought into the idea that a “blog” needs to have some sort of indie cred in order to be influential — that having (or, well, aknowledging) a big corporation and money behind a blog would make it somehow impure.
The Good: Insight Community
It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Techdirt fanboy. Mike Masnick and crew are building an empire of information and analysis that is really intriguing. A week ago they annexed another neighboring fiefdom (yeah, I’m letting that metaphor go now) when they announced an “Insight Community”: Techdirt basically acts as a trusted third party, connecting companies that want informed, intelligent feedback with bloggers who can provide that feedback.
While blogger response certainly isn’t make or break for a product or strategy, having a sense of what that response might look like could be incredibly valuable. Toss that into the mix with more traditional market research and passive monitoring of Web content and you’ve got a really picture of the environment that you’re releasing into.
An approach like this acknowledges the influence that blogs can have, and allows money to work into the mix in a reasonable way: don’t try to buy the blogger, try to buy the analysis…before it’s splashed all over the Web. Blogs, money, and influence happily coexisting. Incredible.