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Tech Bloggers: Leave Your Agenda at the Door

Tonight on Twitter I see this from Dave Winer:

Andrew Baron says there has never been a positive reivew of Mahalo and he explains why. http://dembot.com/post/19305296
Dave Winer (davewiner) via web at 22:01

Dave Winer loves to find negative stuff to post about Mahalo and Jason Calacanis, so it was unsurprising to see something pass through Twitter along these lines. Except that I’ve written a positive review of Mahalo, and even though I’m not at the top of the tech writer lists, it did get some attention from folks who were interested in a user’s perspective. So I decided to go read the Andrew “Rocketboom” Baron post and see why he said what he said.

He writes the following:

No, the mission of Mahalo was not born out of an idea to help improve the lives of others. It’s simply to make money for Jason at the expense of people who don’t know better and click on the ads. This is not just what it has turned into as a result, this is the purpose of the site’s existence.

I honestly didn’t understand what he was talking about. I went back to the Steve Jobs page that we used and couldn’t find any misleading ads. So I went to the Dancing with the Stars page, figuring it’s probably a hotter page right now than Steve Jobs, and I did find Ad boxes located in the lower right-hand rail below all of the content. They were clearly labeled as “Ads by Google”, and were in a box with a blue background to differentiate it from the content. There was also an “Ads by Google” area underneath the content in the main box, again clearly labeled.

I can only assume that this post and the following comments have at their foundation, a personal argument with Jason Calacanis. He’s an easy person to have a personal disagreement with — I speak from personal experience on that. I’ve been pretty vocal about my disagreements with Jason Calacanis’ drumbeat against PayPerPost (now Izea), too.

What you tech writers need to understand is that you have a responsibility to leave your personal beefs with people at the door and look objectively at what you’re reviewing, because your site will be the one that someone with no knowledge of the backstory will land on and they will trust you because after all, you must be trusted if Google trusts you, right?

It is as [edited to add] intellectually [/edit] dishonest to dump on a product because you don’t like its creator as it is to write sponsored content and not disclose that the content is sponsored. When you take your grudges and spill them on not only Calacanis, but the other motivated and committed employees of that organization, you do a disservice to them and to the rest of us who are relying on your objectivity to make decisions about the sixty bazillion startups that are out there.

Just today Matthew posted the usual PayPerPost-is-still-evil stuff over on Geek News Central with regard to their new offering, SocialSpark. Only there was a problem with his post — he assumed that disclosure for paid posts was optional. It isn’t, and won’t be with Social Spark either. Even Michael Arrington has acknowledged that there’s nothing wrong with the idea. And just to be clear here, this is what Ted Murphy has to say about disclosure:

PayPerPost already requires mandatory disclosure, we take this a step further in SocialSpark with systematic in-post disclosure via disclosure badge in all sponsored posts. We have also taken away the tone option, leaving tone entirely in the blogger’s hands.

Also this:

All required links in SocialSpark sponsored posts will carry the no-follow tag (or something more appropriate) because? well, I guess the most advanced search algorithms in the world need our help.

It’s clearly disingenuous to write a post dissing someone’s site based on nondisclosure when disclosure is REQUIRED. Hello? But again, there’s bias that is difficult to shed and Matthew did the readers of Geek News Central a disservice by writing from his bias rather than investigating it more carefully.

This is a problem. If you tech bloggers want us to trust you and believe your reviews, positive and negative, be honest about your bias. I know Dave Winer hates Jason Calacanis. I know Todd Cochrane can’t stand PayPerPost. I doubt they could do much of anything to be rehabilitated in his eyes. But not everyone does know this, so they read what you write at face value without weighting your personal bias in there. I don’t know what Andrew Baron’s problem is, but just reading the comments will give anyone with half a brain the understanding that it’s entirely personal, because his responses are irrational.

One last thought on this. On this week’s TWIT, Leo Laporte paused for an ad about Audible.com, which started a riffing session between Leo and Jason Calacanis about Audible. As it happens, I’ve been looking for an audiobook and had been debating about whether to join Audible. Based on their discussion, I did join and am enjoying my audiobook immensely for a much better price than I could have gotten it for elsewhere. Every week Todd Cochrane takes a couple of minutes to talk about GoDaddy.com and how helpful they are to his business. Both Leo and Todd make it clear that they are talking about a sponsor of their shows. I use GoDaddy and Todd’s coupon codes for all of my domain transactions now. I’ve consolidated all the domains at GoDaddy as a result of Todd’s ads.

Why? Because I believe they are trustworthy. If I were a purist I’d argue that they should be ad-free. But I actually BENEFIT from their advertising and my personal experience with GoDaddy and Audible (and many others, by the way) has been positive. How was I harmed by their advertising? I wasn’t. And Leo Laporte knows this — he said at Blogworld that he gets $35 CPM from advertisers because…(drum roll please)…they know his audience buys what he recommends. Why? Because he makes recommendations fairly and without personal bias.

You all could take a lesson or two from Leo on this and quit fighting with each other at the consumer/user’s expense.

Full Disclosure: I used to write for PayPerPost but don’t any more for reasons that have nothing to do with them whatsoever. I do not write for Mahalo. I have no vested interest in any site or product I mentioned in this post with one exception: I do some copyediting for Todd Cochrane from time to time and do not accept pay for that service.

Update 11/14/07: Matthew amended and clarified his position on a new post here to acknowledge the changes in the PayPerPost terms of service. Thank you, Matthew. I’d also like to add that each and every post *is* reviewed carefully before being approved for payment and failure to disclose would cause a post to be rejected. As I understand it, SocialSpark will have automated disclosure within the post itself — it won’t be in the hands of the blogger but automatically inserted.

I also amended my post to clarify the word dishonest to specify intellectual dishonesty. I do not believe Baron’s post is an outright lie, but I do believe that allowing that kind of bias to come in to how he views a site and to make a statement such as the one that he led his post off with is at best, intellectually dishonest.

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