There were some pretty heated comments flying around so I thought that it’d be best to let things calm down slightly before attempting to pen a response. With that in mind,
I’d like to do three things today:
- Talk about what went wrong.
- Clarify the content of the post, and the reasons for writing it.
- Clarify our editorial policy and talk about the future.
What Went Wrong
We’ve read every single comment, every blog post, every Facebook thread, and every tweet. I think it’s fair to say that Godwin’s Law was pretty well fulfilled.
That’s all I’ll say in the context of “we” – the rest is all me:
The subject in question is one that I know and care about. A few years ago I started out in one of the UK’s largest SEO companies, and it was there that I developed a disgust with most things to do with SEO. It was at this agency, you see, that I discovered the entire business model of SEO was to create spam blogs with fake content and paid links – then bill clients thousands of pounds per day for services rendered. The very idea that this was a professional service at all made me pretty sick.
I developed a passionate hatred for cluttering the internet with bogus content and links. Leading people completely astray, purely for the sake of commercial gain. I parted ways with the agency after 6 months. It should have been sooner.
So if the post came across as preachy (and I am reliably informed that it did) then it’s down to my own guilt. I was writing with this in mind, rather than what I should have had in mind: How is this subject relevant to travel bloggers and how can we approach it constructively? It could have and should have been a more professional post as a representative of Travelllll.com.
So what went wrong? Basically, it was rushed – and a post that was all but a draft got published before it was ready.
Travelllll.com has a minimum quota of 3 posts per day in an effort to bring you a constant stream of news and content. Publishing that quantity of content is no mean feat, and after 2 months, we slipped up on scheduling. I was responsible for writing the last post of the day on Thursday and I wrote it out in my standard, outspoken fashion, but without enough consideration. I stand by the core content (and we’ll come back to that in a moment), but the threatening tone and approach of the article was wrong to begin with, and wrong to have slipped through the editorial net before being published.
This was a single opinion piece written by me on the subject of paid links. There are 133 other posts, 8 pages, 5 categories, 15 post types, and 319 tags. This site is not just my views, opinions, and words – it is made up of many people who work very hard.
The Content ItselfFirst, let’s clarify what paid links were actually being discussed:
Undisclosed paid contextual links inside the content of a blog post, with no indication or disclosure that they are sponsored. This is the reason the original article referred several times to “phony content”.
Here’s where the biggest failing on my part came in: My issue with this subject revolves almost entirely around the integrity of the content. I was referring to people who use undisclosed paid contextual links to the extent that the original content was degraded in value. Note, that the original Gawker article referenced was a gentleman suggesting to bloggers that they should hide links from their editors to get the content published on a site. I believe a very small number of travel bloggers actually use paid links to this extent, but we’ve all come across it in some form at some point. Had I articulated this properly, perhaps the responses would have been very different.
When I suggested reporting blogs of this nature – I didn’t mean that all travel bloggers should start reporting each other or turning against each other. I was suggesting that we might clean up the industry by talking about the ones who are damaging it. Where’s the line? I don’t know. That’s certainly a point of discussion. As the old saying goes… News is something that someone doesn’t want printed. Everything else is advertising.
In hindsight – was this a good suggestion? Probably not. Was my reasoning behind it malicious or an attempt to turn bloggers against each other? Also no.
I’m happy to make a commitment to you that while we won’t shy away from talking about the subject or news surrounding it – we won’t be calling anyone out publicly for having paid links on their site.
When the comments started rolling I thought I’d pissed off the few people who were actually abusing paid links. By the time it became clear that everyone thought I was talking about them – it was too late.
I rewrote the most contentious parts in the article immediately after this point, in an attempt to reduce the careless/agressive tone, which brings me to my final point…
Our Editorial Policy
This site, from day one, has had a system in place which *always* makes public any changes to an article after it has been published. Any post that has been edited has a “Post Revisions” link at the bottom. This is, and always has been, clearly outlined in our editorial policy. It allows you to see every revision of the post, what was added, what was taken away, what was changed. It’s the most comprehensive and in depth text version-tracking that you’ll find on any site.
A couple of people have implied that this was hidden or deceptive. The reality is that it’s always been there, and while we clearly haven’t made enough effort to draw people’s attention to it, it isn’t something we’ve been dishonest about in any way.
Based on Friday’s comments, I understand that people feel this isn’t enough – so effective immediately we are adding to our editorial policy that any edits made to a post after publication which significantly alter the tone and/or meaning of the content will additionally be disclosed by a yellow info-box at the end of the post.
Lastly, there was also some confusion about the nature of staff responses to the post. Please note that all Travelllll.com staff comments are clearly labelled with blue staff badges. If there’s no badge, then the commenter’s views are their own.
The subject of the integrity of content is an important one, and paid links play a big part in that. It’s a subject that we certainly aren’t going to police you on, but Sheila Scarborough was very much on the money with her comment on the original post. She said:
I’m not sure that the point of Travelllll is to do much squishy-huggy “supporting of the travel blogging community.” Like Tnooz covers and reports on travel tech, this site launched to cover all aspects of travel blogging as a creative outlet and/or a profession…
We’re going to keep on talking about stuff that’s contentious. You’re probably not always going to like it, and you’re definitely not always going to agree with it . But you know what? We’re going to do better at it, we’re going to put a lot more consideration into how we go about it, and we’re going to keep listening to your feedback.
Thanks for holding us, and our annoying domain name, to a higher standard. Sorry – for the way in which this was handled.
Photo by TumbleWeed:-)
- 9 December, 2011 @ 10:21 [Current Revision] by John O'Nolan
- 31 October, 2011 @ 22:42 by John O'Nolan