WOMMA Should Watch Who They Quote And Especially Who They Link To!

 

I came across an interesting piece on the WOMMA blog that unfortunately falls well short of what you would expect from such an organisation.

As always I am not a lawyer, and this is just for entertainment purposes. I am sure WOMMA have some lawyers though, so they really should take a lot more care with what they state and how they state it.

They were referencing the recent story in the LA Times about Pay Per Post and disclosure.

In the article they criticise the disclosure policy on Colleen Caldwell’s blog, which is fairly standard for Pay Per Post bloggers, a DisclosurePolicy.org badge “I disclose”, along with a disclosure policy based on their generator.

The “prominent disclosure” that PayPerPost purports? If you click on the icon in the sidebar it tells you:

The fatal flaw in their argument is that they are providing Jeff Jarvis and Jason Calacanis as examples of flawless business bloggers, and as I pointed out just a few days ago, and openly challenged, there may be no such thing as an A-Lister who has every legal and ethical concern covered.

Focusing on Orlando-based PayPerPost, Friedman notes concerns that such business models blur the ethical line between unbiased opinion and product placement. Jeff Jarvis and Jason McCabe Calacanis, two of the nation’s most respected business bloggers, are included amongst the critics.

You would expect these respected business bloggers who certainly earn a huge amount more than your typical Pay Per Post blogger, to have absolutely beyond reproach disclosure and other legal statements on their websites.

Please note that the WOMMA association and the LA Times effectively picked these two gentlemen as an example, effectively the pinnacle of excellence, because they are able to criticize Pay Per Post bloggers.

The LA Times

Why does the LA Times associate WOMM with paid reviews and not affiliate marketing. Where is all the coverage about Google Amazon or Ebay affiliates not disclosing, and not being required to explicitly?

How explicitly should sites like the LA Times declare their financial relationships with sister sites?

LA Times Sister Sites

Smaller websites have to try to compete on a level playing field with sites that practice massive interlinking between their sister sites, and “partners”, they are all financial links.

I would link to the LA Times, but that is against their Terms of Service, which I would also link to, but again that would be breaking their terms of service, already broken by the WOMMA and Jason Calacanis (well unless they asked for specific permission)

Yes those terms of service are in the footer, but the LA Times obviously gets an exemption that work at home mothers don’t qualify for.

Jeff Jarvis

Lets take a look at Jeff Jarvis

Jeff does do a very good job of disclosure within posts, at least the few I looked for specifically about Daylife, I didn’t check all his content, it would have taken me a solid month.

Jeffs primary disclosure however is a link in his sidebar, that is only accessible from his homepage and date archives.
If you go to the “single” page of one of his posts, there are no sidebar links, and thus no link to his disclosure policy. There are also no easy to follow links from his single pages to the home page. You can follow a link to one of his tag pages (which he uses instead of categories), but that isn’t obvious.

Jeff Jarvis Disclosure

In fact Jeffs blog layout is almost what I would regard as sacrificial SEO, intended to drive as much link equity to one particular URL.
Hosting Matters

I hope they are paying thousands for that sitewide link, certainly $3K+ a month based on the sacrificial nature of the site – I don’t know much about text link pricing in bulk, that is a guestimate, but the links are probably worth more.
I can understand why there is a WordPress sitewide link, most people publishing on WordPress give them a sitewide link, but very few would give their hosting company a sitewide link.
Jeff makes no mention of the hosting company anywhere on his site, such as saying how great they are to justify the link.

Jeff is collecting email addresses every time you place a comment, so you would expect some kind of privacy statement, especially with the amount of tracking going on.
You would also expect some kind of physical mailing address, because in some ways his blog is performing WOMM for the various businesses in which he has involvement.

Who has ownership of comments on Jeffs blog? Does he claim the right to republish or syndicate them? No comments policy in sight, though he does have an extremely limited rules of engagement, though not visible on single pages.

I didn’t look at his feed content, but most people don’t have a disclosure policy link in their feeds, and most people don’t have a physical address in case people read their feeds by email (CAN-SPAM).

Jason Calacanis

I can’t give you an example of Jason Calacanis’ disclosure policy, he hasn’t got one. In fact he has:-

I’m an “Entrepreneur in Action” at Sequoia Capital.

His about page is about his past, not about his current. It is well known that he has financial connections with www.ThisNext.com which is present all over his website without disclosure.
He is still running his blog on Blogsmith, yet supposedly he doesn’t work for AOL now, though he is probably still a shareholder… undeclared – he certainly touts everything AOL, specifically Netscape do right.

He also has tracking with Sitemeter and Google Analytics, plus more demographic data being supplied by Quantcast.
He collects email addresses, in fact you have to confirm that your email address is correct before a comment is posted. Great for spam control, but it is still personal information.
No privacy statement of any kind.

