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Now I know how Clive Barnes feels


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July 27, 2006

Now I know how Clive Barnes feels

Stephen Baker

The phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my sister from Portland telling me about a full-page Ask.com ad in Tuesday's New York Times. It quoted one of my blog posts in very big letters. I haven't seen the ad, but my words, according to my sister: "From now on, I'm going to start using Ask.com..."

At first I felt like a movie critic whose single words--Gripping, Spellingbinding, Awesome!--are lifted from reviews and plastered on billboards. I dug up the blog post. It was a favorable look at Ask, so I cannot say my words were taken out of context. Here's the paragraph:

Are ads, sponsored links and search engine optimization screwing up search results? I just did a little test, and my conclusion is Yes. From now on, I'm going to start using Ask.com and other less popular sites, because I think they're less polluted by all of the above.

I should probably note that despite that bold statement in May, I still find myself typing search requests in the handy Google slot on the Safari browser. This is the giant's built-in advantage, its installed base. Ask will need to knock off my socks a few more times to disrupt my search routines. Just did a little test and searched the post on both engines. Ask responded with one post, the correct one. Google found 85, but put the correct one first.

11:19 AM

search

I am sure no connection but first thing I thought when saw this post in my aggregator was that when I click to your blog I am going to see a big ad for Ask.com running across the top.

Could cause some folks to ask this question. If Ask.com were not paying BusinessWeek, would they get a strong testimonial like that from a BusinessWeek reporter/columnist?

Posted by: Kevin OKeefe at July 27, 2006 01:13 PM

Kevin,

People will doubtless ask all sorts of questions all sorts of questions about relationships between the press and advertisers. I doubt we can say much to satisfy them, because if they believe we're dishonorable enough to sell articles and blog posts, we're certainly sleezy enough to lie.

All I can say is that between the magazine, online and the blogs we review or discuss hundreds or thousands of products a year. Some of them we praise. Others we pan.

Perhaps the only hope to convince skeptical readers is to say that I'm sure we get lots more money from advertising than we could possibly get from selling reviews. And if the advertisers got wind that we were selling reviews, there's a good chance they'd think twice about associating their brands with our product.

Posted by: steve baker at July 27, 2006 02:27 PM

"At first I felt like a movie critic whose single words--Gripping, Spellingbinding, Awesome!--are lifted from reviews... "

Spellbinding you mean... not spellingbinding. You've definitely not lifted that one off any review!!

Posted by: Sonja at July 28, 2006 07:17 AM

In a much smaller fashion, about a year ago I also found one of my posts used as a product review. At that time it got me to thinking seriously about the whole relationship brought up in the first comment. In the end, it seems to really come down to whether or not a reader trusts the writer. We obviously can't truly know the details of the advertising relationships behind the scenes. So we find ourselves back to one of the big issues that hasn't quite entered the main stage: Reputation. Not just on the organizational level, but now on the personal level.

Posted by: csven at July 28, 2006 09:30 AM

Sonja, you've never been spellingbound? Sounds like something I went through in fifth grade. Very unpleasant.

Funny thing, I've just noticed that an Ask.com ad banner is appearing atop this very page. As Col. Schultz used to say on a beloved tv show, I know nothink, nothink, nothink.

Posted by: steve baker at July 28, 2006 11:06 AM

Steve, your response on the relation of the press and advertisers was right on.

My comment which could be taken no other way than to imply an endorsement in return for ad dollars is a comment I should have paused a bit longer on before hitting the 'post' button. You've been candid and frank through out your blog publishing. Guess that's what I am a subscriber.

Posted by: Kevin OKeefe at July 28, 2006 07:52 PM


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