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Yesterday, I discussed the potential issues of disclosure with FM's new TV show, "Webb Alert." The feedback I have received (mostly on Skype and in email) agrees with me that there is something wrong here. So I thought I would provide some additional information.
First up, is the official reply to my post by FM. Neil Chase provided the following reply (snipped):
Federated Media's relationship with WebbAlert is explained in this morning's posts on the FM Blog and on John Battelle's SearchBlog, and in the press release we issued. We helped Morgan Webb develop the site, using the same technology from Castfire that we had used to help AskANinja. We love helping our authors develop new sites and expand existing ones.
When Morgan came to us with a proposal for a show using blogs as primary sources and asked us to help develop it and sell ads for it, we jumped at the chance. We didn't need a secret plan to get our sites mentioned. Eleven of the 21 tech sites in Technorati's Top 100 are FM authors, so our sites will show up in any tech news roundup.
Our financial arrangement is like the ones we have with all FM authors: We sell the ads, provide all the services related to ad serving, and take a commission.
While I completely understand that FM authors are the "big boys and girls" of the tech sector, I can't imagine that Webb walked into FM's office and said, "I want to link to your blogs more than other blogs." And Neil's link to John Battelle's blog makes my point crystal clear. The post on John's blog contains only the video. Check it out and tell me if you saw the disclaimer about the links contained within the video.
My continued issue with this program is simple: there is no disclosure. If I embed her video on my site, the only way a person would know that its a "family-link-network" show is to:
- first click on the video,
- then scroll way down on the page,
- then click about the links,
- then try to understand her statement. Here is my (sarcastic) take on the statement piece-by-piece:
The blogs listed on my front page are among the blogs that I read daily, and they're all blogs that I strongly endorse and recommend to you. They're not the only blogs that I love and endorse – but they're all among my favorites, and if you haven't already spent time with them, I recommend that you pay them a visit.
The blogs listed are those that are in FM's network. You should visit these using my links because by doing so I help support those sites and then those sites will continually link back to me. Oh yea, and they are the best!
I also have a traffic-sharing relationship with each of these blogs. In other words, we link to each other. The important thing to stress is that there's NO editorial element to these traffic-sharing relationships. In other words, I have made no commitments to cover stories on their blogs, nor have they made commitments to cover what I do. But since these are all blogs that I endorse, respect, and read daily, you'll probably see me talking about stories in them on a fairly regular basis.
I will post links to lots of sites, it will just so happen that those links will mostly be to sites in FM's network.
Mike Arrington from TechCrunch has given Webb two posts in two days. Today he notes, "Some will comment below that I’m only giving the show a thumbs up in the hope for TechCrunch mentions (there was one today for our Amazon/Webvan story, for example). They’re right, but for the wrong reasons." When Mike embeds this video into TC, the FM disclaimer doesn't follow. So to the untrained eye, it looks like Mike found a great piece of content or an awesome story. I believe Mike when he says he thinks the show is awesome. While the content might be great from his point-of-view, he is no-doubt linking to this video show because of what he expects in return. Mike has linked to me a few times, I have linked him as well, that's how the open Web works. Could you imagine if a site like TC was to link only to FM blogs?
Mike went on to say, "bloggers are going to see a mention on the show as a badge of honor and buzz about it." Sure, the FM network will blog about it. Let's be honest here. More links from FM sites = more traffic to Webb. More traffic to Webb = more impressions for FM to sell. More links back to FM sites = more ads to sell on those FM sites. It's a great marketing strategy, I can't fault them there.
So to be fair, let's look at who Webb links to today (similar to what I did yesterday):
- The Sun UK – n/a
- Rate My Teachers – n/a
- WSJ – n/a
- TechDirt – FM
- Ars Technica – FM (both shows)
- Kotaku – Gawker (both shows)
- Insomniac Games – n/a
- Read/Write Web – FM
- TechCrunch – FM
- NewTeeVee – FM (both shows)
- Boing Boing – FM
- O'Reilly – n/a
Today we have 12 total links, of which 6 are FM sites, which is 50%. However, what skews these numbers is that the sites she links to for non-FM are the only ones she could basically link to.
So here are my net concerns with this TV show. There is no real disclosure on either end. Embeds carry no disclaimer and the on-site disclaimer is hidden, wordy and hard-to-read. I would think they would want the best stories reported on the show, not just those that the FM family covers.
From the FM bloggers who link in perspective, should they disclose? This is a bit tougher for me to answer but wouldn't this type of post be considered a paid post in the same vein as Payperpost and ReviewMe? What do you think?
In any event, keep your objectivity Morgan, the Web is a big place, and this will help you build a bigger fan base.
Update: Added follow-up post
Over the past few months, we have debated the campaigns that Federated Media has run. Most recently the heated debate was over the "conversations" that FM and Microsoft partnered on. I applauded the efforts by FM to try new advertising mediums. Fast-forward to today and the buzz all over the tech blog scene is the launch of WebbAlert, a daily video show by FM publisher Morgan Webb. After checking TechMeme on the buzz, my brain started twitching so I did a little bit of investigation on the new video show by Webb and here is what I have found.
First, let's take a look at a good deal of the blogs listed on TechMeme. The ones listed here are all FM blogs:
I am not trying to insinuate that FM requested postings for Webb, but sure seems like the overwhelming percentage of posts are coming from FM authors and are positive. In addition, several of them have references to Rocketboom, which makes me believe that Rocketboom was included in the FM communication. I am by no means suggesting that the posts were "paid" but just seems a bit odd that none of these high-ranking tech celebs have any constructive criticism for the show. Maybe she is just that damn good. With all of the discussion about transparency/disclosure online over the past year, should these type of posts come with a disclaimer? I think this is interesting food for thought.
What really led me to think about this was the following comment on the FM blog:
She uses the top tech news sites, including a number of FM authors, as sources for the stories and offers her viewers links back to the full posts on those sites.
Does this mean that the links that Webb points to will be FM authors? I certainly hope not! But let's look at the links from the first show:
- Fred Wilson – FM
- ArsTechnica – FM
- VentureBeat – FM
- TheDailymac – not associated from what I can tell
- Comscore – no ads
- Make – FM
- Kotaku – Gawker
Out of the 7 links, 4 are FM blogs or 57%. And the ad in the middle comes from FM blog ArsTechnica. This is disappointing at best.
So does this mean that the show is really the FM network show? I will be watching the links over the next few shows and will report back but for some reason this just doesn't sit well with me. If it is the FM network show, then call it that.
What do you think? Should this type of video show come with a disclaimer that the links within the video show are coming from within a network of sites and not from the entire Internet?
Is this Federated Media's new conversation?