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Updated: If you are reading this in a feed reader, please visit the page to read the response from ExpoTV CEO Daphne Kwon. The response has clarified the concern I raised to my (and I hope everyone's) satisfaction. Thanks Daphne!
Last week I reported on a video reviews site called ExpoTv. During the demo, I asked about their syndication policy regarding positive and negative reviews. Since I was the last question, I don't think they had a chance to full answer, but the gist of their reply was, "We allow the retailers to pick what they show." That just does not sit well with me.
Thi Luu, SVP, Web Operations provided a comment on my original post:
Thanks for feedback on ExpoTV and wanted to address your question about our syndication strategy. We feel that because video is a new medium for most retailers and comparison shopping engines, they haven't yet been able to build into their sites the sorting functionality about the content being positive or negative.
They link to and promote ExpoTV to allow users a more robust experience and to find more video product reviews. Until they build the capability to sort through the videos, having a lot of them without any ability to skim through them is tough on users. So for now, we let them display what they want.
As the retailers build more functionality around videos on their sites, we agree it's a much better user experience (and written reviews have proven it's more effective) to offer all opinions and we will be encouraging them to do so.
That's why we feel strongly about letting people submit positive and negative videos about products on ExpoTV.com and compensate our video creators for both types of videos. Hope this helps to address your question.
SVP, Web Operations
Thanks for the reply Thi. What I would like to understand is the ExpoTv policy if a syndication site only requests positive reviews. Will this be noted on the syndication site? I am guessing not and that's where my ethical concern begins. I could understand if a customer wanted to purchase one "highlight" review for their site, but outside of that, should not be able to purchase just one type of review. In this case, it feels like Payperpost using video.
Imagine visiting buy.com to buy your new gadget. You see two video reviews and play both. They tell you how great the product is. You buy it. It dies. Turns out ExpoTv had 100 reviews, of which 98 were negative but you never saw those.
So CN readers, chime in? Do you think it's ok for ExpoTv to offer only positive or negative reviews to its syndication sites?
I first learned about oDesk when listening to Michael Arrington at the Future of Web Apps summit in September. I decided to take a more in-depth look a this web application. What I saw scared me. In fact, I wonder if oDesk is eSlavery 2.0?
Let’s start with the positive. Hiring workers (mostly offshore) is hard. oDesk, on the surface, does a good job of handling the finding of a professional to handle a need. They do testing and verification which is a good thing.
So I started to look deeper. And this is where the slavery aspect begins. When we think of slaves of the last 1000 years, there are several things in common. The most common is the fact that the “masters” would watch them to make sure they worked. And if they didn’t they got whipped or beaten or worse. Now while oDesk does not go that far, they certainly allow you to watch and monitor. So how do you watch?
The first way you can watch your worker is by monitoring his/her productivity on the keyboard and mouse. Don’t check your Yahoo! mail or check the latest Paris Hilton pic or you will be penalized. So those who type faster or click faster, are more productive and thereby get a better rating. Same thing masters did to their slaves.
The next way you can watch is by actually making the worker post images every 10 minutes of themselves in front of their pc. I mean ARE YOU KIDDING ME. So if you happen to have a stomach ache suddenly hit you within 3 minutes of photo time, you best get a bed pan. And make sure you get your lipstick and blush on first. Same thing masters did to their slaves.
From the oDesk site about watching:
Monitor Activity — oDesk Team creates filmstrips of the provider’s online activity (screenshots and webcam shots). You can literally see what your team members are working on. Buyers use this visibility to spot check code, see when the provider is working, and see if the provider is getting stuck on any tasks.
Could you imagine any web shop in the U.S. recording the activities of their employees so closely? I would love to see (insert web shop) setting up this type of system. What about a large corporation. Let’s see that happen. C’mon. I am quite sure that within a short period the employees would be gone. I have used several contractors over the years and about 15% of the time, it does not work out. But I have never even considered putting a web cam on them. One of my best friends does my design work. I could only imagine what it would be like if I (seriously) asked him to put a web cam and a click tracker on when he works on projects for me. I am sure I would no longer have a great designer or a friend.
In fact, oDesk has a video showing their office from behind the scenes. I don’t see any web cams taking pictures of the employees. Carol and Maureen? Ron and Josh from operations? Does anyone monitor their activities? When those employees look at the camera and talk, is their keyboard/mouse productivity going down? Does the CEO, Gary Swart, send his web cam shots to the investors every 10 minutes? What about mouseclicks? I can just imagine the fun the oDesk team has looking at all these bits of info and images.
