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Marc Canter called me a couple of months ago about a new concept he was working that would help webloggers make money. The concept became reality today, as several people started making 800.00US a month to promote a new CMS called Marqui.
When Marc and I talked, I was ambivalent about the idea and whether it would work. Ben Hammersley has been a sponsored site for some time, but it worked with Ben because he could be enthusiastic about the products of the company that was paying him bucks. Ben likes cigars, and the ambiance associated with cigar smoking, so being sponsored by a cigar company suited his site. I remember reading one of his cigar reviews and being surprised at how much I enjoyed it, precisely because he does feel enthusiastic about cigars.
But I don’t know of many people excited about Content Management Systems, or CMS. I’ve used too many commercial variations of these product to have anything even remotely resembling enthusiasm for them, myself. And if you couldn’t be enthusiastic about the product, wouldn’t the sponsorship come off like the old Geritol television show sponsorships of the past? You know the kind, where the host would stop whatever he or she was doing, plant a fake, bright smile on their face and extol the virtues of a product that would re-build tired blood?
Still, there is a great deal of discussion about the ‘purity’ of this environment and compromising the faith with our readers and that sort of thing, all of which gives me a rash. It’s as if weblogging is for winners only — people who are supremely successful and need no other help; or independently wealthy, and couldn’t use a few extra bucks. Let me tell you something: only the rich can be Saints, and the rich weren’t Saints to become that way.
Or as Alan, Head Lemur, wrote:
This is going to facilitate a dialog, between the company, me and most importantly you. They are paying us for this. They are paying me to tell them and everyone else who reads me what I think. It may not be what they want to hear. This is a risk they are taking.
I do not need the money, I have a day job.
Can I use the money? You bet!
Here are my risks.
Will I be regarded as a whore for taking money?
I already have. And if I am successful I will become a call girl.
Isn’t that ‘call boy’, Alan?
Can I use the money? Damn straight. I had a hard time making enough money to keep this site going, without having to pass the hat not once, but twice in the last few years. So which is better, and more dignified? The hooker on the corner, or the beggar across the street from her?
Still, I write tips and techniques and help folks and I like to think that when the people have contributed to keep the site going, it’s because I’ve provided something that’s been helpful a time or two. But it would be nice to be able to do this _without_ having to pass the hat.
(Of course, what I really need to do is finish my own weblogging tool, Wordform, and then I will automatically become both wealthy and hugely popular.)
So what’s stopping me from tugging at Marc’s shirt and saying, “Hey buddy of mine, can I get back into this deal?” It’s that old Geritol thing, I can’t get it out of my mind.
Stowe Boyd covered some of this in a writing about the Marqui Effect, saying:
Note: I am not a purist who turns away from ads. On the contrary. But I think there needs to be a clear separation from content and commerce. I don’t say good things about Silkroad just because they are sponsoring my blog and the True Voice seminar series. Their ad occupies the upper right rectangle on the blog, and by all means, click through sometime and see what they have to offer. And if they don’t get enough traffic, I am sure that they will put their ad dollars elsewhere. But I am not being paid to write about Silkblogs once per week. And that distinction, although nuanced, is important.
Mitch Ratcliff responded to Boyd’s assertion, writing:
Of course Corante has incentives to increase click throughs, because most ad programs are priced based on click performance. Sorry, but the condescension here is just annoying, since the substance of the Marqui agreement seems to be identical to the ads placed on Stowe’s site, from the simple click through on the SilkRoad ad to the “free” seminar offer (Corante presumably gets some kind of compensation for promoting the conference, even if it is sponsorship placement at the event) that are clearly compensated placements or else they would not be on the page. I’ve been a publisher and editor and trade show producer, so let’s step back from the ledge (or “Get Real,” as Stowe’s blog is called) right here and now: Admit that publishers, especially early-stage publishing companies, exist on in-kind trades. If these are not “not evil,” how are they qualitatively different than what I am doing in relation to Marqui? I put a sponsorship graphic on my site and say thanks once a week, creating a kind of periodicity in the appearance of the company’s name in the blog, just as Corante creates a special section sponsored by Zero Degrees that features fresh links.
Ratcliff’s point is good, as is his earlier notes in the post about how at one time he used to make a lot more money for his writing. Hey, if a few bucks can help Ratcliff and others continue writing, where’s the bad?
Boundaries. I’m hearing people say, “boundaries”. As if Technorati and Google aren’t already placing boundaries in this game.
From the Wikipedia article on the history of commercial television:
In the earliest days of television, it was often difficult to perceive the boundary between the actual television programs and the commercials. Many of the earliest television shows were sponsored by single companies, who inserted their names and products into the shows as much as possible. One of the most famous examples of early television broadcasting was Texaco Star Theater, the variety show that made Milton Berle a household name. Texaco not only included its own brand name as part of the show, it also made certain that Texaco employees were prominently featured during the course of the show, often appearing as smiling “guardian angels” who performed good deeds in one way or another, while the Texaco musical logo would play in the background.
