Xoopit, Or Channels vs Trenches

I’ve been a fan of Xoopit so I guess I am a bit surprised that Yahoo! has bought it. Xoopit, for me, was the future of email. Or a part of it.

(For those of you who haven’t used it, or those who didn’t “get” it, Xoopit is a plugin for Gmail—for others, too, but Gmail is the best working one—which extends Gmail’s functionlity: better search for attachments, dovetailing with Facebook so you can see who you’re talking to on Gmail etc.)

Xoopit, for me, was/is a way to push email beyond being one channel of communication to being part of a single channel of communication. In other words, I believe it will make no sense to future generations that we have different applications for communicating with people.

Right now we have SMS, phone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, face time, and then within those we may have several accounts, depending on whether we’re at work etc etc… This does not make sense.

Some of us would argue that it makes sense if we want to keep our work friends in LinkedIn, and our family friends on Facebook. Yes, but those shouldn’t have to be product choices, surely?

We didn’t use separate postal services to communicate with different kinds of people we knew, or different phones for different kinds of friends? (Well, OK, we may have kept a work phone and a personal phone, but I don’t see many people doing that these days.)

What we are really looking for is a way to organize our increasingly complex social, work and family lives into a coherent web that allows us to control how we communicate with them—not dictated by service, device, product, but by our preferences.

For example, I want to communicate with friend A via SMS because that suits me (and her). I should be able to send that SMS through pretty much any device I want—phone, voice, computer (email, twitter, Facebook etc), TV, pigeon, whatever. It shouldn’t matter to me.

Similarly, the method and format that Friend A receives the message in should be her choice. It shouldn’t be an issue that I sent it as an SMS. She should be able to receive however, and wherever she wishes—guided by whatever factor is important to her (priority—’let everything from Jeremy through’—or cost—‘don’t send me anything by SMS because I’m on roaming, but data is free’ or device—“I’m only carrying my no-data cellphone so route all important communications thro via SMS”.)

Right now this is only a dream, for the most part. Why? Because we’re still stuck in a world of platforms, packages and a lack of understanding of why and how people communicate.

We don’t love twitter because it’s twitter. We love it because it opens all sorts of new doors for sharing information and experiences. And because it’s an open platform, which means we can control how we send and receive.

But we’re still some way off.

Some way off a world where I decide who I communicate with and how I communicate with them, instead of being nudged into one or another walled garden. I may want to talk to Friend A about their holiday on Facebook, but about the new project we’re working on via Gmail. I should be able to do that however I want, and from the same place, and she should be able to decide how she receives and reponds to those emails.

Right now we’re stuck in these trenches dug for us by the creators of the services.

A truly open system will be one where we control these channels.

Xoopit was just a small step, but it had potential. Being able to see whether someone I was talking to on email had a Facebook account—and, if they did, being able to see their profile picture—was great for me, as I communicate often with people I’ve not met, and who often have first names that aren’t always gender specific. Always good to know.

Imagine if that service extended to LinkedIn, twitter and others. Gmail would become a console that would enable me to manage and extend my networks more efficiently than occasional trawling through the network services pages themselves.

And finding attachments? Sounds trivial but it made finding stuff easy, and turned Gmail into an online repository of files I could—relatively—easily share and pass on to others.

Small shifts, but in the right direction.

The chatter on TechCrunch is that Google didn’t buy because it’s launching Wave.

Maybe true, but great though Wave sounds it doesn’t, I think, move us in the direction of open channels. Instead, it sounds a lot like Google wasn’t interested in Xoopit because it was taking Gmail in the wrong direction—into the world of open channels—when Wave is designed to keep us in the trenches.

The End of the Reply All Button

I did a piece for the BBC World Service on the Reply All button the other day (MP3 to follow). I’m not saying there’s a causal link, but now Nielsen have issued a memo: 

We have noticed that the “Reply to All” functionality results in unnecessary inbox clutter. Beginning Thursday we will eliminate this function, allowing you to reply only to the sender. Responders who want to copy all can do so by selecting the names or using a distribution list.

Apparently they’re not the first to do this: Standard Chartered have done it some time back, according to comments on Techcrunch.

There’s a lot of people who don’t like this; they think it’s a dumb move. I’d tend to agree, but for maybe different reasons. Why not try to understand why the Reply All button is there, and try to find another way for staff to disseminate information?

