Posterous partnered with Viglink.com back in December as an experiment to see if we could generate revenue by adding an affiliate code to links that don't already have one. We chose to work with Viglink because their technology doesn't interfere with the user experience at all.
1. Links in Posterous posts are not edited in any way
3. Affiliate codes are not stripped or altered if they already exist
4. Copying links is unchanged
Before deploying this change, we tested it heavily to make sure we weren't doing anything that would be visible to the publisher or reader. The fact that it took 4 months for someone to really notice this is a testament to how unobtrusive it is.
Some people have commented that we should be sharing revenue back to the users. You are absolutely right. This is something we mentioned to Viglink at our very first meeting with them and something we will add when it's technically possible.
Admittedly, we should have announced this on our blog. This was definitely an oversight on our part. Our goal is to be 100% transparent with everything we do at Posterous, especially when it affects your blog and content.
From Posterous, we apologize. Going forward we will be sure to notify you of any changes we make to the site.
With regards to viglink: we really appreciate all your feedback and we're going to evaluate our use of the service going forward.
The fact that it took four months is a testament to how well you did what you could to hide it.
If you really want to be transparent you do these things in advance, and you make that a big part of your mission statement.
Four months is not an experiment, an experiment is something you do for a week or two, maybe a month.
Links should point to their destinations, any trickery under water to redirect links to something else than what the browser says it will do is well across the line of what's ok and what is definitely not. If you did that on your own content it would be bad, to do it on other peoples content is even worse.
Maybe YC should add a 'business ethics 101' as applied to the web with their investment package ?
Or do they encourage this sort of thing ?
Why not simply shut it off by default and allow your content producers to enable it, that way you take the sting out of it.
Posterous isn't stealing money from anyone, and to the end user they aren't changing a single aspect of the user experience. They are altering the links of content creators slightly. Now, let's discuss that.
These links aren't being redirected to anywhere but the original destination. Adding an unobtrusive query parameter is absolutely not the same thing as pointing everyone to another website. I respect the opinion that it shouldn't be done, but I don't agree.
There are two arguments in play, the first is that altering links at all is fundamentally wrong. I can't refute that because it seems to be purely opinion driven. I can only say that I disagree, and that to me, things which have no detectable impact on the end user are not fundamentally wrong.
The other argument, and the one I find particularly silly, is this notion that Posterous shouldn't be privately profitting off other people's content. This is, in fact, how the entire economy of the ad driven web works. Users create content, site owners make money. See Google ads. What Posterous is doing is exactly the same thing, except it's better because I don't have to actually look at ads and I can still support the site.
Should Posterous have told people? Yeah. Should they offer an option to turn it off? Probably. But these are relatively minor complaints about an otherwise harmless feature.
There would have been absolutely no harm in informing the users if they were not afraid that it would turn people away from posterous, but the way this now comes in to the open and the apology fall way short of what I'd come to expect of them. I'm not a user but I've done my bit to promote posterous and I feel that my trust that those people are in 'good hands' is misplaced.
Altering links is not fundamentally wrong, if you inform your user about it.
Profiting of other peoples content is fine too, if you are aboveboard about that being the deal.
Doing any of this without putting it loud and clear in your terms of service is definitely not ok.
And to make it seem like this was 'just an experiment' is stretching credulity to the breaking point and well beyond, that simply insults the intelligence of the users and the people here. The only reason it was four months is because that's how long it took for someone to figure it out.
There is nothing wrong with affiliate links, _as long as_ the visitor is aware of it.
> Our goal is to be 100% transparent with everything we do at Posterous, especially when it affects your blog and content.
I'm sure users will be forgiving, but your credibility may be blown (re: transparency) by not announcing something like this. Why is it so trendy to be 'transparent'? Why claim to adhere to principles that you clearly didn't follow?
(Sorry to nitpick! <3)
You (where "you" is any "you") don't have to be 100% transparent. You are expected though to be 100% non intentionally-opaque. Not the same.
1. Links in Posterous posts are not edited in any way
3. Affiliate codes are not stripped...
4. Copying links is unchanged
5. All outbound clicks are recorded by an obscure 3rd
party server without my consent or knowledge.
If there's a way for copied URLs to remain unchanged, I would have no problem with the viglink stuff.
You have a nice service, but this is too much. Also, it prompted me to take another look at your terms of service, which are surprisingly onerous. You've lost a user and an advocate. Good luck.
And really, what better blog alternative are you even going to go to?
