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Friday, December 17, 2004

Who are these guys?

In the nearly two and a half years that this blog has been up and running, I've been bragging that I don't take ads, and promising that I won't.

Well, now I'm breaking that promise -- sort of.

You may have read about an outfit called Marqui that is paying bloggers to blog about it. It's based in Vancouver, B.C., but I hear it's about to open up shop right here in Portland. Anyway, Marqui sells a service that techies call a CMS -- I think traditionally that's meant "content management software" but Marqui prefers to call it "communication management software." (Can you tell how clueless I am about this?) If you'd like to see and hear an animated demo of what it's about, just go here.

The Marqui folks think they've got a great product (I think it's more a service than goods), and they were looking for a cool way to spend a few hundred thousand bucks to spread the word about it. And that's where the bloggers come in. Rather than buy traditional advertising, Marqui has decided to see if it can get itself mentioned on some established blogs, rack up some Google hits, and reach its audience a different way (and perhaps a slightly different audience as well). The novelty of the approach is also likely to attract some free publicity. Sounds edgy, but it's got potential.

When I heard about the program a week or two ago, and with two college funds always in the back of my mind, I e-mailed Marqui to inquire, and well, here I am on the roster. As of today, there are just over 20 of us bloggers who have been offered, and taken, the bait.

So what does it mean for this blog? Well, for the next three months, once a week I must make, as the lawyers put it, a "textual mention (with URL link) about Marqui and its Communication Management Software." I've also got to put a Marqui logo up, which I've done. As far as I can tell, that's it, and Marqui says "it wishes to give [me] the freedom to make any comments, positive or negative, about [their] service." Oh, and I'm encouraged to learn more about the company and its customers, about which Marqui will no doubt be educating me beyond my wildest dreams.

Why would I do this? It's several hundred bucks a month, but it's also intruding into the very body of the blog -- my precious little journal. I'm reminded of one of my favorite albums as a kid, "The Who Sell Out." Is it worth it?

Well, for one thing, I don't think it will be too intrusive. All I have to do is mention these folks and link to them once a week. I'll probably do more, but that's up to me. Besides, this makes me feel like a professional writer again -- paid to go out on assignment, as it were -- and I like that.

But perhaps most importantly, this could be the start of a new phase in the evolution of blogs. Blogging is like rap music: It was looked down upon by the established artists when it first appeared, but it's here to stay. There could come a day when it takes a serious bite out of the advertising industry. And if it does, it will be kind of neat to have been there at the dawn of that trend.

Comments (18)

Its my opinion that those who "sell out" are generally happier than those who don't. Good for you. You deserve a little something for all the work you've put into this blog.

Does this mean all those hits are now "profit hits?"

It's like my job as a teacher -- I'm paid to do something enjoyable.

Pretty much exactly what I was going to say. If you're already doing something you like, why not get paid to do it? I love to read science geek stuff, so I asked around until I found somebody who'd pay me good money to work in Portland and do it. Can't be a paying gig that you like. Just don't give up your day job (yet).

Makes perfect sense to me. You're setting your own (high) editorial standards, you're not being forced to compromise them, and you get to make some money while you're at it.


"Can't BE a paying gig"?

Can't BEAT a paying gig.


Jack - The only folks who complain about 'sell-outs' are the the losers who CAN'T sell out. Go for it!

Um, Jack, have you actually used Marqui? It looks like a fascinating service, but there's a difference between taking advertising and making an endorsement...

If you've never used it, how can you endorse it in the editorial side of your blog? I think blogs are different than mainstream print news media, but there's something to be learned from their ethics.

Better to keep editorial and advertising separate. I'd have no problem taking their dollars for ad space, but editorially endorsing or mentioning - when otherwise you wouldn't - no way.

Here's another reason. If you got another deal like this, would you take it? And another? And another? How many would you take before you stopped bothering to disclose that you're going to be editorially endorsing/mentioning them?

