Transparency vs. Payola: Weighing Risks

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PayPerPost: Worth the risk?

Over at the Center for Citizen Media blog, I’ve joined an interesting conversation concerning the thorny issue of payola in online media. See: PayPerPost: A Cancer on the Blogosphere, or Merely Semi-Sleazy? by Dan Gillmor.

Background: The controversial online advertising service PayPerPost attracted considerable blog and media attention after it recently got $3 million in venture funding. In a nutshell, PayPerPost is an automated system where companies can advertise their sites, products, services, or brands through a network of approved bloggers who get paid $2 per qualifying post. That is, bloggers who sign on to PayPerPost agree to write about those advertisers.

PayPerPost reviews and approves those posts, which can be required to be positive. Although PayPerPost urges its bloggers to be "honest," it discourages them from disclosing their relationship with PayPerPost. So, ethically, everyone involved appears to be on thin ice — but when did ethics ever have much to do with the advertising business?

…Anyway, Dan Gillmor’s post on the PayPerPost flap nudged me to consider the issue of payola more closely. Here are a couple of comments I contributed to that discussion…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE over at my other blog, The Right Conversation
— If you wish to leave a comment on this post, you can do so there.

Blogging Gets Bumpy, and that\’s OK

Recently, PR blogger Kami Huyse published an interesting article: 5 Tips to Avoid Comment Hell: Dealing with Trolls. There, she posed a crucial question for new bloggers who are nervous about allowing comments on their blogs:

"I have had many clients ask me about the risks of blogging. How do you keep competitors and arch enemies from taking over the conversation and dissolving the ‘conversation’ into a shouting match?"

Her answers:

  1. Moderate comments.
  2. Have a written comment policy to manage expectations.
  3. Be in it for the long haul.
  4. Ban grossly abusive comments, but let most negative comments ride.
  5. Turn comments off if necessary, preferably temporarily.

A few quibbles notwithstanding, I mostly agree with Kami’s advice.

That said, I also believe it’s important for everyone who chooses to participate in conversational media to learn how to handle the inevitable unpleasant bumps of conflict and even flames.That’s not something you can learn theoretically. Personally I think you need to live through it. Only then can you put Kami’s advice into balanced practice. Otherwise, you might be tempted to protect yourself into total vulnerability.

Of course, surviving public conversational conflicts is not fun — but it’s crucial. If there’s one thing you learn fast in conversational media, it’s that you can never really control the conversation. Most of it happens in venues that are beyond your control, anyway The best you can do is influence it.

I raised that issue in this comment to Kami’s post…

READ THE REST of this article over at my other blog, The Right Conversation

Apologizing: Good for Your Reputation

Often I’m amazed at how the universe conspires to hit me over the head with a theme, yelling “You MUST blog this!” That’s just happened this morning on the theme of apologies. Particularly, how crucial apologies are to public discourse — and to re-establishing broken trust with your core community and the general public.

Everyone messes up sometime. However, acknowledging your role in a problem, apologizing for it, and making amends is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s often the bravest, strongest, smartest, and most constructive thing an individual, publisher, or organization can do. Especially because conversational media has a way of amplifying any failure to apologize, thus making the consequences of your original screw-up much worse in the long run.

Here are all the hints on this theme that fate has handed me in the last 24 hours…

READ MORE at my other blog, The Right Conversation…

Explaining Substantive Edits: Good Idea (Rewriting Blog History, Part 2)

Yesterday’s post, Rewriting blog history: Bad idea, sparked some interesting discussion in its comments thread and in other weblogs (by Dave Taylor, Tom Simpson, and Kent Newsome).

I realized through this conversation that I hadn’t expressed my thoughts clearly enough, so here’s a second go at it.

From my perspective, it’s perfectly fine to change your mind and revise, retract, or clarify your statements, whether on a blog or elsewhere. In fact, I’m writing this post for exactly that purpose.

I also think it’s a good idea to revisit postings to fix typos, tighten up sentences, etc. — and if those nit-fixes don’t substantially alter your meaning, no need to point them out.

That said, in my experience it is indeed almost always a bad move to delete statements or postings without acknowledgment or explanation. I’m not talking about minor edits — I’m talking about trying to make content “disappear” and then acting like it never existed.

That strategy is almost certain to backfire — causing a bigger fuss than a simple explanation would have done, and possibly damaging your reputation or credibility in the process.

In short, ethical conduct online means owning up to what you publish — even if you have to remove it. And there may well be good reasons to remove it (legal, factual, ethical, social, and so on).