If you move on because you disagree with a change in policy you do not owe a free service anything for the time they provided you, I really don't understand where you got that idea. It's not up to the end user to structure a service.
If Facebook decides on some silly move tomorrow which causes users to leave in droves that does not mean we owe them for the time before, the same holds true for posterous.
They could have avoided this by publishing it in their corporate blog and by clearly stating their affiliate trick in the terms of service. Anything less simply won't do, especially not after four months. After all, the only reason it is four months is because some user walked in to it after four months, it could have been eight just the same.
I wonder if they would be calling it an 'experiment' then too, or if they would agree too that that is stretching credulity.
I hate corporate speech.
They should have just written:
"Sorry guys & girls, we've messed up on this one, we have amended the terms of service, and we've reset the 'viglink' flag on all existing accounts, if you feel like giving us a hand then please re-enable it but if you don't we understand.".
That would have taken a bit more guts though, but I'll bet you it would have been received a lot better and would have possibly been a net plus for them.
My guess is that you get a huge portion of your traffic from Google. Google needs the Internet's link graph to work. Dynamically retargeting links would be a catastrophe for Google if it caught on. It is possible that Google will say "Well, that is our problem", but I wouldn't predict that based on their previous behavior.
Peculiar, eh? I agree that Google should be miffed about such things.
If middle-click is broken, then it does interfere with user experience.
The fact that it took 4 months for someone to really notice this is a testament to how unobtrusive it is.
Others have noticed it prior to this, Shamrin is just the first to blog about this. This is a horrible line of discussion, btw - to attempt to downplay your customers issues with "well, no one noticed".
I'm quite sure (wish I could remember where I read it) the crawler only actually performs GETs (which makes total sense because GET was always meant for retrieving and listing data), so a smart developer would use other HTTP methods (PUT, POST, DELETE) for actions that have modify existing application data.
We’ve avoided commenting until Posterous decided what they wanted to do in order to avoid interfering in what is no doubt a sensitive matter for them.
VigLink leaves decisions around disclosure up to our customers. Our terms of service require publishers to comply with all applicable local regulations but as these are still new and evolving, we leave it to our customer to judge what is most appropriate for their specific communities and their local legal jurisdiction.
In the coming weeks we will be working to make it easier for publishers to disclose the use of VigLink through branded badges a publisher may add to their site, linking to a clear explanation of what we do and offering the ability for a permanent customer opt-out. However, the ultimate decisions on how best to disclose will remain in the hands of our customers.
A few points of technical clarification:
We and our competitors do not affect the PageRank of a page. We have received assurances from Google that this is so (we are backed by Google Ventures) and Danny Sullivan has written that he’s received the same guidance from Google. (http://searchengineland.com/viglink-fire-forget-solution-to-...) Our publishers who watch these things closely report no change in PageRank as a result of using our code.
Posterous was not overwriting any existing affiliate links. Neither are 99% of our customers. The option is available for customers who would like it (those who run forums prohibiting commercial links for example) but very few have done so.
We work hard not to “break the web” – we don’t use redirects, ad blockers work as intended and even if our servers are unreachable the page continues to behave as expected. We’ve gotten reports that middle clicks under some circumstances were mis-behaving and so we’ve disabled all modified click rewriting until we get this issue sorted out.
We also work closely with merchants and affiliate networks to ensure we are meeting the requirements of their programs. Some merchants have “blacklists” or “whitelists” and we only affiliate links from publishers that those merchants find acceptable.
Any link can be marked “not rewriteable” by adding the attribute rel=”noskim” to the anchor tag. We will add a global tag that allows a page author to easily opt the whole page out of being rewritten.
Offering the ability for our customers to share the revenue with their customers is something we are investigating. There are numerous technical and business challenges involved but we hope to be able to offer this ability where appropriate in the future.
VigLink believes that sites that facilitate commercial activity are contributing to the ecosystem and unobtrusively deriving revenue from that activity is entirely appropriate. We recognize that community expectations about what is acceptable will vary widely and we think decisions about what’s most appropriate in a given context are best left to our customers. We are working to provide even more tools for all our customers meet the expectations of their community.
If you have comments or concerns about VigLink, you can contact us at email@example.com or me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
Co-founder / CEO, VigLink
(Adapted from the VigLink blog at http://vglnk.com/M )
Personally I use posterous as my personal site and I don't appreciate this.
as long as they're not rewriting existing affiliate links, this is about as unobtrusive as it gets
[edit: rewriting the links directly, instead of using a third party that necessarily obfuscates the url would be less obtrusive, but the principle is still the same]
I'm not against Posterous making money online to provide me a free service. However, they should be transparent and clear about it. When I sign up, I want to be notified about this. I'm going to create a blog, publish posts, make readership and stay a good time there; so I want to know whatever thing happens in my blog and not only be surprised about it when it happens.