I know Alan, aka Head Lemur, and I have no doubts that he wouldn’t be corrupted for a mere 800.00 a month. A couple of grand now…
Seriously, unlike the television shows of yore, the amount of money at stake, and the number of people involved is going to limit how much the Marqui Effect will impact on the weblogging environment. As for me, personally, at a minimum it doesn’t impact on how much I trust the webloggers involved. If I trusted the weblogger before, I still do now. If I didn’t know the weblogger before now, I don’t have an increased sense of trust because they’re, like wow, sponsored.
In comments to this post at the Kitchen, I wrote:
I have known some people in weblogging for years. I trust them and their judgment. If they were to tell me that a product is great, I would trust what they said. Even if I found out later they’re being sponsored by the company who sold the product, I would still trust what they said. I would be surprised, but my trust would still be in place.
But, and here’s the kicker, the people who I trust and who I’ve known for years would not, I feel, do such a thing. They would either tell me they’re being sponsored or make note of this in their recommendation. So in a way, my trust is based on their past behavior, which would preclude the need for the trust anyway, because their behavior is such that they would issue a disclaimer.
After some thought, though, I realized that even if I trusted another weblogger, and there are some I have known for years now, and do trust implicitly, I would still not likely act on just that trust, alone.
If it comes to buying a product, especially something fairly expensive, I research reviews at publications and read opinions in forums and scrutinize the specs in addition to listening to those I know from weblogging. I would value the other weblogger’s opinion, highly in fact; but would also understand that they bring into their discussion all sorts of assumptions about what is a ‘good’ product that may not agree with mine. A case in point is my recent purchase of a photo printer — I had advice from several people I know and trust, but ultimately made my decision based on which printer fit my needs the best.
And if others are more easily influenced? Well, I guess they’ll have to find room for their boxed CMS software — perhaps next to the Chia pet, or up against the Ginzoo knives.
Sponsorship isn’t the Titanic event of weblogging; our ‘purity’ is not compromised because some people are selling some space and words in their weblogs. Still, those webloggers who protest that being sponsored in this way will have no effect on them whatsoever are being idealistic and even a little naive.
Becoming sponsored does impact on you. You will be made aware of it each week as you write your little thank-you note to Marqui. You will see it every time you access your site and the first thing you see is the largish “Sponsored by Marqui” graphic. Your readers will be aware of it, and it will, even subtly, alter their perceptions of you and your writing. This may not be bad — in fact, you may get increased respect for swinging such a good deal. But your relationship with your readers will be different.
Eventually, the Marqui Effect could impact how you perceive your own space. Being hired to write an article for O’Reilly or weblog posts at a Marqui weblog, still leaves you your space to do whatever you want in it: to write obscene material, and be hateful all you want; or write your most intimate thoughts, which could eventually be equated one in the same. You may find yourself hesitating, even a moment, before you put down those words.
Or maybe you’ll continue just as you are, sane or not. Who knows? Me? I’m still working through that “weblogging is for winners” thing–but I think he or she who has the cutest kitten picture, or the most lovely poem, or is the most amazingly well read and erudite, or can bake a mean loaf of bread, be the best friend, or is the biggest pain the butt (that’s the rest of you), is a winner in my book. But then, I’m a begger on the corner, so what do I know?
I guess only time will tell what impact the Marqui Effect has. Stay tuned, and we’ll return after a word from our sponsor…
Marc was kind enough to extend the offer to me once more, and I was tempted. And it was tough to decline, but decline I must. I didn’t know that Marqui used to be Maestro, and Maestro is an ASP (Application Service Provider) — a service that you subscribe to, to manage your content; not a product you install and own.
It’s comparable to using Blogger or TypePad to manage your weblogs, rather than WordPress or Movable Type. This isn’t bad, but it does make you dependent on the service, and that’s something I’ve been rather vocally against for some time. However, I also know service-based products can be faster and easier to use for non-techs.
Personally though, regardless of subscription service or installed product. I think most CMS (and that’s Content Management System, no matter what word games are played) are bloated, over-priced, and over-engineered. They’re the primary reason why I now only work with lightweight, modular, open, PHP-based or comparable technologies. They’re why I’ve rejected ‘frameworks’ or anything of that kind — because the clients of the software more often than not buy into systems more complicated than they need, too costly to maintain, and usually dead-ended proprietary to boot. And I helped by supporting these products.
It would be tough for me to endorse a CMS, but to endorse a centralized one? No, just cannot do it. And endorsement of the product is what this is about. Reading the contract that the webloggers have to sign with Marqui, the following spells out a direct endorsement of the product:
It is our desire that acceptance of this agreement reflects your basic confidence in the product and that it serves as an endorsement on your part of the Marqui product.
I can’t help thinking it would send confusing signals to spend three months being negative about a product that supposedly you endorse.
However, just because I am burned out on CMS and large-scale, complex, proprietary, centralized applications doesn’t mean others should be. Each of us has unique interests and challenges, and one woman’s corrosive drain cleaner is another woman’s fragrant tea.
In other words, lots of really smart and intelligent people like CMS, and have excellent reasons to do so. This, then, could be a very good deal for them, and for those of you who have gotten the golden goose for the next three months, I am glad for you.
And if I were to beg on the corner for alms to support this site again–which I don’t plan on doing but lord knows I change my mind more than my underwear– but if I were, then you’re more than entitled to a ‘neener neener’ all the way to the bank.
But since I’m not being paid, consider this my last word on Marqui.