Here’s a fairly recent example from my own experience…

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Rewriting blog history: Bad idea

(UPDATE AUG. 2: This post sparked intriguing followup and conversation by Dave Taylor, Tom Simpson, and Kent Newsome. I realize I needed to clarify something about the point I’m making here, which I did in this followup posting.)

I’ve seen this happen many times: Someone posts something in haste to a weblog. He later regrets it, recognizes an error or embarrassment, or is criticized for it — and then deletes the post in equal haste, hoping that erases the event and no one noticed.

While that may seem like a safe strategy (as long as you delete the post quickly, before it gets indexed by search engines), it’s actually a very bad idea. In my experience, it’s wisest to assume that anything you post online will live forever, regardless of whether you delete it from its original location. (Note: I fixed a typo in that sentence. Thanks for spotting it, Dave Taylor.)

Here’s why that’s so…

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Blogging a book

As I mentioned yesterday, on July 9 the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article by Bruce Bigelow called Dr. Beyster’s book (Or: How SAIC’s founder stopped worrying about publicity and learned to love the blog).

No kidding, that’s the actual title. Being a die-hard Dr. Strangelove fan, I adore it. And I don’t just like the article because I’m quoted in it. (But thanks, Bruce!)

Anyway, this article is about how J. Robert Beyster, founder of one of the major super-spooky defense/intelligence contractors, SAIC, is using a blog to support/enhance the process of writing a book about the evolution of that employee-owned company. This is rather like what what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel did for Naked Conversations, and what I’m doing for my book on conversational media. But it’s very nice to see someone from outside the tight, incestuous community of online-media professionals trying this strategy.

But it makes a lot of sense…

(Read the full story at my other blog, The Right Conversation…)

Links for my URMA talk

On Wednesday, May 17, I’ll be giving a talk at the annual conference of the University Reseach Magazine Association (URMA). They seem like a fun group of media professionals. (Seriously — their conference agenda even features the Creature from the Black Lagoon!)

The topic of my talk is: Invasion of the bloggin’ pods: The new media – ready or not, they’re here! (So whatta we do with ‘em?)

I already warned URMA: I don’t do lectures, so the people attending this session had better be ready to get involved.

Here are some links I plan to mention in my session…

(Read the full article at The Right Conversation…)

In online writing, little things mean a lot

(NOTE: I originally published this article in Spring 2000 in my former venture Content Exchange, which is now defunct. But it’s still useful information, so I’ve decided to republish it.)

Good writing is good writing no matter where you find it. However, each medium has its own unique considerations. One of the key points to consider about the text on your web site is microcontent.

Microcontent is all the short bits of text that help guide the user or provide an “at-a-glance” overview of what a given page is about. The basic categories of microcontent are…

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Brilliant headline from Koan Bremner

Usually, I advise people that when writing headlines or titles for online content, it helps to not be too “cute” or “cryptic.” This is because headlines are often viewed out of context online (in search engine results or feed readers, etc.). They generally need to speak for themselves.

That said, I love a good pun. And sometimes, depending on the author, topic, and target audience, a good pun is just what’s needed. This morning, my friend and fellow blogger Koan Bremner pulled off a magnificently punnish headline: “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”

Now that might not sound like much of a pun – you need to read the article to see why it works so well. Normally I would consider that a problem, too.

However, here’s why I think it’s a great headline, even though it’s geeky and superficially cryptic – and what other bloggers can learn from this example…

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Link blog pros & cons

My friend, colleague, and fellow blogger Dave Taylor wrote on March 7 about how he’s finally “succumbed” and created a link blog: Dave Taylor’s blog clippings

…A link blog is a way to use a weblog to share interesting links. There are lots of different ways to do it. I use the free social bookmarking service del.icio.us to create link-related content for all of my main weblogs. In this weblog, that’s what generates my “Latest Recommended Links” content in the right-hand sidebar.

For my other weblog, The Right Conversation, I save links (with relevant excerpts or comments) in del.icio.us and then use an automated system to compile and post a daily roundup of links. (For instance, here’s yesterday’s link posting from The Right Conversation.)

Dave points out that while having a linkblog fulfills some needs (for him and, presumably, his audience), it’s not exactly conversational – especially in his case, since the tool he’s chosen does not allow comments.

I shared my thoughts on linkblogs with Dave, and asked him to explain his linkblog rationale further….

(Read the rest of this article on The Right Conversation…)