Point 2 is that they didn't have a clear strategy how to monetize themselves (which is crucial since nothing runs for free) from the beginning.
Come on, but this is like saying "Get your free domain here" and then telling you that the domain is free, but only if you pay for the hosting :(
If they're serious about this they'll switch the feature off for all accounts up to the moment of modifying their terms of service, and make sure that new signups are properly informed.
This so called apology seems to mix up the meanings of the words 'unobtrusive' and 'sneaky'.
And they should allow people to opt out of this, either by going for a premium product or by switching it off on an account-by-account basis. And given the nasty way in which this was introduced the default for all old accounts should be OFF, new accounts know presumably what they're getting in to after the terms of service are modified to reflect reality.
Nobody wants to withhold income from posterous, it's just that this is about as bad as it gets when dealing with the trust of your users.
I'm personally pretty pissed off about it, I did a speech here in NL not that long ago comparing Ning and Posterous and presented posterous as a very good alternative without any of the nasty tricks that Ning has used over the years to lock in their users.
I wished I could eat my words now.
And don't get with the problem with will cause to the linked sites in term of Google juice.
I think this is an absolutely acceptable (and, incidentally, completely innocuous) monetization strategy. It's not like they're rewriting your blog posts to give the false impression you're a Nazi porn star child molester. (I would be against that, for the record.)
If they can't handle it, people shouldn't offer a free service. But don't run a service for "free" and then try to make money with shady business practices.
In other words, you are not entitled to running a service for free.
Well, legally speaking, they probably are, yes. You get what you pay for, and the current entitlement culture because a lot of "free" on-line services don't come with financial strings does not negate this basic fact of life.
Now, whether they should disclose that they are doing this so that those using their service can decide whether or not they wish to continue doing so is an entirely different question.
I don't think it is illegal to add those links. I for one will stay away from them, though.
Also, Facebook is free. Why did they bother to introduce new terms of service at all? According to you, they could just do whatever they want?
It is fundamentally different in law as soon as there is consideration in both directions, because then you have the basis of a contract.
However, if users aren't paying for the service (or otherwise giving some significant benefit to the service provider) then there is unlikely to be a legal basis for any obligation on the part of a service provider to those users. You can't have a one-way contract.
IANAL etc., but this is elementary contract law.
> According to you, [Facebook] could just do whatever they want?
Yes, they probably could, in law. Whether it is a smart PR move to alienate users of your free service by doing something that your user base does not like is a different question. After all, your users have no obligation to you either beyond whatever the use of your service is worth to them.
Also, it is not really free, Posterous is getting something in return. At the moment for example the affiliate links. So it would be a kind of quantum state contract? If they don't add the links, they are free, therefore it would be legal for them to add the links (or do bad thing X). Then suddenly they wouldn't be free anymore, and they would have to remove it again.
I don't think that makes much sense.
That consideration doesn't have to be financial, but there has to be something of value in the deal for both sides. Maybe in Posterous's case, a user could argue that providing the rights to use their content was consideration enough, and maybe a court would agree. This is where you start needing a real lawyer.
HN might be more of a hobby project, for the enjoyment of pg. Or it really helps YC to select candidates. If HN started showing ads, I wouldn't blame them. But maybe I would take my comments elsewhere. In fact I wonder at times how much my comments would have been worth in terms of SEO, had I put them in blog comments with a link to my web site, instead of commenting on HN. I probably made thousands of comments on HN by now. I kind of pay by contributing.
Just saying - just because no money transactions are involved, doesn't imply both sides have an advantage. Most "free" services simply want to build a user base and eventually get them to pay or monetize them in some other way. Therefore I don't feel like a freeloader just because I use a free web site.
I am not sure if there can be truly one sided contracts. At least in my country, contracts can "outrageous", for example, you can't have a contract forcing somebody to work their whole live for you in exchange for 1$. But in most cases, a mutual benefit is probably there.
It's perfectly legal to have a contract where no money changes hands at all.
The important part is that there is some kind of agreement between two parties (or more) that is defined in a formal way.
Money definitely need not change hands.
