Daily Archives: October 14, 2009

Blogging and Disclosing

I got a fair amount of e-mail over the last week or so asking me what I thought of the Federal Trade Commission’s new guidelines regarding bloggers and their disclosures of relationships with advertisers (This is a pdf link to the guidelines, which go into effect on December 1). In the grand tradition of not especially well-thought-out governmental decrees, it’s not particularly clear what the effect will genuinely be for bloggers who get sent things to write about by hopeful companies, including (in my particular case) book publishers. Ed Champion tried to get clarification from an FTC spokesperson on the matter last week, to no real effect, and at the moment things seem a little slippy, in terms of what happens if a blogger doesn’t give appropriate disclosure.

For myself, I don’t think this is a real problem, since as a personal philosophical matter and from my experience as a professional journalist, I think disclosing biases and business relationships is what you should be doing anyway. I don’t think it’s any particular secret that the vast majority of the new books I talk about here (or feature in The Big Idea) are sent to me for free by their publishers in the hope I will make mention of them one way or the other; I also don’t think it’s any particular secret that much to the despair of my wife’s sense of order, I hang on to most of the books.

The idea that I will be materially swayed by the receipt of a book to speak glowingly about it is a little silly — some days I get a dozen books, so I would be spending all my time swaying — but I have no problem disclosing how I came into possession of books or other objects I discuss/review/vent about, and allowing readers to calibrate their expectations accordingly. That’s just good sense and laudable transparency. I may put up a permanent disclosure page just to have it, but then, I don’t really see this as much of a problem.

I do suspect in a general sense there needs to be clarification from the FTC as to who these guidelines affect, however. My sense of it is that if the guidelines are a tool to go after spam sites and the sorts of folks who are hoping to port payola into the online world, and to keep advertisers from crossing an ethical line, there’s not going to be much of an issue. If the FTC goes after some schmoe who got a free book from a publisher and wrote about the book without disclosing how he got it, I suspect the shit will hit the fan, and quite rightly so. Hell, I’ll be there flinging poo into the blades. My strong suspicion is the guidelines are intended for the former scenarios rather than the latter one, but again, clarification won’t hurt.

In any event, I don’t see this guideline changing much of how I do things here. I already disclose, and would even without the FTC prompt.

Giving Bloggers New Stats to Be Neurotic About

Technorati has recently upgraded its digs, and with it seems to have revamped the way it does its ranking system for blogs. Gone (at the moment, at least) is the listing that shows the overall ranking for blogs, except for those in the Top 100; in its place, however, are all sorts of rankings in various categories. So, for example, Whatever, whose overall ranking has bounced around between 3000 and 300 during the last year, is currently listed as the #2 book-related blog in all the land, and in the Top 100 for entertainment sites (#41 at this moment, just below Gawker).

And for extra added fun, the rankings are refreshed daily, and Technorati thoughtfully puts in a sidebar for the blogs that have risen the most and fallen the most during the day — Whatever, for example, is a top faller in Entertainment today, having sunk nine spots since yesterday. Oh, you fickle intarweebs — why can’t you love me on a consistent daily basis?!?

As you can see, this is just the sort of stat geekery that can turn you into a neurotic bundle of jelly if you let it, and I’m pretty sure the sadists fine folks at Technorati knew that, which is why they did it. That said, if this sort of thing is important to you, these better-defined stats are actually useful, as you know how your blog fares relative to other, similar blogs. So, well done, Technorati. And, er, thanks for giving me even more blog stats to obsess fruitlessly over serenely consider.