Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
 
Blogging ethics

A reader mailed me a link to an article on CNN about blogging ethics. It turns out that the "best practice" on blogging ethics is exactly what I've always been doing, accepting freebies if that helps the blog, but publicly announcing everything you received to avoid hidden conflicts of interest.

Now that wouldn't have been interesting enough to justify a post, if this week I hadn't received a devious offer. A site which among other things posts gaming review scores was willing to offer me cash if I started mentioning them, and link to them, in my blog texts. They called it "relevant in-content text links". I write a blog text about whatever game, mention "site X gives this game a 8 out of 10 score" with link to site X, and they pay me via Paypal. So they get traffic from my site, their Google rank improves, I get paid, and nobody even notices that I just earned money by advertising.

Not only did I obviously decline the offer, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, because I suddenly see "suspicious" links everywhere. Why did this blogger just link to that commercial site? Was he paid for doing so? Or did he just see something that genuinly interested him and wanted to share?

I didn't inquire far enough to find out how much they would have been willing to pay me, but I'm sure it wouldn't have met my $100,000 buyout price. But as discussed earlier, $100 for some people is peanuts, and for others it is a lot of money. One fellow blogger repeatedly tried to involve me in his business of turning a WoW economic blog into a stream of revenue from selling gold guides.

I once saw a movie where somebody tried to insult a choir by calling them "amateurs", and the choir director calmly explained them how the word "amateur" comes from the latin word for "to love", amare, and describes people who do something out of love for it. While a "professional" obviously does it for profit. So in a way I am proud to be an amateur. But that does not blind me to the fact that the things we might create for love still have a commercial value. There are even sites where you can enter your URL and it calculates how much your blog is worth, based on things like your Google rank or Alexa. I just don't plan to cash in, not now, nor anytime soon, as long as I have financial security from my day job.

So this remains a blog without advertising, neither of the visible nor of the sneaky link kind. You basically have a better chance for me to link to your site if you just ask me to have a look at it than if you offer me money to do so. I do accept freebies related to the subject area of this blog, like free MMO accounts or beta invites, but I will always disclose whatever I received to make it absolutely clear that you can't buy my opinion that way. Until somebody comes up with those $100,000. :)
Comments:
While I completely agree with your no-ads policy and also the reasoning behind it, and I guess it's the same "gold guide" guy who bugged me too, a question arises:

Can a non-rich person be a good blogger? I mean if $100 is not "spare change" for someone, how could he resist from such offers you described? "After all it's just a link" he thinks. So sooner or later his blog will be altered by hidden and real ads beyond usefulness and credibility.

Is being poor locks someone from (credible) blogging?

Let's not forget that even if the ad-company demands nothing from the blogger, he might still censor himself to avoid alienating any readers or post useless sensations or trolling to increase visitor count since visitors = ad-money.
 
If this blog had sound, you would now hear Heaven 17 singing "Temptation":

Temptation
You can take it or leave it
Temptation
But youd better believe it


I fully agree that nearly everyone can be bought, if the temptation is high enough. And as I previously explained, me resisting temptation is greatly aided by the fact that the amount of money on offer for sneaky links and fake reviews simply is far less than what I already earn with my day job. So I'm not claiming superhuman strength of character and willpower.

I wouldn't say that poorer people can't make good bloggers, but they certainly need more of that strength of character to resist the temptation to sell out.
 
I ask myself "Would someone pay to visit my blog?" I'd guess that most people would not. So if they'd not pay directly, why should they pay indirectly through ads? Besides, they ruin the appearance.

@Gevlon: The poor are obviously just stupid and lazy, too stupid and lazy even for simple things like advertising, so any advertising must be from the highly-motivated rich. Right? Or are you saying that the rich don't have any motivation to make money anymore while only the poor are willing to put in anything extra?

Also, this passage describes your blog perfectly: trolling and sensationalism.
Let's not forget that even if the ad-company demands nothing from the blogger, he might still censor himself to avoid alienating any readers or post useless sensations or trolling to increase visitor count since visitors = ad-money.
 
Why did this blogger just link to that commercial site? Was he paid for doing so? Or did he just see something that genuinly interested him and wanted to share?
Is it possible to get paid for something and still be genuinely interested?

Or is it too hard to separate the two? If a link genuinely interested you, then would you just link it for free?

I don't know the influence something like this has on a blogger because I don't blog. But I don't quite understand the harm of taking a few bucks for something you might do otherwise.
 
"I wouldn't say that poorer people can't make good bloggers, but they certainly need more of that strength of character to resist the temptation to sell out."

Tobold, that notion seems to run contrary to your point about "amateurs". Ethics and morals don't necessarily correlate with tax brackets.
 
I didn't say poorer people had less ethics and morals. I just meant that the same amount of money is a bigger temptation for somebody who has less of it.
 
It is probably both amazing and entirely expected that many places would simply fail to realize that they can just send you a note saying "Hey, we are making a new game, wanna come check it out and write about it if you like it?". It's as if bribing... er, advertising has become so common that a lot of companies can't imagine anything past that.

For those companies that are thinking "well, if we don't bribe him he might write a bad review." Well, that is true, Tobold might but I wouldn't worry about it too much since a lot of people realize that Tobold has different tastes than a lot of us and we will go check out a game ourselves just to make sure. (Shh, don't tell Tobold this but sometimes he's wrong.) :)

Fact is, if a game gets mentioned here, good or bad, it is probably better advertising than most companies could afford in any given month.
 
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