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TechCrunch’s Social Responsibility

Mike Arrington on TechCrunch did an interesting thing a few days ago, he asked their readers if they should accept advertising from PayPerPost/Izea. Their readers made the right decision and voted that it would be disingenuous to accept advertising from a company that, in Michael’s words, pollutes the blogosphere. He also notes that TechCrunch is being held to a higher standard than most mainstream media would:

The comments that are most interesting to me are the ones that say we’re selling out if we take their advertising. I understand that we are held to a certain standard (and we hold ourselves to that standard), but it’s interesting that we supposed to do things that would never be asked of MSM.

While I’m sure there’s mainstream media which turn away advertisers because of social reasons, the point that we should hold flagship blogs to high standards is a good one.

On that point, I would encourage the crew at TechCrunch to re-examine their advertising and implicit endorsement of Text Link Ads, which pollutes the blogosphere in the same way PayPerPost does, by selling links with the intention of gaming Google. Just as PayPerPost “posties” were recently penalized by Google and Pagerank was one of the criteria that advertisers looked for when choosing which bloggers to give money to, Text Link Ads has been doing the same thing for years, they’ve just been more explicit about it. (And their corporate site has been penalized in Google for a long time.)

I should also note that if TechCrunch decides that the same reasons it decided to not accept advertising from Izea also apply to Text Link Ads, it’ll be operating at a higher standard than Google itself, who even though its business is directly impacted by the search engine spamming both of these companies practice allows both TLA and PPP to advertise via Adwords and Adsense.

22 replies on “TechCrunch’s Social Responsibility”

Matt,
Good post. I believe there is a double standard where IZEA and TLA are concerned. However, I want to point out that TC refused to promote RealRank, not PayPerPost. RealRank is a open blog ranking system based on actual traffic that will be used heavily in SocialSpark, our next generation platform.

SocialSpark requires in-post disclosure and mandatory no-follows. It is by far the most transparent, open and above board word of mouth marketing out there. By refusing to help us promote RealRank Mike refuses to help transition advertisers and bloggers to this new platform with a higher ethical standard.

We created an industry and we have made some mistakes along the way. We are trying to do the right thing and set a new standard.

That’s a pretty high standard. And it also has the interesting side effect of implying moral endorsement of all advertising that you do accept. Maybe the standards are higher here because the wall between advertising and content isn’t as high as it is with the traditional media. For instance, Mike Arrington touches both content and advertising. So because you can’t claim complete autonomy of content and advertising (even though you might claim to be objective and untained), the bar has to be raised for advertisers.

It is a lot easier to nip these things in the bud than to prune it back after it has gotten into everything. Once Google has detected something on your site you might as well just leave it there.

I’m following this debate pretty closely, as I have accepted paid posts and google ads in various forms on several of my sites. Google ads don’t perform well, for me, and are often ugly.

However, I am in control of which PPP sponsored posts I take, and I’m often very stern about not taking posts promoting things that my entrepreneurial and freelance writer clients/readers might find interesting. I’ve noticed many of the other paid post / text link systems out there don’t place as much control in the hands of the bloggers, but have them insert a code that automatically places the links or sends the “assignments” to the bloggers, without the bloggers choosing which fit best for their site. So, I must say I like the level of choice there is with Izea / PPP.

The money I make from PPP/Izea that is over and above what it costs to run my sites and provide me with high speed internet goes into a fund that helps enterprising individuals get their businesses started. And I am a paid freelance/copy writer, so I can look at it just like I would look at any other writing gig I would choose to take.

But the argument about bias and authority is valid. As is the argument about ethics in business. I’m currently taking a hard look at what is working for and against me on Meg Meyer dot Com & Center of Muse. I’ve already made some changes, and a few more will be coming down the pike.

Both in the blogosphere and in the business world you will find some that are ethical and some who will do anything to make a buck… and a whole range of gray in between.

Sincerely,

Meg Meyer

On that point, I would encourage the crew at TechCrunch to re-examine their advertising and implicit endorsement of Text Link Ads, which pollutes the blogosphere in the same way PayPerPost does, by selling links with the intention of gaming Google.

Why does no one mention those that buy the links when speaking of TLA and/or PPP (Izea)? The buyers have received no punishment from Google and no one considers them as low as they do PPP bloggers. It seems to me that it would be more beneficial to Google and all others concerned if those getting the value from the linkage would get smacked down too.

Well, with all the bitching he’s done over PPP – Mike would have much egg on his face if he turned around and advertised to him. Especially after Mark Cuban used this tactic to place an ad for a Movie he bankrolled on the OR Factor after Bill was critical of it – just to prove that money would win out over principles.

The discussion around it is healthy for the blogosphere – I still wouldn’t accept paid postings, or text link ads, but would accept sponsorship from products I know and use – but they’re not your typical PPP users.

To equate TLA and PPP is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of each product. TLA is outside of the editorial area. PPP mixes the two.

What I really think this post is all about: a light slap on the wrist for recent TC posts on wordpress.

@Eric – “Just to prove that money would win out over principles.”

Exactly. Google lets TLA advertise through AdWords just like cable companies let DirectTV advertise on their cable networks, for the cash money.