All I can imagine from this is the time wasted as employees add email addresses one by one for fear they leave someone out of a message. There’s got to be a better way. Wikis, blogs, RSS, twitter, Yammer, anyone?

Dunder Mifflin Alert! Nielsen to Disable Employees’ ‘Reply to All’ E-mail Functionality – Dylan Stableford – Blogs B2B @ FolioMag.com

Fail, Seinfeld and Tina Fey: A Zeitgeist

I use Google Insights quite a bit—I find it a very useful way to measure interest in topics. Here’s one I keyed in just for the hell of it. Red is the word success and blue is the word fail. The chart covers from 2004 to today:

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What seems to have happened is a surge of interest in the word fail relative to the word success.

To the point where, in the past week or two, it’s become a more popular word to include in search terms than the word success, for the first time in four years.

Just to magnify that last bit:

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What does this mean? Probably not very much. But I found it intriguing. Are we now more interested in failure than success, or is it just this ridiculous new fascination with the word FAIL?

I think these Google searches reveal a lot more than we’re really giving them credit for. If nothing else, I believe they offer a pretty good idea of a celebrity’s career trajectory.

Take these clowns, for example. Here’s the gradually declining interest in Bill Gates (red) and Seinfeld (blue), revived, briefly, by the Microsoft ads:

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(The blips in 2006 and 2007 for Seinfeld, by the way, are ‘Kramer’s’ racial slurs and Seinfeld’s aptly titled The Bee Movie, by the way.)

Here are the two comediennes, Sarah Palin and Tina Fey, their careers apparently forever intertwined. Palin is of course red:

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A close-up reveals that Palin might be on the decline, whereas Tina is on the up:

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Because all these things are relative, put Seinfeld and Tina Fey (red) in the same room and you get an idea of how big a shot she has become this year:

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Just to stress that last spike:

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Seinfeld was right when he said he was a has-been. Still a funny guy though.

And I can’t resist taking a look at how Techcrunch and Scoble (blue) face up:

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Ouch. Seems Scoble started losing ground in in 2006. But hey, who knows? With this new dotcom crunch, maybe he’ll have the last laugh. Gotta admire someone who’s kept his own for 4+ years.

Talking of not leaving the party after it’s over, how does Vista shape up against XP? The chart is surprisingly revealing. Vista (red) enjoys a spike in early 2007 on its launch, but never seems to be able to shake off the XP shadow:

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That’s one FAIL, I reckon.

Who says graphs are boring?

Sleazy Linkers Lose An Ally

Seems as if there’s a bit of a groundswell building against internal links, which I got all upset about a few months ago. (internal linking is where you place a link on a word like, say, Google, but instead of actually linking to Google you link to another page on your own blog about Google.) Amit from Digital Inspiration points out that

Valleywag, the Silicon Valley gossip blog that everyone hates but still reads, always practiced excessive internal linking but good sense prevailed at Gawker and they have suddenly changed that habit.

Amit also points to Shane at the Daily Telegraph, who is complaining about the same practice. Etre.com points out how brazen TechCrunch are at doing it, but points out that Mashable and Engadget continue to do so.

I find it personally annoying because I tend to drag links into PersonalBrain or elsewhere and expect a link that says ‘Flock’ to go to Flock. But it’s also dishonest, like putting an EXIT sign over a door in a shop which instead goes into another part of the shop. It’s against the principles of the net, and, frankly, tells me that something is wrong in the state of Web 2.0 if this kind of thing is considered acceptable or even good practice.

What to do? Maybe a name-and-shame list until these recalcitrants start respecting the intelligence of their readers?

A Lesson from Valleywag – Good Linking Etiquettes | India Inc.

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The Sleazy Practice of Internal Linking

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It’s a small bugbear but I find it increasingly irritating, and I think it reflects a cynical intent to mislead on the part of the people who do it, so I’m going to vent my spleen on it: websites which turn links in their content, not to the site itself, but to another page on their own website.

An example: TechCrunch reviews Helium, a directory of user-generated articles. But click on the word Helium, and it doesn’t take you, as you might reasonably expect, to the website Helium, but to a TechCrunch page about Helium. If you want to actually find a link to the Helium page, you need to go there first.