A 'one way contract' gives consideration to only one party, and in the case of posterous that is definitely not the case, after all, the user gets one thing, posterous gets another, both parties benefit, there is an agreement in place that governs the transaction which both parties have consented to. (You use webservices without reading the terms of service, which should be prominently displayed at your own peril).
edit: for reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract
This is the case in every jurisdiction in the modern world. I don't care what Wikipedia says: if it disagrees with this, literally ten seconds with any qualified lawyer will tell you that it is wrong.
So, consideration in both directions is present, the terms of service seal the conditions under which the agreement operates.
There is no 'legally speaking' here, this is not a lawsuit, it's just against the expectations that you create in the heads of your users, and that is always bad for your business.
That's why you disclose stuff, to make sure everybody is on the same page.
(a) Terms and conditions aren't worth anything unless they are legally enforceable.
(b) The terms and conditions for just about every blogging or social networking site claim a far-reaching right to use and modify any submitted material, and I've just confirmed that this includes the terms for Posterous.
(c) Whether it is bad PR for them to pull something like this is a different question.
A business operates on trust, this breaks that trust.
It's not just PR, it's a fundamental breach of the silent agreement between users and a service.
What your terms and conditions write in legalese and what you intend to do in plain English can be two different things but that isn't a long term strategy.
Nobody is going to sue posterous over this, mostly because there isn't any real damage to the end users, and yet they should have known much better than to even try and get away with this.
You are curiously pragmatic about this one moment, but then curiously hostile the next!
Sure, it is unlikely that anyone is going to sue Posterous over this. I was merely addressing the original question to which I replied, which asked whether someone running a free service was entitled to do what they want with it. I never wrote anything about this being a lawsuit.
By the same token, given that apparently this has been going on for months and it's only just been noticed, I'm betting that the impact on Posterous from all the righteous indignation on display in this HN discussion is also going to be negligible, so the guys running the free service are still entitled to do what they want (and accept the consequences, if there are any).
You brought the 'legal angle' in to it, I don't think that that has any place here at all, whether it is legally enforceable or not is not a factor at all.
If they want to do it, sure, they can but if they do it without alerting their users, in fact are going out of their way to make sure the users do not notice that's simply sneaky and counterproductive once it is - inevitably - discovered.
The fact that they did not seem to have any plans at all to disclose it belies their statement that this is 'just an experiment', as does the period it has apparently been live.
If someone feels they should apologize for this they should at least make it real, not just say we won't do it again, they should hit the 'undo' button to show they mean it.
Reasonable people can obviously disagree about whether there’s anything sneaky about what they did. I don’t think there is. What do you want them to do, send a mass email out to all their users—95% of whom could care less about this change? That’s just going to confuse a ton of their audience, and it would be completely counter-productive. I’m of the opinion that businesses aren’t obligated to be endlessly transparent to their users. Should Posterous send out a mass email to all users when they change the soup of the day in their employee cafeteria as well?
Caveat emptor. This is why I don’t store my data on free services which may decide to make changes like this. But even if I were, this change is completely harmless.
You shouldn't do it.
It's perfectly legal for me to wipe the histories of all my users from ww.com, it was equally legal for Yahoo! to wipe geocities.
But that doesn't make it right.
Sending a mass email to all the users when they change the cafetaria menu is a clear attempt at drawing this into the ridiculous, as contrasted by simply updating their terms of service and a two line blog post as to why they updated the terms of service.
I don't know what kind of email policies posterous has, maybe they have a mailing list, maybe not but that isn't really relevant.
It's common courtesy to keep your users informed and it helps to keep your users and your company aware of what the status quo is.
To wipe stuff like this under the carpet makes your company look untrustworthy.
So it's not overly idealistic, it's born from experience that you do this kind of thing at your peril.
I used to think those were 'my sites', over the past decade I have come to the conclusion that my fortune is that I hold stock in a company that owns a bunch of domain names and operates some servers that other people are good enough to stock with interesting content free of charge.
The second I start to pretend - even to myself - the content is mine to do with as I please I might as well shut it down.
The community of users owns the site, not the people nominally in charge of the data center and the domains, they're just along for the ride, as stewards, as guides and occasionally as enforcement.
If you don't believe that with all your heart do not get in to hosted content because you will eventually have a very rude awakening.
You might be right, but you haven't provided the slightest objective reasoning or empirical evidence to support your position anywhere in this entire thread that I can see. Even when you accused me directly of being incorrect, and I asked you to explain why with specific points you could debate, you still only repeated your objection to something I never actually wrote. What are you trying to prove here?
