Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Paid Inclusion Controversy, Ethics, SPAM, and MSD2D


In the early part of 2005, Yahoo (NasdaqGS:YHOO) ran headlong into an ethical debate over the inclusion of paid sponsors' links in the results of users' queries to their search engine. The practice of providing context-sensitive advertising based on a user's search query (i.e. paid inclusion) is nothing new, and of course companies such as Google (NasdaqGS:GOOG) make a living on it. However, the moral debate Yahoo encountered was that these paid advertisements were not distinguished in any way from organic results. In other words, users were led to believe that a given item was ranked highly in the results of their search because of relevance, but in fact the item was ranked highly because some company paid for it to be there. The fact that Yahoo would employ such an obviously unethical practice is one reason I continue to use Google.
What does Yahoo's paid inclusion controversy have to with SharePoint? Well, several times per week I receive e-mail messages from a company called Penton Media under auspices of their MSD2D brand. All incoming messages I receive from MSD2D now go directly to my junk e-mail spam folder. Why? Simply put, I block the MSD2D messages due to unethical practices. The main content area of these MSD2D e-mail messages is labeled "Feature Story" and for all practical purposes appears as though it is a SharePoint-related tip from some industry expert. However, the reality of the situation in that these "Feature Story" installments are actually written by paid advertisers to peddle their products and services. In fact, MSD2D requires that any advertiser which wants to run a banner ad in one of their "Special Issue" spam e-mails also submit a "Feature Story" to run concurrent with the more obvious banner advertisement. This practice of deliberately duping the reader is unethical and merits my spam blocker.
So here is my notice to MSD2D and Penton Media: If you want out of my spam blocker and back into my inbox, re-evaluate your advertising ethics. Provide real value by including unbiased content from actual industry experts, even if you have to pay them for it. Label your advertisements clearly with a "Paid Advertisement" heading or some such. You have the largest mailing list in the SharePoint industry, and paid advertisers need you in order to market their products and services. Stop sullying and diluting your brand with questionable practices and subjecting the members of your mailing list to valueless spam.
The contents of this post are my own personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer SharePoint Solutions.
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