I find this misleading, annoying and cynical on the part of the websites that do this. First off, time-honored tradition of the net would dictate a website name which is linked to something would be to the website itself. Secondly, clearly TechCrunch and its ilk are trying to keep eyeballs by forcing readers to go to another internal page, with all the ads, before finding the link itself. Thirdly, because I’m a PersonalBrain user and I like to drag links into my plex (that’s what we PBers call it) it’s a pain.

Fourthly, it’s clearly a policy that even TechCrunch has trouble enforcing. In the case above, the original post had the word Helium directly linking to the website itself, but which was subsequently edited to link to the internal TechCrunch page (as noticed by a reader of the site). If you subscribe to the TechCrunch feed, that’s what you’ll still see:

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TechCrunch isn’t alone in this, by the way. StartupSquad does it (a particularly egregious example here of five links in a row which don’t link to the actual sites). For an example of how it should be done, check out Webware, which has the word linking to the site itself, and an internal review as a parenthetical link following. Like this, in Rafe Needleman’s look at companionship websites. Click on Hitchsters and you go to the site; click on ‘review’ and you go to a review.

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It’s a nuisance more than a crime, but to me it still undermines a central tenet of the web: links should be informative and not misleading. If you are linking to anything other than what your reader would expect, then you’re just messing around with them.

News: Demise by Increment?

Is the problem with journalism that it always focuses on the increment?

Was reading Jeff Jarvis’ piece on the revolutionary impact of the iPhone — not, I hasten to add, about the iPhone as an item (the fetishism surrounding it may mark a lowpoint in our materialistic age) but about the citizen journalism coverage of the absurd lines forming outside shops by those eager to be an early buyer (yes, this, too, may mark a low-point in our cravenly submissive consumer culture, but let’s not go there. At least for now.)

No, Jarvis was more interested in this real-time coverage and what it represents. He rightly suggests this is real-time coverage on a par with the Virginia shootings — something that Duncan Riley, who writes good stuff at the usually puffy or snarky TechCrunch, has already called eventstreaming.

Jarvis is right: the subject matter aside (Virginia Tech shootings vs absurd consumer lines outside stores that don’t sell out) this is a good dry run for something more serious. But it’s Jarvis’ other point (if you’ve read this far, sorry for the wiggly lines getting here) that caught my attention: the tendency of media to pick holes in the potential of this:

Problems? Of course, there are. I never sit in a meeting with journalists without hearing them obsess about all the things that could go wrong; that is, sadly and inevitably, their starting point in any discussion about new opportunities. I blew my gasket Friday when I sat with a bunch of TV people doing just that.

Very true. Journalists do this all the time. That’s because we’re trained to. Not a bad thing, actually, being able to spot problems. But it has a downside. And quite a big one. It’s this:

Journalists are taught to identify “news”. In some situations, it’s obvious: A bomb goes off in Baghdad; two guys drive a flaming SUV into Glasgow Airport; Apple launches a cute phone. All news, and no one would disagree.

But it’s the rest of the stuff that gets problematic. Most journalists don’t have these kinds of stories to work with so they’re forced to look for them, and that mostly involves prying apart things, people, organizations, situations, points of view and seeing some incremental change or difference that merits a news story, such as U.S. family terrorized by possible phone hoax (Cellphones Terror Weapon Horror!)

So Wikipedia, for example, gets coverage not for the millions of great articles in there and the millions of people who go to it first for information, but the few articles that are wrong, badly written, libelous, mischievous or biased. That, for a journalist, is the news story. (Wikipedia Unreliable Shock!)

Some companies and PR folk know this tendency and exploit it: Several security companies base their business model on the idea that there are enough journalists out there to write scare stories about mobile phone viruses for an industry to emerge (I wrote what I thought was a piece somewhat mocking this scaremongery only to get another company in the same business email me thanking me for my article and suggesting that I write about their product, which rests on all the same scaremongery that I was trying to pooh-pooh.)

I am not saying journalists only write negative stories and not positive ones. I’m saying that we journalists tend to focus on kinks in the same picture, magnify them and then call it news. This is nothing new, but we should be smart enough to realize that if it’s not just us journalists making the news anymore, we have to be ready to accept the notion of “news” is changing.