I don't find Posterous's business practices shady at all—they found a way to offer a free service to people while at the same time making some money off it in a way that users don't even need to be aware of. I think that is the definition of creating value—it's a mutually beneficial relationship. I don’t like how you’re trying to imply they're somehow immoral just because you don’t like what they’re doing.
If you don't like the way they do it, don't use it. Your content is being hosted at their pleasure. It’s like living rent-free at your aunt’s house and then getting ticked off when she sublets the basement to help cover the rent. You have no right to be upset over that—it’s her house.
Picking up on your renting example: if aunty offers me to let me live there for free indefinitely, and I move my stuff there at considerable costs, I think I would be pissed off. Not that I personally would like the arrangement to begin with, but still.
IANAL, but I think the only reason that a website offers terms of service (beyond any minimum legal requirements they must live up to whether they like it or not) is to give the appearance that they’re nice guys that care about their users. That makes users feel good; it’s a PR decision. But the business doesn’t have any obligation to make its users feel all fuzzy inside about the service. It’s just that it’s usually in the best interests of the business to do so, to the most reasonable degree possible.
And it’s good that business don’t have this obligation, because users can be stingy and irrational. Like, for example, when they get unjustifiably angry when the business finds a completely harmless way to support the free service.
Apparently this is a matter of taste.
I don't know, legally, whether they are allowed to do whatever they want. But it doesn't appear that they broke their terms of service, what more do you want?
There is always a certain amount of goodwill in interpreting contracts and TOS. If it turns out that a company is bending the wording to their advantage, it is a natural reaction to leave and avoid the company in the future.
Share cropper mentality.
As much as I agree to with your sentiment by not owning the server you post on this is what happens. Eben Moglin has delivered a great speech on the lack of "Freedom in the Cloud" ~ http://www.meetup.com/ny-tech/messages/boards/thread/8486342... The stand out quote:
"servers have gained freedom & you have not. welcome to the cloud!" - eben moglin ~ http://twitter.com/noneck/status/8700276388
Atm one could use Google App Engine for that, except I don't like being tied to their specific API.
Not saying everything should be/could be free. But the cloud could make it easier for people to have their own server (rented for a small fee), and run all sorts of stuff on top of it.
Pretty fucking much!
You've got it the wrong way around asshole. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't be USING a free service!
If you can't express your disagreement without resorting to name calling I guess you feel you've lost the argument ?
And no, you're completely wrong. Running a free service does not give you the right to run roughshod over your users, the users of free services have rights just like those of paid services and you are normally required to spell those out in your terms of service, preferably in language that your users will actually understand.
In fact, the people at posterous seem to have at least come to the conclusion that that is the way things ought to be and we can consider this experiment a one-off.
Transparency is not just because you want to be nice, it is because you want to keep yourself and your users on the same page, so that people don't feel taken advantage of.
A free service does not mean there is no understanding between the parties, it simply means the price is '0'. Even if you paid or got paid, there would still be an unwritten set of expectations underlying your usage of the service, and these should be clearly expressed in the terms of service (not the corporate blog).
If the service goes out of its way to make it seem as though your content is still intact, but in fact changes it underwater then that is 'sneaky'. If the service profits from that they're not 'clever', 'smart' or merely trying to make ends meet, they've changed the terms of the unwritten agreement, after the fact.
That is what is wrong here, not that they decided to charge you.
By your logic google can turn around next month and suddenly charge you for your gmail account, after all, you don't really have any say on the matter. Or they might decide to decrease the size of your mailbox to 10 MB. But that breaks the unwritten contract, just like this does.
Sure, your 'service' continues uninterrupted, but the fact is that they added something that changed users content without 'informed consent' on the part of those users, and they did everything they could to cover their tracks. The latter is advertised as being 'unobtrusive', I read it as 'we tried very hard to make sure we got away with it'.
It's double speak to present it as a way to make it transparent to the user, after all, changing the links inline and visibly would have been more transparant, not less.
Any change to the content, especially one that you profit from should be made explicit, it's part of the 'terms' of the agreement between the users and the owners of the service.
Yes, they can. At least, they can impose a charge and immediately discontinue providing the service to you if you don't wish to pay that charge.
Pretending otherwise just perpetuates the entitlement culture I mentioned earlier, and results in lots of upset people who somehow thought a free service owed them something. At it happens, Google is probably a relatively safe bet for the foreseeable future, but certainly other services have just folded overnight or dramatically changed their terms, and people have lost whatever data/content they had stored there.