And once you stop disclosing, or at least your readers think you might have stopped disclosing, what does that do to the credibility of the rest of your blog?

For that matter, how do we know you haven't already been bought off by the anti-tram folks?

"Editorial"? I think you're taking blogging a bit too seriously. Readers shouldn't need to "trust" anything they read on line, including here.

If another deal as strings-free as Marqui's came along, sure I'd take it, and disclose it. Those who are uncomfortable with that can stop coming to this site any time.

BTW, I haven't "endorsed" anything.

Maybe I am taking it all too seriously, and yes, we're often sometimes silly in our blogs, but we also take on and talk about important stuff. I think there's an obligation to readers to be 'trustworthy'. Otherwise, what's the point?

Oh, and you have endorsed Marqui. Right here:

"Elf: There's been a marketing guy hanging around from an outfit called Marqui. They say they have communications management software that could help us."

Sure, it's silly fiction, but that means it's basically just a product placement. And yeah, four lines later 'Elf' tells us he can still be objective... but....

In any case, I think there's an ethical line that's crossed when you shift from ad space in the sidebar to mentions in the editorial, er, "stuff you write".

And I'm not the only one:


Jason Calacanis, co-founder of New York-based Weblogs Inc., is among those most concerned about the pay-to-blog model. He says the separation of advertising and content works well in traditional media and should be maintained on blogs. He says that although many of Marqui's bloggers are going out of their way to distinguish the sponsored section from the rest of their blogs, it leaves readers skeptical. "Every time they write anything remotely related to that category of software, a certain percentage of people are going to remember that they were on the payroll of that other software company. And it's going to taint everything they do," says Mr. Calacanis, whose company publishes several commercial blogs, which are supported through traditional advertising.


I'm not saying Marqui, a Canadian firm forking over for paid mentions on certain weblogs, is a big fat liar. I'm not saying adverbloggers working for Marqui are a bunch of two-bit whores. I'm not saying either of those things because they are probably not exactly true. My relationship with you, dear reader, is based on trust and transparency.

Kari, that's three posts saying the same thing. You made your point. Now take a few weeks off from posting here.

Ad space? Fine. That's how media makes money. Text mentions? Bad. No matter how clever they're written.

Thanks for your additional comment, Kari.

If you're talking about the Chris B. post, that's from me, Jack. I often don't use my full name because I'm pretty lazy. Nor would I post three or four times on one subject unless I have something new to say.

No problem, Chris. I was just having one of my hissy fits with another commenter after he had the nerve -- the nerve! -- to question something I was doing. You got caught in the crossfire -- a case of mistaken comment identity.

Actually, I've cooled off and am once again ready to be called out for the slut that I have become. But I'm still going to do the Marqui thing.

Went back and re-read my comments. Just to clarify, I'm not questioning your ethics, Jack. I think your ethics are just fine.

I'm questioning the ethics of the entire Marqui advertorial concept - and trying to add something to the discussion about how this new-fangled whiz-bang 'blog' thing is supposed to work.

Now, Marqui is being very upfront about all this - and asking their folks to be upfront, too. I'm more concerned about the precedent it sets. How soon before we start seeing undisclosed product placement mentions in blogs?

"I ran into a friend of mine the other day down at Starbucks. She was having that lovely new vanilla frappucino, but I went with my usual mocha. Anyway, blah blah blah..."

If the paid nature of the mention is disclosed, I'm not seeing any problem at all. If readers are turned off, it's the blogger's loss.

Even undisclosed ones don't bother me too much. There isn't a media outlet in the world that isn't influenced at least slightly by who its advertisers are.

Here's a hypothetical for you to ponder: Say you moderated a blog with multiple contributors. Say a few of those contributors are potential clients of your own consulting business. What if one of those contributors starts publishing inappropriate material on the blog? Will you pull it as quickly as you would that of a contributor who wasn't a potential client?

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