Monday, July 11, 2005

The Shot Heard 'Round the (Affiliate) World

This is the story of how a little thing like the title in an RSS feed became The Shot Heard 'Round the World - the affiliate marketing world. It's also a lesson in un-intended consequences.

It was a blazing hot June day in New Orleans. My roomate was still asleep as I sat freezing at the desk in our musty, overly-air-conditioned hotel room checking email, when a title in one of the RSS feeds I subscribe to caught my eye. It more than caught my eye, as it was uncharacteristically inflamatory and I bristled simply at the sight of it. It was compelling enough for me to read it immediately rather than wait for when I returned home and had likely lost sight of it.

"The Useful Idiots of Affiliate Marketing" - It was obvious the blog's author meant it to be an evocative, eye-catching headline, and it bore an equally provocative message that berated some of The List's more vocal critics. Giving the author benefit of the doubt, it might have started out as a back-handed way of generating buzz rather than to silence criticsm. Either way it probably seemed like a brilliant strategy at the time.

What doesn't appear to have been factored in was the blowback. If there was ever a solid moral ground for The List and it's supporters, it was lost then and there.

Now I had heard of the List's release and paid little attention to it, thinking it no big deal. But this was the first I had heard of a controversy - even while attending a conference of 2000 webmasters - and I decided to pay closer attention. Having been myself on a backchannel of this for a while, since before the list was published, I was privvy to information not available to the blog's author. I knew there had to be something more to it than a group of allegedly uninformed or disgruntled message board members or the jealousy of what this commenter on Revenews referred to as "$75 a month bitch(es)"*. I shot an email off to a colleague that had been contacted by the list's publisher two months prior. However it was early on, and after some discussion, we decided to let it drop.

But something just didn't sit right; my savvy-ass gut kept trying to tell me something, and I kept track of the talk even though it appeared to be winding down. Some of the "useful idiots" were saying they found out they were on the list but they'd never been notified by the list owner, nor had they given permission to be listed. Some were saying personal contact information, rather than business information, had been used in their listings.

Once again I emailed my colleague who this time investigated the matter further. Soon, questions arose concerning the source of the financial data used in creating the report. The rest, well, you probably already know. If not, you can read the sordid saga from where my story leaves off right here

My purpose in recounting the sequence of events here is to illustrate how a little inflamation can have un-intended consquences for the inflamer and rouse a sleeping giant. You can view the outcome of that arousal here, here, here, here, .... the list grows by the day.

Now back to the target of the original epithet - those "Useful Idiots of Affiliate Marketing". Useful? I'd definitely say so. But idiots?

This is where someone could easily say something like "who's the 'useful idiot' now?" Considering the author's behavior, it would be warranted, but it's not my way to gloat or to berate someone I suspect was misled and may be as much a victim as the rest of those who have been touched by The List's poisonous talons. At least, I hope that's case, because from where some of us sit, it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between his own behavior and that which he has ascribed to others.

So once again, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think he owes the community an apology, for his own good as much as for the community.

T.S.A.

Note: I am not a participant in the venue referenced in the "Useful Idiots" article, nor am I a "$75-a-month bitch" as mentioned by this commenter on ReveNews - I've made my living at this for several years. I do, however, take serious moral and professional umbrage to both epithets, as do many of my colleagues. One doesn't have to be "an ABWer" or a "$75-a-month bitch" to find such ad-hominem attacks offensive.

* "$75 Dollar a Month bitches" was originally coined by an ABW poster known as "Shrimp_Dipped_In_Butter" in 2002. He was subsequently banned from there and appears to have cheerily taken up residence at ReveNews.