If you have valuable data that you want to keep safely or present reliably, host it yourself, or get a company with a transparent business model and enforceable terms to host it for you.
I completely and unequivocally disagree with almost everything you said, though. I’m not entirely sure whether you’re speaking legally or on the level of what you think the company ‘should’ be doing from a moral perspective, but I think you’re speaking from a moral perspective.
But you’re attempting to say that the price does not matter, and here you can’t ignore the legal aspect, because price most certainly does matter in that respect. If you are paying for the service and there is therefore an actual honest-to-goodness contract between you and the business, then they do have a responsibility to continue to provide the service as stipulated in the contract. However, even then, it’s common for businesses to stop providing a service; if, for example, they refund your money. IANAL, but I imagine the Uniform Commercial Code provides for this sort of eventuality. Look at Lala shutting down: Apple decided to entirely remove the service off the face of the earth, leaving users entirely out in the cold. And they didn’t even refund anyone’s money—they just gave out iTunes gift certificates. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with this: they are making calculated decisions and they need to be free to make these decisions. Users must have an implied underlying understanding that the business may make changes like this.
But in the case of Posterous no monetary consideration is even changing hands and so the obligation is necessarily far more nebulous if there is one at all.
‘Sure,’ you’ll say again, ‘but I’m not talking legally, I’m speaking morally.’ OK—I’ll say again that I don’t think a business has any obligation to live up to whichever crazy expectation you happen to have dreamed up concerning their free service. Whatever your particular understanding of the service you are getting happens to be is completely orthogonal to what the business is going to decide to provide. If there’s one crazy guy in Butte, Montana who thinks Posterous is a dating site, and then Posterous decides to remove avatar images from the site, the guy in Montana just can’t complain that Posterous has ruined his ability to use the site as a way to look at pictures of potential dates. It’s their product, it’s their right to make any change they want.
Businesses, and especially web startups, need to be free to stay agile and change direction on a dime. They need to iterate to find a business model that works. Just because they were doing one thing in the past, people have no right to think the business is therefore forever after obligated to continuing doing so in the future.
I do think that it is absolutely within Google’s rights, if it so chose, to start charging money for Gmail tomorrow. It may break an unwritten contract, but that doesn’t mean they can’t nor shouldn’t do it if they decide that it’s in their best interest to do so. You may say from a practical standpoint that they’d lose 95% of their users if they did such a thing. But they are completely free to decide to make a change that drives off 95% of their users. I assume they would have calculated that the money they will make from the 5% of remaining users is worth it. Gmail is a bad example, though, because obviously Google is giving away the service for free because it brings in tons of eyeballs on their ads. If ad revenue in Gmail fell precipitously with no hope of coming back, do you think Google wouldn’t really start charging for it or cancel it altogether?
It’s ironic that you talk about ‘unwritten terms’ between the business and user, because someone already posted the Posterous terms of service, and it explicitly says that they might do this. So there are no ‘unwritten terms’—there are written ones and they explicitly allow for this, so it’s moot.
If you position your service as one thing, change it after the fact to become another you are shooting yourself in the foot, even if you are 'completely free to do so', not communicating with your users about such course changes is simply dumb. It costs nothing and will help you tremendously in the long run.
If you pretend that you did 'an experiment' whereas to everybody but the most deluded it is clear that you were simply trying to get away with it you again shoot yourself in the foot, this time you are coming across as dishonest.
Those are not long term strategies, even if you are legally speaking in the right to do so. If you liberally interpret your terms of service, instead of taking them as indicating the spirit in which a service operates than you are again playing fast and loose with your users.
If you want to be in the hosted content business in the longer term that is not a good course to be on.
As for the money changing hands bit, we've beaten that to death I think, here where I'm from (NL) no money needs to change hands for a contract to be in place, though it definitely helps if it does, especially since you can't really claim any damage if there was no monetary factor to begin with.
The way I've done course changes like that is to simply alert the community, either through newsletters or postings on the homepage, changes to the terms of service that spell out what the deal is in plain language that we do not try to interpret in some sleazy legal way that no ordinary user would ever think of.
It has served me well. I can't imagine doing it in another way would have served me as well, and I have some empirical data to back that up.
You build up your reputation slowly, it takes only one or two cock-ups like this to lose that reputation for good.
I'm sorry dude, but Posterous found a way to finance their site without plastering their homepage with ads for 'AdultFriendFinder'. The fact that I don't have women's crotches shoved in my face when I go to a Posterous blog means they're one step ahead of you.