Just as we can see lots of things going wrong with citizen journalism, and fixate on those to the exclusion of the bigger picture, we may well be missing the bigger picture that technology is giving us.

The Privacy Myth

If there’s one myth that endures in this age of online participation, blogs, shared photo albums and Web 2.0, it’s that we’ve overcome our concerns about privacy. It sounds on the surface, logical: We must have gotten over this weird paranoia, or else why would we share so much online? Why would we bother about privacy issues when there’s no real evidence that people, companies, governments and the NSA are out to get us? This, for example, from Web 2.0 blog TechCrunch guest contributor Steve Poland:

I’m sure there’s data to back me up on this, but today compared to 10 years ago — people are way more comfortable with the Internet and have less privacy concerns. Or at least the younger generations that have grown up with the Internet aren’t as concerned with privacy — and spew what’s on their mind to the entire world via the web.

I can’t speak for the younger generation, having been kicked out of it some years ago. But if we’re talking more generally about folk who have embraced the Net in the past 10 years, I’d have to say I don’t think it’s that we don’t care about privacy. We just don’t understand it. In that sense nothing has changed. I think what is happening is the same as before: People don’t really understand the privacy issues of what they’re doing, because the technology, and its liberating sensuality, are moving faster than we can assimilate to our culture. This is not new: Technology has always outpaced our intellectual grasp. If you don’t believe me think radio, TV, cars and cellphones. We were lousy at predicting the impact of any of these technologies on our environment. Lousy.

Usually, it’s because we just don’t stop to think about the privacy implications, or we don’t stop to ask deeper questions about the sacrifices we may be making when we buy something, give information to a stranger, register for something, accept something, invite someone in to our digital lives, install software, sign up for a service, or simply accept an email or click on a link. The speed of communication – click here! register here! — makes all this easier. But I don’t really blame the reader. Often it’s us journalists who are to blame for not digging enough.

Take, for example, a new service called reQall from QTech Inc in India. On the surface, it sounds like a great service: phone in a message to yourself and it will appear in your email inbox transcribed with 100% accuracy. Great if you’re on the road, on the john or at a party and don’t want to start jabbing away or scrawling the note on the back of your spouse’s neck.

Rafe Needham of Webware initially enthuses about it on his blog. But then he later finds out that

Update: I’m told that ReQall’s speech-to-text engine isn’t wholly automated. “We use a combination of automated speech recognition technology and human transcription,” a company co-founder told me. Which means there may be someone listening to your notes and to-do items. Yikes!

Yikes indeed. Who would record a message knowing that a stranger is going to be transcribing it, and a company storing it on their servers? To be fair to Rafe he’s not the only one not to initially notice this privacy angle. And at least he bothers to write it up. Dean Takahashi didn’t mention it in his (admittedly) brief Mercury News piece, for example. The company’s press release makes no mention of it either, saying only that

reQall is patent-pending software technology that uses a combination of voice interface and speech-recognition technology to record, log and retrieve your tasks, meetings and voice notes.

(The same press release appears on Forbes’ own website, which I always think looks a bit odd, as if there’s no real difference between a story and a press release. But that’s another rant for another day.) That, frankly, would leave me thinking there was no human interaction either.

But then again, there are clues here and if we (by which I mean us hacks) were doing our job we should probably follow them. Any Google search for reqall and privacy throws up an interesting trail. A CNN report on memory quoted Sunil Vemuri talking about reQall but says issues about privacy and keeping such records free from subpoena have yet to be worked out. When a blogger called Nikhil Pahwa quoted CNN on ContentSutra someone from QTech wrote in:

Please note that there is an inaccuracy in the post. QTech is not “currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed.” Can you correct this?

The text was duly crossed out, so now it reads:

According to the report, they’re currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed are still to be worked out.