Changing the displayed Pagerank in a toolbar is free for Google. Advertisers who spend money on TLA and other AdWords competitors are (potentially) taking away revenue from Google. So of course they’ll use a free tactic (dropping Pagerank) to steal away some of that revenue.

It’ll be funny when Google becomes the Microsoft of the web and everyone starts complaining about their monopolistic tendencies, instead of always giving them a free ride like we do now.

As for criticism of TLA: it’s easy to say people should be held to a higher moral standard and not take that kind of advertising, especially when you’re the co-founder of a potentially $100 million-dollar company.

When AdSense pays $100 / mo. and TLA pays $800 / mo., what working stiff wouldn’t take a glance at the opportunity?

Regarding the whole PR gamin issues. Big G is working it at both ends. They chop some sites PR, fine. But you’ll see plenty of “boost your PR” adsense ads whenever you visit a SEO site that runs adsense. Weird.

PPP pollutes your posts, TLA pollutes your sidebar/blogroll. Advertisers on both have the same goal — to get their links on thousands of blogs to increase their ranking in Google for the terms they care about. I think PPP started about buzz marketing, but no bloggers with meaningful traffic or audience signed up, so it turned into a market for TLA but with the semi-respectable cover of paid reviews or buzz marketing.

Mike, no slap on the wrist, any press is good press as long as our name is spelled right. 🙂 When I’ve perceived bias or problems with TC’s coverage I’ve been direct and clear in saying so, it’s not my style to go sideways. Save for one author, I think TC is a leader in the blogosphere which is why I took the time to write this in the first place.

@michael arrington:

To address your specific comment:

1) GOOG’s Webmaster Guidelines make no distinction between “paid links” inside or outside of editorial area — in fact GOOG’s examples of “paid links” are screenshots of the exact kind of links TLA sells (see http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-report-paid-links/)

2) Even if GOOG did make such a distinction, TLA’s Post Level link products are inside editorial (see http://www.text-link-ads.com/post_level/)

3) At the same time, I’d also note that you include pagerank passing links to sponsors directly inside TechCrunch editorial (see http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=wib&q=thank+sponsors+site%3Atechcrunch.com&btnG=Search)

This is pretty clearcut Michael so I’ll also address the broader issue:

1) MediaWhiz has multiple properties, TLA and ReviewMe to name a couple.

2) IZEA also has multiple properties, PayPerPost, Zookoda, RealRank and SocialSpark to name a few.

3) PPP and ReviewMe are in the exact same business, with TLA being close (actually TLA is the only one specifically selling links instead of content).

4) You choose to accept thou$ands from MediaWhiz with no reader votes. You refuse to accept advertising dollars from IZEA without a pollster-skewed reader vote.

In fact, the IZEA properties you refuse to accept (RealRank & SocialSpark) promote the exact ethics you claim are important. RealRank promotes measuring by readership and real traffic instead of PageRank or flawed toolbar metrics. SocialSpark demands in-post disclosure on every post and no-follow on every required link (see http://community.izea.com/blog/2007/11/enter-socialspa.html). Harsh feedback from Matt and others we respect played a key role in architecting SocialSpark. If your stance was about deceptive blogging and search engines, you should be begging to promote RealRank and SocialSpark. Yet you’re not.

Either there is something bigger going on here or I worry you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the IZEA products you have refused. Matt is no champion of PayPerPost, but I think he’s nailed your hypocrisy pretty directly. What are we missing?

@Michael,

To call this a ‘slap on the wrist’ for previous TechCrunch posts is a cop-out. From what I can see, you’re being hypocritical. You’re lowering the bar for text-link-ads and then tossing mud at PayPerPost when they’re one in the same.

All in all, I personally see no problem with either of them but I see both no different than I would viagra spam. I think Ted and his crew are innovative in a lot that they do (e.g. RockStartUp) but the product itself is flawed.

Anywhom, Mr. Arrington: Quit it with the double-standard. Everyone can see right through it. Kudos to Matt for calling you out on it.

@Ted,

Despite my own opinion that your product is flawed (however, kudos for ingenuity of sorts) you should really avoid contacting Arrington for anything, especially advertising. He’s obviously out to get you & only looking to harm your reputation as much as possible.

Every chance he gets (including a few I noted in your RockStartUp videos) he calls you ‘evil’ & trashes your product: It would be wise to not send him a dime and let him continue to simmer in his own hatred.

Use your own users / contributors to advertise your site, give them a few kick-backs & be on your way 🙂

Google does not own the interweb.

There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with selling advertising in whatever shape or form you want so long as the advertising is promoting legal products and services.

Of course it may drive away readers and it may not. That the bloggers call.

I personally don’t care if someone has text links or adsense on their site if I’m getting the information I need free.

Know why?

Because I’m largely ad blind. I just look straight at the content I’m interested in. There may be text link ads or adsense but I just don’t even notice it.

I don’t really know much about the services you mentioned but if they’re legal in most democratic capitalist country what’s the big deal?

Blogging is not some kind of puritan religion where everything must be kept pure for the Google God.

Hmmm … it seems to me that RealRank is just an abstraction of the PayPerPost service in that it’s still distorting numbers. If you’re against one in principal you should be against the other.

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