The fact that you couldn't pull off what Posterous did without the sky falling on your business doesn't mean that it will for other businesses. When you've got $5 million worth of other people's money on the line and you need to find a working business model, I think you'd find your priorities shift pretty quick and you'd get down to brass tacks. Your particular experience does not generalize universally.
If a business is so pussy-whipped they're afraid to cover their bottom line with a completely unobtrusive way to make some scratch, without asking their customers for it directly or pimping out their site with dirty ads, I think that's a pretty sweet way to go. I'd rather be running the business that provides incredible value to its users for free but doesn’t have to ask them whether it can please go to the potty.
I've been 100% up front about having advertising on that site as a means of making it profitable, the interesting bit here is that I enabled those ads specifically in order to produce some data, the 9 years between 2001 and the posting listed below it has been ad free.
See this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1108677
It has been a lot of work and it will be a lot more work still before it is finished.
You're pretty quick to judge here just because of adult friend finder, ww.com has always had an adult component which we've tried very hard to eradicate, but since that seems to be impossible it is an excellent place to see how much money you can make with that kind of advertising.
Or would you rather have I tested that on reocities.com or so?
Posterous is doing fine without resorting to silly tricks, and they've done just that. It's a pity because they are one of the best sites in that segment today and they stand to lose a lot if they do stuff like this and not learn their lessons from it.
It goes against the spirit of affiliate programs, which is an exchange of actual promotion in exchange for commission.
The stores aren't gaining anything by allowing it since those links were already published. And it hurts other affiliates, not only by directly taking their commissions (because the most recent affiliate click before purchase counts), but also because it increases the total amount that the stores are paying out.
If this catches on, it will force merchants to lower their commission rates, causing them to lose publishers. I think that most merchants will end up forbidding the practice, just as many have forbid bidding against them in PPC campaigns.
Pretty neat, I think! Assuming they're not overwriting existing affiliate URLs, then this seems like a reasonable game to play.
In my mind, Posterous is providing free hosting / platform for the blog, so they have at least some claim to having helped make the affiliate sale.
This isn't going nearly as far in bending the rules on affiliate programs as Browsarity (another YC company):
(And good for Browsarity -- but I'm still surprised that various affiliate programs haven't disconnected them yet because of their much more tenuous connection to the underlying transaction.) [EDIT: clarifed this last sentence]
"They need to make money somehow" is not an excuse for being sneaky.
The only thing in their favor is that customers should probably expect a catch since the service is "free".
Keep up the good work, guys.
It has essentially no effect on the end user
Second, I sincerely agree that I would love to see Posterous earn a profit for such a great service. But "free is free", not "free if I exploit the links on your blog unaware to you". The blog content is the property of the blog owner (except if the owner explicitly makes it public property). I do not think it wise for Posterous to earn income from the blog content without the blog owner's explicit permission.
Third, the response from Posterous does not make it clear the plan to rectify the issue - it is just an apology. The apropriate response, I think, VigLink should be disabled immediately for all blogs. Then each blog owner can be given the option to either opt in (and hopefully gets a cut) or take their content elsewhere.
Just some observations.
Is that a problem? Depends; some readers are put off by this sort of thing. Witness the comments on HN when someone discovers an affiliate link in a article posted here.
You can dismiss this as a fairly benign way to increase revenue, but I'd prefer no one alter my content, benign or not, without telling me right up front.
Seriously, the possibilities for abuse of this are endless. Which is why the Powers That Be are going to come down on it like a ton of bricks.
It does not follow that because someone thinks a business has chosen a bad revenue model, that person thinks that any business having a revenue model is bad. Please don't write dross such as this.
If you want it deleted you should mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for it to be deleted. I've just done so.
1. Go to this post (the result of a Google search for Posterous and Amazon) - http://adeb.posterous.com/ubuntu-one-music-store-vs-amazon
2. Fire up a browser extension/add-on to monitor HTTP requests like HTTP Fox or HTTP Watch.
3. Click the link "here" at the end of the line: 1 install the rpm/deb from here
You can clearly see a request to:
The code for this is coming from viglink.com. If you disallow or block such scripts you do not see the added affiliate info.
There are a couple of companies in this space, viglink, skimlinks, etc. They all operate on the basis that they sign up to every affiliate scheme and they become the single publisher with which the merchants have a relationship (or more likely, the merchants use a marketplace that puts all merchants together so that they can be found).