Jason’s ThisNext connection is also important, because in many ways ThisNext is a competitor to PayPerPost, and online reviews sites are not immune to problems with shilling reviews. A very recent example was the reviews Ben found yesterday on Home Depot. Disclosed paid reviews at least everything is out in the open.

When Jason attacks PayPerPost is it really just because of ethics and his concern?
He has a habit of making poorly researched statements for what is known as linkbait, another recent example was his attack on the SEO industry as a whole, which was thoroughly debunked by Danny Sullivan @ SearchEngineLand.

WOMMA Suggesting Regulation?

Now here is an interesting titbit from the WOMMA FAQ:-

5. Why aren’t there specific rules about what people say?
We work with real people, and the honest opinions that they form on their own. There is a fundamental complexity here — if you respect consumers and value their genuine opinions, than you can’t tell them what to say. We don’t script consumers; we ask them to share their opinions. Similarly, we can’t control the second- and third-generation conversations, what friends tell friends. But we can instruct them well about ethics, encourage them to be honest and open in all downstream conversations, and create a culture of ethical communications.
Some principles are absolute, however, such as our recognition that the consumer is fundamentally in control in this new environment and that marketers cannot lie or deceive.

This totally contradicts their recent statement

WOMMA will continue to monitor these issues, urging not only clear standards for ethical disclosure within sponsored blogs, but also strict guidelines on the method and mode of disclosure. Current guidelines are too weak and we therefore encourage their revision according to standards already set by the WOMMA Ethics Code.

Links Anyone?

What is with all these ethical sites and links?

The LA Times didn’t link through to Colleen’s site
Jason Calacanis quoted Colleen, but didn’t link through to her
Jason Calacanis did link to the LA Times, breaking their ToS
The WOMMA link through to a search result, and not a permalink.
WOMMA also link through to the LA Times, breaking their ToS

If you are quoting someone’s website, it is questionable practice not to link through to them with a followable link.

Conclusions

Everyone seems to be twisting stories to suit their own agenda, and no one in this discussion is 100% clean and free, and I am sure I have my own flaws. Everything I write has some level of commercial interest.

As I said just a few days ago, A List Bloggers in Crystal Palaces Shouldn’t Throw Stones, though the challenge in that post is still on if any A-Listers think they have everything covered.

I wonder if the LA Times charge more than Krak.dk for commercial deep linking without permission.

Thanks to Advertising for Success for the WOMMA link I followed.

Update:-

Dave Utter has just covered this story on Web Pro News, and I wish to thank him for highlighting the story to a more mass audience. It also shows how easy it is to make mistakes, and that maybe it is wrong to highlight a work at home mother for things that professional writers do by mistake on a daily basis. Dave though he quoted me extensively, forgot to link through to this post.

Though it is mentioned in the comments, I think it is important to highlight Ted’s recent post highlighting his discussions with the WOMMA.

Jason Calacanis continues to attack PayPerPost but have obviously read this post though wouldn’t link to it, because that would be balanced reporting, and Jason doesn’t really believe in ethical blogging, it is all just hype.

How do I know he has read this post but wouldn’t link to it?

Because he has added something to his sidebar

Jason Calacanis Disclosure

I would like to congratulate Jason on a minimal concession to ethical blogging, but how about some full disclosure at the head of every post about a competitor, PayPerPost, at the top of every post you write about them.
Also make sure you back date this disclosure through all the content you have previous written about them.
It is great you are going to have Ted on the Calacanis cast, but that isn’t enough to correct all the previous inbalances in your reporting.

Update2:

I have just left the following comment on Jasons most recent post regarding WOMMA. I am posting it here just in case it doesn’t appear on his blog.

I would like to congratulate you on your minimal concession to disclosure (the change in your sidebar disclosing ThisNext) but how about some unbiased reporting.
You should really include a disclosure in the first line of every post you have made about PayPerPost (a competitor), ThisNext, AOL, Weblogs Inc and Netscape (you no doubt have some financial interest still)
Surely you have the resources to do a better job of disclosure than a work at home mother.
A blogger with class, such as Robert Scoble, does link to people with differing opinion than himself, and has the balls to admit when he makes mistakes.
Where is your post stating why you changed your sidebar disclosure?

Update 3:

Just so there is no question that a change has been made, I just pulled this screenshot of Jason’s sidebar from the Google cache.

Jason Calacanis previous lack of disclosure

Just so there is no question that the comment I posted was posted, here is a screenshot of the results page after posting a comment. I assure you I am checking my email frequently, my emails are coming through with no problem (I use gmail), and the usual confirmation has not come through.

Jason Calacanis - Proof I made a comment

I would also love to highlight this previous post on Jason’s blog

Paying the top DIGG/REDDIT/Flickr/Newsvine users (or “$1,000 a month for doing what you’re already doing.”)

