"Ed's note: The reason Tricia is at the bottom of the list even though she is highly favourited and works tremendously hard on her blogs, I hate (is that too harsh) her Pay PerPost. It's not that I'm against sponsored posts it's just that Tricia seems to write about anything and whore her garden blog to topics about Payday Loans, Coupons, Vacuum Cleaners and copious other unrelated material. If I wanted that stuff, I'd go and read blogs about it. Needless to say, I no longer subscribe to her feed. I get enough spam in my Inbox...."
At the time I was surprised by what I thought was the unnecessary and harsh note he added to her listing. In particular, I thought the accusation that she would "whore her garden blog" was pretty much out of line. Maybe I'm too PC but as a son, brother to two sisters and now an uncle of a niece that word and the associations just turn my stomach. I'd seen Stuart commenting on ProBlogger so I figured he was just following the tips and creating controversy and link baiting.
Then I saw that Susan Harris at GardenRant had a post up on the subject of PayPerPost and linked to Stuart's post and quoted the note added to Tricia's ranking and the public flogging of Tricia began. I left my comments where I could while clutching my pearsl but mostly shook my head at Susan Harris falling for the link bait. A month or so before this whole PayPerPost thing erupted I had been contacted by a company that was selling an organic fertilizer that was offering me a link to my personal garden blog from their blog- if I wrote about the fertilizer. I declined and suggested that if they wanted people to write about them they should offer garden bloggers more than just a link and recommended they at least provide the next blogger(s) they contact with samples on top of the link. Then one day I was catching up with blog posts at GardenVoices when I see that GardenRant is writing about the company that asked me to write about them in exchange for a link and they're giving out samples. So I was really confused by Susan Harris and the shock she expressed over PayPerPost because I see no difference between what Tricia was doing and the post on GardenRant about the fertilizer.
I really don't have a problem with people writing about a product or service if they're getting something back (links, money or products) mainly because it isn't my blog. Maybe my indifference comes from learning at the knee of the beast (I have a degree in marketing) or perhaps I'm too apathetic for my own good. I know it bothers me when I see garden bloggers writing about a product or company and I know all they were "paid" with was a link. My personal garden blogs are monetized with Adsense and I'm pretty happy with my results. As of the writing of this post I don't have ads on this blog but I did put them in the feed. That being said, I don't feel like I'm in a position to judge a garden blogger who writes posts for some kind of pay because of my Adsense blocks. Back in '07 I tried unsuccessfully to explain this to Stuart Robinson in the comments of this humorous post of his.
Where is all this going?
"Let he who is without Adsense cast the first stone."
The subject is once again on the minds of garden bloggers because a company is going around asking people to write a post about them (even offering to write the post) in exchange for pay. They asked me to do it last year and I said no and when they contacted me earlier in the month to ask me again to write about them I declined and gave him a link to some negative comments by customers online and suggested they do something about their online reputation. I know they've been doing the rounds because they've asked other Chicagoland garden bloggers who are helping organize the garden blogger meetup in Chicago this May.
Pam at Penick.net has been approached by the same company and has a post up with numerous comments on the subject. There is also an idea floating around that a code of ethics should be developed by garden bloggers. Once again my thoughts are: "Let he who is without Adsense cast the first stone." MSS@Zathan Gardens pretty much expresses my thoughts on the subject better than I could back in 07 in the second link to Stuart's blog. I know people like to make a distinction but I don't see any. It is like film nerds who think documentary films are the purest form of film making and the people who disagree because once you focus a lens on something you automatically alter the behavior of the subject. In this analogy of mine Adsense is the lens, once you add it you change your behavior- even if you know it or not.
I think that creating a code of ethics for garden bloggers is a slippery slope. What comes next? A badge so we can openly exclude those "unethical" garden bloggers? What about those garden bloggers who don't keep up with the memes/badges/awards who won't know about this code of ethics? Will they get branded "unethical" by default or will we make a list to keep track of the really unethical garden bloggers? Maybe hold hearings where we shout; "Have you now or have you ever been a member of PayPerPost?!?!?!" loudly into microphones as we wave around handfuls of paper?