So we’re none the wiser. Are there issues? Are QTech working on those issues? Or are there issues that other people are working on, not QTech? Their website sheds little light. There’s nothing about human transcription on any of the pages I could find, nor in the site search. Their privacy policy (like all privacy policies) doesn’t really reassure us, but neither does it explicitly scare our pants off. A brief jaunt through it (I’m not a lawyer, although I sometimes wish I was, and I think John Travolta in “A Civil Action” makes a good one) raises these yellow flags:

  • QTech can use your location, contact details etc to “send you information related to your account or other QTech Service offerings and other promotional offerings.” I.e. the company knows where you are, your phone number and home address and could spam you.
  • QTech may “include relevant advertising and related links based on Your location, Your call history and other information related to Your use of the Services.” I.e. The company could send you stuff based on what information you’ve given in your messages, and any other information you carelessly handed over during the course of using the service.
  • QTech can use the content of your audio messages (and your contact information) for, among other things, “providing our products and services to other users, including the display of customized content and advertising,  auditing, research and analysis in order to maintain, protect and improve our services … [and] developing new services.” I.e. the company can mine the contents of your messages and other stuff and spam other customers. Somehow this seems more scary than actually spamming you.
  • QTech will hold onto those messages “for as long as it is necessary to perform the Services, carry out marketing activities or comply with applicable legislation.” I.e. don’t think your messages are going to be deleted just because you don’t need them anymore.

Privacy documents are written by lawyers, so they’re about as weaselly as they can be. And QTech’s is no different. But there is some cause for concern here, and we journalists should at least try to explore some of these issues. I looked for any acknowledgement that there’s a human involved in the transcription, and some reassurance that the content of those messages is not going to be mined for advertising purposes, and that it would be possible for customers to insist their messages are deleted. I couldn’t find anything, although to their credit QTech do say they won’t “sell, rent or otherwise share Your Contact Information or Audio Communications with any third parties except in the limited circumstance of when we are compelled to do so by a valid, binding court order or subpoena”. But if QTech are doing their own advertising then does that really make any difference?

I’m seeking comment from QTech on this and will update the post when I hear it. And this isn’t really about QTech; it’s about us — citizens, readers, bloggers, journalists — thinking a little harder about our privacy before we throw it away for a great sounding service. Do you want, for example, your personal memos (“Calling from the pub. God I really need a holiday. I think I’m cracking up”) mined for advertising (“Hi! Can I interest you in Caribbean cruise? I hear you’re cracking up!” “Hi, need psychological counselling? I’m told you do” “Hi! Need Viagra? I hear from that last message you left you probably do”)?

Get the New Fear, Same as the Old Fear

It’s early January, the first post of the year and already I’m feeling a bit weary of Web 2.0 and blogging. My ennui is really fear: fear that journalists don’t get blogging, that bloggers don’t get journalism, and that all of us are covering something that isn’t half as exciting as it was looked a year or so ago.

First off, the sense the that Web 2.0 isn’t quite what it was cracked up to be. Word is out that more dot.coms are hitting the dust, or at least sniffing it: TechCrunch and VentureBeat both have something to say on the subject. My sense? Amidst all the money, the cute (and samey) logos and cute (and samey) names, we’ve kind of forgotten what Web 2.0 is about. It’s about doing things that make sense online, not doing things online for the sake of it.

But then there’s the bigger worry, at least for me: is my job about to be taken over by bloggers who can’t write and have PR cards up their sleeve? Nick Carr thinks so, laying in less than subtly to Andy Abramson, pointing to what he says is poor grammar, sloppy spelling and half-baked sentences masquerading as New Journalism. I declare an interest here: I know and personally like Andy, so I’m not going to join in what is to me in any case a tad too personal. Suffice to say that we need this year to get sorted out the ethics of being a blogger before we a) start calling blogging journalism and b) start seriously alienating both reader and traditional journalist. My rule of thumb is: If you’re hawking something other than the objective unvarnished truth, declare it and leave the building. Let’s not muddy the waters further.

Finally, let’s not confuse being nice with being honest and being straightforward. I count Steve Rubel among those I personally like in this terrain, but it shouldn’t stop me saying what I think. Steve makes a strong argument in favor of ignoring ‘mean people’; he’s struck dozens of ‘mean-spirited blogs’ off his reader list this year. Steve is of course free to do what he likes and read who he likes. And I am certainly not crazy about some of the pettiness and personal attacks that the technorati blogosphere seems to mistake for trenchant writing of late. But here’s my suggestion for Steve and others: be careful to distinguish snark from critical writing. The two aren’t always the same. Sometimes there’s stuff we don’t like to read but we should.