When Brian and I started Weblogs, Inc. the idea of paying bloggers–heck, even making money from blogging–was considered offensive to many. Blogging was, as the case was stated, a highly personal activity that should not be trivialized by the forces of commerce and greed. I don’t have a complicated relationship with money or capitalism: I love them both and see them as simply as fuel and the process by which fuel is produced. Money to me means time, time means quality, and quality means success.

Talent wins, and talent needs to get paid. I love paying talented people so they can sleep well at night doing what they love. That’s my biggest joy in business: gettin’ people paid.

The concept of “free” content producers, which I think WIRED called crowdsourcing, is going to be a short-lived joke. A loophole in the content business that will be closed by savvy startups which identify the top 5% of the audience and buy their time.

As we say in Brooklyn: everyone’s gotta eat

Update 4:

Tino Buntic has a thought provoking post on product placement, as long ago as the film “E.T.”
I bet they had some mention in the credits that it was a product placement, as films do these days, rather than a big warning sign on the screen whilst the product is visible.

Note to anyone linking through: don’t forget to use trackback, links are automatically reciprocated because I use the dofollow plugin.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I have noticed that a lot of bigger, more mainstream sites fail to link to the bloggers they quote. I’m not sure if it due to arrogance, or just because they still have a print media mindset, but either way it is bad practice.

  2. says

    Spicy, Andy, very Spicy!

    Reading your ongoing crusades about disclosure policies are a constant reminder that I need to get to that on my list of To Do’s.

    Keep it up, brother. Hold us all accountable (someone should!)

    Go Boldly!

  3. says

    No grand strategy or conspiracy in not having the ‘disclosure’ link on other templates. I’m just bad at PHP templates and my son has homework to do.

  4. says

    Jeff I didn’t think there was

    The whole point is that things get overlooked or not thought of as important.

    Do you expect the average PPP blogger to be any more technical than yourself?

    They have to go placing graphic links in their sidebar, or javascript in their headers even for the level of disclosure they currently have.

    Pay Per Post have to use scalable solutions

    The LA Times certainly shouldn’t be pointing a finger at a work at home mum with their own house not in order.
    Jason certainly has some things overlooked, or ignored – it seems to be a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.

    WOMMA should be the pillar of excellence, but they actually have some of the same failings, and most of their RSS feeds were broken as well.
    For the WOMMA to be suggesting more legislation, when 99% of bloggers don’t complay with what there is currently, not just the people associated with PPP just isn’t viable or morally just.

    The best way for things to improve is for A list bloggers to set a perfect example.

  5. says

    I think I will just respond with a quote from the post

    encourage them to be honest and open in all downstream conversations, and create a culture of ethical communications.

    PPP is possibly attacked in the same way MBL is treated sometimes.

    It is good linkbait, and if a blogger has no intention using the service, or if the service hasn’t got control of their financial well-being, then everything is fair game.

    I don’t know the history of the WOMMA, but if their roots are in MLM, then it would probably be good practice to deflect attention away onto someone else, and that then serves the membership.

  6. says

    As a frequent reader of the L.A. Times, I have seen entire inside pages that were advertorials, or paid advertising that appeared to be news content.

    One of the most famous was the full page advertiroal Shaq purchased when he left the Lakers to go to the Miami Heat.

  7. says

    Hey Jeff, We’ve discussed this before, but it would be great to have your “Disclosure Policy” labeled/linked with that exact phrase. Part of driving standards like Privacy or Disclosure Policies is that visitors need a common signal to look for.

    I’d also note that a Disclosure Policy is somewhat different from a list of disclosed affiliations. The latter is basically a list; whereas the former informs the user what they can expect of the author such as whether they will take sponsorships inside or outside of content.

    If you like my suggestion to use “Disclosure Policy” — give Jason a similar nudge. He has some historical info in his About page and, as the mood strikes him, tries to act like that’s a disclosure policy. You and I know it’s not and creating a specific “Disclosure Policy” injects a healthy level of accountability and expectation matching with audiences. It’s the difference of staying silent vs. saying “here’s what you can expect from me”. Also, calling it About, About Me, Affiliations, Profile or a host of phrases that are not “Disclosure Policy” doesn’t help drive a standard.

    Can you help make “Disclosure Policy” a link audiences come to expect from their bloggers?

  8. says

    Great post, Andy! I am a PPP postie (i.d. Chan 6127) as well and am glad to see both sides of the stories, explained in details. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  9. says

    Thanks for the credit for the WOMMA bit. I hope I didn’t just make a huge mistake by linking to them and the LA Times. LOL

    This whole deal has me baffled. We are marketers, for cripes sake. In a world where paid advertisements are disguised as network news, SPLOGs scrape content from honest bloggers so they can get tclicks on their Google ads, agencies like Edelman and Zipatoni publish FLOGs for brand retailers, and paid to promote sites outnumber true traffic exchanges, why pick on the bloggers who do the reviews for PayPerPost?

    Have a great week~

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