For any affiliate program that viglink/skimlinks is signed up to, should someone click through from your site a 45 to 60 day cookie is usually set by the affiliate provider to show who the last publisher is that made the referral. Should a subsequent purchase be made viglink/skimlinks is credited with the sale and receives the 3.5% > 15% affiliate payment.
Catches (there are some)...
1) The cookie. Only the last web site to set a cookie gets the affiliate reward. In this case it means other sites actually providing value and setting affiliate click-thrus are going to get their cookie hijacked by posterous using viglink. So this hurts niche sites that really rely on the affiliate schemes.
2) The fee. Viglink and SkimLinks both deduct a 25% fee for this service. That's pretty damn high. They are VERY profitable.
1) As a publisher you get 75% of the money that is currently left on the table.
2) You didn't have to sign up to every damn affiliate scheme... actually you'd be declined anyway as whilst a merchant will deal with the big boys they tend to only like smaller guys who stay in their knowledge domain (if you don't run an insurance content site, you don't get the insurance affiliate scheme).
Basically viglink and skimlinks are simplifying the whole affiliate thing by doing for the publishers exactly what the merchants already had in places like Commission Junction... which is to provide a one-stop-shop.
So... merchants get found via CJ, AffiliateWindow, etc... and publishers get signed up to all merchants via Viglink, SkimLinks, etc.
What has ultimately happened is that now there are 2 intermediaries between the publisher and the merchant, both of whom take a slice.
I don't blame posterous for doing this, it is just money left on the table. But the cookie hijack will hurt smaller sites for whom the affiliate scheme revenue is a bloodline.
All they need do is to act like another viglink or skimlinks and to record the clicks made per publisher using their platform. Then offer the publisher 50% of the revenue.
This is then an incentive to use Posterous beyond all of the ease of use. Anything you posted that included a potentially monetisable link would earn you revenue.
Now, this isn't as lucrative as just doing it yourself. But to all of the creative people making cool content who are lost when it comes to affiliate schemes this would be a killer feature.
Spammers aren't entirely stupid, they'd go register direct and do what they usually do (set up little spam bait sites) as that would be way more profitable.
This would help small publishers more than it would assist spammers.
I only recently found out about these services, and my first thought was "cool!" But now, it occurs to me that they're built on very shakey ground. They only work if they're not popular. If they start becoming widespread, then the affiliate programs will have to lower (perhaps drastically) the commissions offered to compensate for the fact that suddenly every link is an affiliate link.
If that tag is added for me I lose that advantage in credibility AND I don't earn the money either, but somebody else does with my content and apparently without my knowledge.
That is annoying.
Imagine that someone's religion believes that you go to hell if you use affiliate links... posterous would have condemned them! (dramatizing works)
If you have a problem with posterous manipulating your content, you should probably be hosting your own content.
Having a paid version which would disable this would be another nice option for them to provide.
This game can turn into an infinite recursion.
The idea is actually pretty good. I'd definitely love a blog-engine plugin that would make sure I don't forget my affiliate ID whenever I'm linking something.
(just found something to look into)
I've checked Chrome Developer Tools. It does its magic via click event, installing vl_mC function as a listener.
Seems to me like some browsers take the URL that gets opened through the click event when you copy the link, but Safari does not.
Copied the link and pasted into the address bar in Safari - no change. However if I right-click, and choose Open Link in New Window, it briefly flashes over to VigLink.
Well, people probably don't know that wordpress.com and a bunch of services that host your content for free also use services very similar to this.
Everyone's getting angry at something that has been happening on sites for the past 2-3 years already.
This is the only thing that bothers me.
On the wire, it's just headers followed by \n\n followed by body the size of Content-length :-)
HTTP is a child's play.
http: // api.viglink.com/api/click?key=8eb8c964d...
But I am not experiencing that with a right-click in either Safari/Mac OR FF/Mac. He mentions Safari not being a problem. I find that FF/Mac isn't either.
EDIT: Any chance that they have disarmed this after getting all the bad press (at least on HN)?
I tried with each link in the article, and not a single one of them is redirecting via Viglink.
(edit) Using Firefox 3.5 on Linux
I don't honestly see what the big deal is. You can barely tell anything is happening.
Two easy ways to get around it: url shorteners and redirect services.
a. The links.
b. The disclosure.
Item a is very well debated. What about b? Why aren't users notified of it? If it is a recent change, why wasn't it announced? Etc.
All I want is my readers to go to the simple http://apple.com/wwdc link and not all that junk. Posterous was awesome before this.
This is unrelated to the discussion at hand.
As easy as it is to miss, I bet there are a lot of sites doing this now.