My new year’s resolution is to try to keep remembering that the only person we should be writing for is the person who wants to know the truth, and wants to know that we don’t carry any extra baggage — either for or against the subject — when we write it. Have a good year.

Bloggers Bash Into Chinese Walls, Part XVI

Once again, the non-journalist end of blogging is finding that its world is surprisingly like the old world of media. TechCrunch, a widely read blog of things going on in the social media world of Web 2.0, has run into the kind of conflicts that traditional media grappled with (and are still grappling with) since time immemorial (well at least since last Wednesday.)

The story, in a nutshell is this: TechCrunch sets up a UK version of its site. TechCrunch, itself heavily sponsored by Web 2.0 startup advertising, co-sponsors a Web 2.0 conference in Paris. TechCrunch UK editor attends said confab, which ends in controversy and accusations that the organiser, one Loic Lemeur, messed up. Organiser lambasts TechCrunch UK editor’s own accusations. Sparks fly, one thing leads to another, and TechCrunch UK editor is fired by TechCrunch owner and the UK website suspended. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth within blogosphere and talk of raging ethical debate.

I can’t pretend to have read all of the raging ethical debate (as raging ethical debates go, you want to set aside a good chunk of time for one that rages in the blogosphere: Harrington’s post on the subject currently has 78 comments, a few dozen more here before its suspension. Even Journalist.co.uk and The Guardian wrote about it, although judging from the headline I don’t think it was for the front page.)

Now there’s plenty of fodder for good debates here, and it’s not only Arrington who is getting a fair amount of flack for all this. But there’s an easy way of looking at this: Arrington is the publisher of TechCrunch. He’s Murdoch, Maxwell, whoever you want. TechCrunch is his brand. Anything that damages that brand, or appears to be damaging that brand, needs crushing, and that trumps everything else. You can’t blame him for that; if the editor of The Guardian starts damaging the brand of the paper you’d expect him to come in for some flak from the owner.

It gets complicated further in, however. Arrington is also an editor and writer. He’s also in the advertising and circulation department, since he’s out there drumming up business (often with the people he writes about, but that’s another story). So his role as publisher clashes with his role as editor, since a good editor will demand the independence necessary to criticise anyone, whether it’s sponsors, advertisers, even (and we’re talking theory here) the owners or publisher. Arrington in his role as editor was in conflict with his role as publisher and owner.

This is why traditional media separate these functions, and why, inevitably, TechCrunch and its ilk will have to too, as these kinds of crises occur. Editorial departments in traditional media have little or no contact with other departments, so oftentimes have no idea whether they’re sponsoring an event they’re attending. That’s how it should be, although it does perhaps contribute to the notion that journalists occupy their own little dreamworld.

Who knows where the truth lies in this particular mess, but if it awakens the blogosphere to the need to have Chinese Walls between advertising/sponsoring departments and the editorial side then that can only be good. In this case, if I were Arrington, I would start building them quickly. TechCrunch has at least 144,000 readers, a very respectable circulation, and that, whether he likes it or not, puts the publication into the realm of an outfit that needs to clearly demarcate the boundaries of its interests.

The Blogosphere’s Soul Has a Buyer

The blogosphere is reaching its moment of truth sooner than one might have expected — in the form of a website that offers a marketplace for bloggers willing to write about a product in return for money. What’s revealing is the discussion that follows news about PayPerPost.com on TechCrunch — comments that not only bring into sharp relief the, er, varied, attitudes about not only PayPerPost, but other blogs and websites — including TechCrunch itself.

First off, the owner of the service, Ted Murphy, adds his own comment, in which he tries to clarify what the site does and does not do: “Advertisers will post all sorts of Opportunities, from a simple “link back to this site” to product reviews with pictures. Each Opportunity will have different compensation based on the advertiser. It’s up to you to pick the Opportunities that best suit you. If it doesn’t feel right, if you don’t own the product, or if you can’t be honest we ask you to pass on the Opportunity.” As he sees it, it’s a chance for bloggers to “make a buck for all the benefit they provide to companies. Celebrities get paid millions to wear products and be seen with their favorite drink. It’s up to the celebs to choose what they wear and drink and if they are being true to the fans. If they love the product and they can make a buck at the same time everyone wins.”

