Techmeme polluting its own results?

The ‘sphere is full of glowing approvals of techmeme’s new sponsorship model. I agree that this new model (sponsors’ latest blog posts are listed on the right) is a HUGE benefit to techmeme advertisers, but I’m concerned about the problems it creates for readers.

Since everyone who visits techmeme sees the sponsored posts, these posts are more likely to be read than other posts AND are more likely to be linked to than other posts. This means that sponsored posts will very likely end up on the techmeme front page. This artificial bump to advertisers, in my opinion, reduces the value of the ranking system that techmeme employs. Google is able to provide isolation between organic and sponsored results. That may not be possible here.

One solution may be to exclude these posts, and the discussion they cause, from techmeme’s index. Another may be to highlight those discussions to indicate to readers that the discussions may be ‘tainted’.

Gabe will probably find a solution that works and maybe I’m just over-reacting. 🙂 OR, maybe my pollution-free expectation is built on the Google sponsored-links model and I need to change my thinking to accept more intrusive advertising (sarcasm).

Update:

Thai’s post and George’s response in the comments raise great points. For instance, Gabe has a great service and he ABSOLUTELY has a right to make that service financially successful. I agree that sponsored posts may be a great way to do it in an innovative, topical and ultra-targetted way!

My point is that I think it’s in the best interests of the readers (or at least me) to limit the amount of impact Techmeme sponsorship dollars have on the organic results of Techmeme. If you don’t agree with me there, then you can disregard my post.

How can sponsored posts affect the organic results? Lots of ways. Bad ways: Semi-Pro Bloggers, aware that sponsored posts (because of their exposure) are more likely to end up in the organic results, link to them. Not too bad ways: Bloggers are genuinely interested in a point raised by a sponsored post and discuss/link it. Advertisers find that certain types of posts generate more interest than others. They refine their messaging to be more blogger-friendly. In all of these situations, the advertiser is given a hit or miss advantage over organic content.

Most of my concerns relate to the abuse of the system either by advertisers or bloggers and how those abuses (subtle and non) could pollute the organic results. Luckily, Gabe has been on the ball in the past when there were concerns about gaming the system. He hand-picked the first 3 spots, possibly to avoid these kinds of issues.

Note: At this writing, 2 of the sponsored posts haven’t appeared (as far as I can tell) in the organic section and the one that has is extremely topical.

4 responses to “Techmeme polluting its own results?”

  1. George Nimeh says :

    Gabe has a right ot make a living, and this idea is the best I’ve heard in terms of his ability to make some money whilst offering something that has potential value to his readers.

    Sure beats a banner or Google AdSense.

    Why should you conclude that just because an RSS ad is on the page, people will link to it more? That certainly isn’t the case with banners. Doesn’t it depend on the quality of the message? If the information/conversation in the sponsored space is valuable, then people will talk about it. If it sucks, they won’t.

    Should TechCrunch posts (widely talked about but blogged as a business) that show up on Techmeme be tagged, excluded or highlighted as well?

    What about things that people blog after reading about them in a press release or magazine ad or see on TV? Should that be tagged, excluded or highlighted?

    Where do you draw the line, Josh?

    I think Gabe has drawn the line very clearly between what is content and what is sponsored/paid leaving the control over what happens next clearly in the hands of his readers.

    ~G~

  2. Gabe says :

    Ah, but what if sponsor X has really big news that would have made Techmeme anyway?

    In any case, there are bigger financial forces that drive news on Techmeme than my meager sponsorships! Hard to say where purity ends and impurity starts, especially if unpaid bloggers really are interested in discussing something.

    -Gabe

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