Category Archives: disclosure

Where is Jason Calacanis’s Disclosure, to People AND Machines?

It’s a good thing February 29th doesn’t come around that often. It’s a day Jason Calacanis may want to sweep under a rug.

After yet another episode of Jason jumping up and down for the world to notice him and his company (this time with some affiliate marketer rants and techmeme coverage), a Feb 29 post by Allen Stern over at Center Networks focused on Jason’s conflicted, undisclosed PageRank-passing link practices and his promotion of such practices to the rest of his employees. Jason’s practices were particularly ironic given he just highlighted the FTC quote: “We wanted to make clear . . . if you’re being paid, you should disclose that.”

You can read Allen’s direct affiliate, employee, paid link comparisons. My post just provides a bit more detail to Allen’s dead-on observation. My post isn’t about affiliate links. My post isn’t about buzz marketing. My post isn’t about Mahalo’s business model (human scraping is worthy of a whole other post). It’s simply about applying Google’s standard for machine-readable disclosure to Jason’s PageRank-passing links. In fact, it’s even more narrow than all of Jason’s violations (Andy Beard covers some others) — I’ll just focus on his deliberate PageRank juicing of Mahalo already alluded to by Allen. No rocket science here.

Google’s standard:
1) Google’s position on disclosure, via Matt Cutts, is that adequate disclosure on the web must be understood by people AND understood by machines. [next 3 images are directly from Cutts presentation]
2) Google has suggested a few ways to meet their standard of machine-readable disclosure; the most straightforward being the use of rel=”nofollow”.
3) Google has exacted severe penalties against sites failing to provide machine-readable disclosure.
Jason’s PageRank-passing:
4) Jason Calacanis gets paid direct cash compensation from Mahalo, and significant equity compensation from Mahalo as a shareholder. [next 3 images are directly from calacanis.com posts]
5) More Mahalo pages in Google SERPs equals more money in Jason’s pocket and equity — orders of magnitude more than the typical affiliate or sponsored blogger that Jason has railed against in the past.
6) To get more Mahalo pages in Google SERPs, and higher in Google SERPs, Jason repeatedly creates PageRank-passing links to Mahalo, with SEO keywords stuffed into anchor text. One or more links are a daily occurrence, with many linkfarm-in-a-post posts.
7) None of Jason’s PageRank-passing links provide machine-readable disclosure as required by Google (or human-readable for that matter) — even though using nofollow would still retain any traffic/branding goals of linking.
The result:
8) Jason’s undisclosed PageRank-passing links are working. Pages that no one has found interesting enough to link, reach Google #1 SERPs because of Jason’s single PR6 keyword-stuffed link. See this Google SERP and this backlink check as just one example of many.
9) Neither the linker (Calacanis.com, PR6) nor his sponsor (Mahalo.com, PR6), have received any penalties as a result of these clear Google Guideline violations. There are times when I’ve heard Google say they focus on the most egregious examples, but I can’t think of a blogger with more compensation at stake, doing more blatant, conflicted PageRank-passing without machine-readable disclosure.

Google, what are Allen and I missing?

Blog Ethics, Bias and Disclosure for Online Communicators

I’ve been reading Dave Taylor’s writing for the past year+ and he garnered plenty more fans before me. He’s an accomplished entrepreneur, techie and writer. For the past week over at iAOCblog.com (International Association of Online Communicators) he’s been covering the topics of bias, conflicts, disclosure and ethics. I match his school of thought that almost all blogging contains elements of bias. In fact, part of what separates blogging from other media is that biases often define the long-tail niche where a blogger builds his/her audience.

This foundation can be seen in a quote from the first post of his series, “Quick, now, are YOU biased?

“I’m going to start this week out by proposing that everyone is biased, everyone will tend to make allowances for their friends’ behavior while castigating the same from someone they don’t know or from a social or racial group they dislike. Everyone will review a restaurant owned by their parents differently from one owned by the annoying woman down the block with the loud Mercedes, and everyone will be less likely to use an online service whose director of marketing is a former lover who left for the arms of another.”

Dave followed that post with “How disclosing does disclosure need to be?“, including perspective like:

“What concerns me is that if we go too far with disclaimers, it becomes very difficult to know where to draw the line, to figure out where you don’t have to disclaim what you write. For example, I’ve been a cinemaphile for as long as I can remember, have watched thousands of movies and read at least fifty different books on film theory and interpretation. Along the way, I have found certain directors who I believe are brilliant (Lean, Hitchcock, Kubrick) and others that I think can’t direct their way out of a paper bag (Lynch, Tarantino). Clearly, I’m biased and, heck, you probably don’t agree with my bias. So should I disclaim my bias before I write about film, review a movie or even talk about an actor or production?”

His third post of the series, “Are bloggers EXPECTED to me more ethical than everyone else?“, also echoed my acceptance that the ‘sphere contains a diverse population of participants and motivations:

“I have had conversations with many bloggers who believe that blogging is apparently a higher calling, that to be a successful blogger you must be hyper-ethical, completely transparent and a model, upstanding citizen who eschews all aspects of capitalism. After all, doesn’t information want to be free?….I don’t agree with them. A blog is a tool that makes publishing more convenient and like any tool, it’s up to individuals to make it work for their own needs and requirements. While I applaud those people who put in 50-hour weeks gratis because they believe in what they’re writing about and they’re passionate about sharing their view, I also applaud those bloggers who are experimenting and trying to figure out how to make blogging work for them financially as well as professionally.”

Dave’s closing post of the week, “Psstt… wanna buy a link from my blog, buddy?“, got to the bottom of what he teased all week: whether bloggers should accept payment for their blogging efforts. He makes some pretty bold statements, including support for one of my portfolio companies, PayPerPost, but instead of just quoting him here, I’ll let you enjoy his post in its entirety.

On almost every topic he covered, I wish he’d gone deeper. He is right for plenty of reasons that he didn’t bother including. At the same time, I think most of his points have already been proven out as the real world joined the blog world. The ‘sphere is as diverse as the world is big, and each blogger will succeed or fail based upon pleasing their audience, biases and all.

BTW: I’m biased in a variety of ways about Dave and this topic (see FVB’s Disclosure Policy, http://www.disclosurepolicy.org/ and any number of related prior posts here), so consider me conflicted, opinionated and generally shaped by a world-view that people have the right to live by their own choices, preferably influenced by reason, not mobs.

Related images: dave taylor (biz), dave taylor (techie), dave taylor (mountain man), dave taylor (professional wrestler? OK, different guy, but hard to pass up)