Jason Calacanis Thinks Affiliate Marketing is BS – ASW08 Keynote

February 26, 2008 - Written by Gyutae Park  

Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas has been an eye-opening experience for me. Never before have I been surrounded by so many like-minded and interesting people who are passionate about what they do with their online businesses.

The event officially started off this morning with a keynote from Jason Calacanis, co-founder of Weblogs, which later sold to AOL, and more recently founder of Mahalo, a human-powered search engine.

jason calacanis asw08 keynote

Honestly, I thought Jason’s keynote was a bit too harsh, self promotional and hypocritical even though it did have some good tidbits of information. Don’t get me wrong. I love Jason’s work and his vision for the Internet. However, much of what Jason had to say was either unfounded or unfair. It was controversial to say the least, but it goes along with his “SEOs are snake oil salesmen” article.

Before I expound on my thoughts, allow me to first give an overview of the keynote speech.

Jason starts off by giving a history of the Internet, which has provided free communication, free information, and a level playing field for all. The first Internet application was Usenet, the prehistoric form of blogs and forums of the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, the system was killed off by overzealous marketers who resorted to spam.

In the same way, online systems continue to be gamed today. Google is constantly polluted with thin affiliate sites and malware sites that attain high rankings via link manipulation. Social media sites are filled with garbage dumped by self-serving site owners and SEO’s. The general belief held by many webmasters is that if they are technical enough to do something to game the system, then it’s okay.

Jason states that we can only abuse these systems so much before they eventually collapse. We let it happen to the affiliate marketing industry and companies simply don’t have the time or resources necessary to police the landscape. Looking only for profits, we poison the web – until none of the users we are “serving” remain.

Curation is coming

But there is hope. Curation is becoming popular because it’s good business. Companies are beginning to police their services, anonymity is being reduced, and bad people are being punished.

Below are some examples

  • Angie’s List prohibits anonymity – must sign up with a credit card
  • Facebook requires a real person for each profile, unlike the fake profiles on MySpace
  • Fake profiles difficult on LinkedIn
  • Techmeme has less spam than Technorati
  • Bloglines is the best blog search because it requires blogs to be white listed first

Effort vs. Monetary Reward

  • low work, high reward – spammers
  • low work, low reward – spammers manipulate people into buying their systems
  • high work, low reward – sucks, but at least you feel good
  • high work, high reward – satisfaction, pride, and honor

Arguments against gaming

  • Human-powered search can’t be ignored
  • The semantic web is impossible to game
  • Increasing number of niche high quality sites will make it impossible to compete with a thin affiliate site

Arguments for gaming

  • Any system can be gamed
  • Gamers are getting smarter and smarter
  • Social networks and search engines are ultimate convert marketing systems

What you should do (the selfish version for Mahalo)

  • Stay the course
  • Keep polluting the web with low quality sites
  • Increase amount of gaming in social news
  • Find new ways to covertly advertise
  • Use malware

What you should do (the unselfish version)

  • Realize you’re at the bottom of the food chain and fight up
  • Create loving long term relationships with users based on high quality content and services
  • Give up a life of crime holding up checks with only 6 figures
  • Realize that you’re smarter than half of the people working at large Internet companies

The bottom line

  • Someone could create the next Google, Yahoo, Digg, StumbleUpon, Flickr, Gawker, Weblogs, etc.
  • But probably won’t because they’ll take the quick buck for fear of failure. Potential disappointment that comes from trying to do great things and failing is too great.
  • If you fail, just try again. Dream big.

My thoughts

Jason goes on to bash some of the affiliates who have posted pictures holding their 6-figure checks. “Is this the best the affiliate marketing industry has to offer? That’s laughable and pathetic. In the Web 2.0 world, we make 7 or 8 figures…” I know Jason has good intentions when saying stuff like this but he fails to understand where these people are coming from. To an average American, 6 figures is something made of dreams. To be able to make this sort of passive income online without being enslaved to a corporate desk job is incredible. It’s not always just about the money and by posting “big” checks, these affiliates are promoting a lifestyle of freedom (possibly for selfish reasons). Sure the checks may pale in comparison to a sale of a beast like Weblogs, but realistically speaking, not everyone can make bank in that sort of way.

zac johnson check
I’m sure Zac Johnson was quite surprised to see his picture up on the big screen and criticized by a keynote speaker. No such thing as bad press..?

Another thing I want to add is that Jason seemed a bit hypocritical in what he had to say. In an ideal world, no one would ever game the system and we would all be friends helping each other out. But in the real world there is always going to be gaming and people are always going to have their own interests in mind. It’s hard to believe that Jason never used any push marketing to promote Weblogs or Mahalo. I’m sure he has, at least unintentionally.

I thought this keynote provided a lot of food for thought. Sure it was controversial but I’d rather have it real than any other way. Thanks to Jason and best of luck with Mahalo.

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13 Responses to “Jason Calacanis Thinks Affiliate Marketing is BS – ASW08 Keynote”

Marios Alexandrou on February 26th, 2008

It sounds a little like Jason found a way to turn an event about affiliate marketing into an event about him. At least for a short while anyway. He’s good at doing stuff like that which I imagine is partially what explains the 7 to 8 figures…

Affiliate Confession on March 1st, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

That’s Jason, he seems to be good at getting the spotlight.

Tom Beaton on February 27th, 2008

I guess he intended on being a bit controversial. It is a classic way of getting attention and publicity. Thought provoking speeches are what you are there for really.

Krsto on March 2nd, 2008

Shure there is a point in the “failing” part… I totally agree…

Affiliate Marketing on March 4th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

There are several ways in which you can make money online. The best way known to earn cash and make money online is Affiliate Marketing. But, yes this takes some time and endurance. If you do not have either, then don’t even try to make money online as an affiliate.

Evan on March 11th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

He’s stating the obvious..don’t hate on the affiliates that produce sales and try to make some money, they work hard at it. Anyone that know anything about google et al know that content spam doesn’t work anymore.

California Web Design on March 24th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

I think that learning is important, affiliate marketing is not BS I don’t think, I think it’s another way to earn money online.

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