Who gets to be part of committee that decides what is ethical and what isn't? Will we do background checks to weed out the tax cheats, adulterers, speeders, people who fudge their age, height or weight? If we've learned anything from our politicians it is that people who want ethical behavior don't always practice what they preach. Looking over the comment section of Pam's post I see a couple of people who I don't feel comfortable deciding ethical behavior. The garden designer/landscape architect/or whatever that I recognize from a gardening forum. Hardly a question is answered without the answer being accompanied by a photos, links to the designers/landscape architect/or whatever's own work. Recently, I saw him/her provide an answer to a question with a link to an example of some garden design on a blog. The example was done by the designer/landscape architect/or whatever and the photos were on his/hers blog but the person never mentioned owning the blog. Was that ethical?
Another poster on Pam's comments has a garden blog/website with Adsense right in the beginning of the post. People who place the Adsense blocks in the beginning of the post so that it takes up half of the first paragraph of text do so because it is the first thing the reader sees and because there is a good chance the reader will accidentally click on the ads. Is that ethical? I've been tempted to do it myself but I find the practice tacky because of the deception involved. Instead of trying to decide what is or is not ethical maybe we should just follow our own moral compass and hope we aren't lead astray. How many of the garden bloggers who are interested in a code of ethics for garden blogs and who have ads would go one step further and follow a link disclosure policy on their blog? If we're going to be ethical lets go all out.
Pam deserves kudos for treating this subject with a lot of sensitivity. I'm not sure I would have thought to protect the identity of the company or the blogger the company ratted out, it is nice that she did.
Feel free to add your thoughts and comments.
In response to a comment by Susan Harris I've updated this entry with a link to my personal garden blog where I make reference to the company contacting me and I linked to GardenRant's post about the fertilizer company. At the time I didn't think to save the email pitch but a Google search shows that someone posted the email they recieved.
“We came across your site while conducting research on agriculture, gardening, and farming. There is a lot of great information on your site, and we are impressed. Many blog sites have been analyzed and when we came across yours we hoped that you would help us spread the word about Great Big Plants. To show our gratitude, we will also provide a link back to your site once something is written. Please take a look at the flyer to get a glimpse of what Great Big Plants has to offer. This organic, liquid compost has the equivalent of 8 large compost bags in one 32 oz. bottle. We believe your readers would find good benefit in knowing about Great Big Plants. If you feel the same, we encourage you to post about it. If you are interested, please check out the official site for the product at www.greatbigplants.com or visit the blog site at greatbigplantsblog.com.Thank you, and we hope to hear from you soon. “.
That's the same email I got. Probably the same email everyone else received too. Unfortunately, the blog in question is down but you can see the web archive of it here for the month of December, 2007. Look at the content of the blog- does it seem like it generated a lot of visits? Make sure to scroll down to see the blog roll. They do indeed give the link they promised in exchange for the blog post. And since this post is about ethics, take a look a what is happening here. The company has a domain for the fertilizer they make and a separate domain for the blog about the fertilizer they make.
Why not use the empty blog at the domain for the product? Why not create a page for these links there instead of reciprocating on a blog nobody reads and that isn't even viewable right now? Because the people in charge of the online marketing must be aware of the fact that the link from places like GardenRant would be diminished if it was reciprocated there. They got the free advertising without paying what it is worth, they got "link juice" and all the garden bloggers got a link that wasn't worth much.
Allow me to insult your intelligence by making another analogy; lets say I'm new in town and know nobody. I know the social circles you move in are the ones I want to be part of. So I approach you with a deal where you host a party for me at your house and introduce me to all of your friends and in exchange I'll do the same for you. So you plan this great party and put your reputation on the line and I get to meet all your friends and they become my friends. When the time comes for me to put together a party for you I don't have it at my house, where you'll meet my friends and family, instead I have you over to a place I own on the other side of town and it is just you and me looking at the ceiling. Do you feel like you got the shaft?
If someone is asking you to write about them it is because your blog has some worth to them. Make sure you don't end up in a boarded up tenement when doing the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" deals.