So why do I believe we allow this? It’s simple… from the research I have done, the majority of workers on oDesk are from outside the U.S. and the majority of buyers are inside. So I assume the buyers feel it is ok. It is “ok” to take advantage of the Russians, the Indians, the others. All of the documentation is in English and Russian which makes me believe that there is a large percentage of Russian people on the site. Actually if you look in most categories, a Russian person shows up first for hours worked. Why are the Russians ok with this monitoring? Because my guess is that the money outweighs the monitoring. Furthermore, if you are paying someone $15/hr and assume they work 40-ish hours in a week, the maximum you would be out is $600. So for $600 you force someone to monitor their activities like a rat in a cage.
Here is the bottom line… oDesk has some good attributes, but the monitoring is absolutely absurd and really is sad that people buy into this model. If you don’t trust someone, don’t work with them. If you are worried, start with a small project with someone while you work out the trust factor. Clearly oDesk’s motto is “We don’t trust the people we represent”. Really shameful in my opinion. I welcome comments from those who have used the service as a buyer and would certainly be open to a discussion with oDesk management about my concerns.
Update 11/16: Some questions for oDesk:
- How do you handle work away from the computer? Meaning, while I get that “productivity in keyboard clicks and mouse clicks = payment” what about when I am working on thought?
- What does oDesk take as their fee?
- Stats on providers and buyers – send me some stats please
“provides policy creation tools, best practices and forums for discussing the delicate balance between content creator freedoms and audience transparency expectations.”
Michael mentions the following:
While that sounds like a fine idea, PayPerPost bloggers should also be disclosing the fact that they are being paid for their post prominently within the post, not on some separate page in their blog.
note: I will be covering ad:tech next week and the PayPerPost team will be there, I am going to try to get a live interview with them.
And I completely agree with him. Ashish makes a great point as well about how PPP posts are basically advertisements. I know when I read them I treat them as such. Whenever an "organization" is sponsored by big business, it certainly changes the attitudes of the representatives.
Michael mentions tobacco and it is a great comparison. PPP probably believes by throwing it on a .org site, they legitimize what they are doing. Oh well. The sad part is that the masses don't understand these issues and will just read a PPP post as legit, when clearly it is biased. And that bias is different than any other bias. On the positive side, DP is getting us all talking about the issue more. And that is a good thing.
What does disclosure get you? It gets you trust and honesty rating points. And on a blog those trust rating points help move you up the ladder of importance. When people can't trust your posts, you will go back down the ladder even quicker than you went up it.
Look at infomercials – they pay people to appear, do you think anyone will say that knife or power chopper or ab burner was crap and didn't work – show me just one? And you see disclaimers that are in tiny type and don't really say how the person used the product or what they started with. A man comes on and says he made $500k the first year, but what he doesn't tell you is that it cost him $2 million to make that $500k.
When we pay people for reviews or posts, we are doing a disservice to the public at large. If you look at a service like Reevoo, it only accepts reviews from people who have purchased the product. If you compare that to say Amazon, where anyone can post, including the company, you get biased reviews.
And of course, when advertisers appear on a site, would that blogger ever bash that company? Hmm, makes ya wonder. I know for me, I would/have always done the right thing before money. I turned down a huge ad deal on one of my sites because they wanted to link to scum adsense sites. Even though it may mean I have no money this month, what can I do.
And then, do we look the other way when an advertiser is on our site but providing crap for service. So bash those that don’t advertise, look the other way for those who do?
I had a discussion with Jeremiah about an ethics post on his blog. He had a great comment as well from Martin:
I called Martin last night, he pretty much nailed it, when one starts to impact business decisions by using social media to talk about a product and is benefiting in a financial or other manner disclosure is mandatory.
I agree with Jeremiah and Michael. When someone gives you compensation for a post, you must disclose it within the post. And the key is ANY KIND OF COMPENSATION. Not just cash. But where is the line drawn? That is where the questioning will begin. I know in the business world, anything over $25 typically must either not be accepted or must be disclosed. $25 is probably too high in the blog space though. So if a company sends me a tshirt, is that compensation?
I want to see real debates about ethics. I want to see everyone involved who wants to be not just the big players deciding what should be done to get to their best interests. Let's get talking.