TechCrunch’s Marshall Kirkpatrick is suitably horrified about the new service, which he says requires not that the payment for coverage be disclosed, but only that PayPerPost.com must approve your post before you are paid: “Is this a bad joke designed to torpedo the blogosphere’s credibility in general? It doesn’t appear to be. If we’re all trying to negotiate a space between Hollywood and mainstream journalism, this is taking things way too far towards the most insipid parts of Hollywood.”

Which is pretty much my response. Murphy’s idea is flawed for a simple reason: If you as a blogger love a product, it’s your lack of financial and professional link with the company behind that product that gives your opinion some weight. That’s why media exists — to pay a salary to people who act as a medium between company, government or individual and the public. The public buys the media product because they believe that what they’re reading/seeing/hearing has some credibility, some independence from the subject they’re covering. As soon as someone acting as a medium accepts money to promote one item, their credibility is shot, not only for that item, but every single other thing they discuss.

What is interesting, though somewhat depressing, is the range of views of those who posted comments. Several of those betrayed a very weird understanding of what mainstream media is. Juan Luis wrote: “I really don’t see any difference with real old media… Or do you really think that advertisers don´t pay for reviews and articles in all sort of magazines,newspapers, tv, radio etc… Has the blogosphere more credibility than the CNN or Car&Driver??” Another: “Do you listen the radio? If you do then you’ve probably heard this type of advertising 1,000 times per day, when the host’s voice tells you about a product or service which they endorse and love. Ever read magazines? Then you’ve seen this kind of coverage all the time– when a major advertiser spends major dough, editorial coverage is all but ensured. Obviously it’s unseemly in many regards, especially if someone is running a tech blog and the advertisers are tech bloggers. But, if this website for example had a post by Marshall or Michael saying that he refi’d his mortgage through Ditech, and he had a positive experience, and that he’s being paid to write this post, I don’t think I would have a real problem with it. Using the cred you’ve gained from blogging to endorse a product is not that awful.”

Others pointed to blog sponsorship and ads as a sign this day has already come: “Product placement is everywhere and it’s already been happening for free in the Blogosphere since its inception. The only difference is that now a handful of people will make a few dollars off it … go to almost any bloggers site and you’ll see an ad already on there, including the sponsors of this page. They pay for ads here becaise it gets traffic – and exposire is what advertisers pay for.” (Sorry, haven’t corrected all the grammar here.) Another: “Why is it ethical to put Google Adwords in your blog, and it’s not ethical to write a paid post from time to time (provided that you openly disclose at the beginning of the post that the post is advertising).”

Others pointed to the widely perceived venality of some bloggers who only write about products that they get freebies of: “And allready there are a lot of bloggers who receive gifts and products to review them.This is the same as paying, or not? Perhaps this could be a more transparent way to get relations between bloggers and advertisers.”

OK. I acknowledge there are some gray areas here, born out of the fact that bloggers need to make money, and advertising is the obvious way to do it. This is no different from old media. What is different is that there are none of the usual Chinese walls that keep editorial and advertising apart (in theory), so that journalists are not influenced by, or even aware of, the advertisers that are buying ads next to their copy. True, these lines can get blurry, especially on radio and in “advertorials”, but they do exist. Blogs that carry ads are not Hollywood stars wearing company products as endorsement; they are a continuation of MSM’s advertising. Every ad is (or should be) clearly marked as sponsorship or ad. Of course, the proof is in the pudding; Will that site be objective about that sponsoring company in its writing, and, if it is, will the sponsor see that as a betrayal of sponsorship?

In MSM, individual journalists are sought after and influenced into writing about a product, but a good journalist — hell, a real journalist — will never write anything other than a fair, detached and balanced review of the product. There is no cash in exchange for reviews in old media; well, none that I know of. If bloggers aspiring to replace old media don’t know that, they need to. Otherwise the blogosphere truly is riding to hell.

There’s another point here. The very debate about this seems to me to be different to the kind of debate we’d have seen in the blogosphere a year or 18 months ago. It’s a much more pragmatic debate now, less utopian, less principled. As one commenter wrote: “If your writing is not objective enough, people are gonna know that you’re probably getting paid, and over time they’ll be less inclined to stay subscribed to your blog: which means that in the end it’ll all balance out.” While I would have said that would have been true a couple of years ago, I’m not so sure now.