Brainpicker's Affiliate Marketing Experiments


I wasn't the only blogger intrigued by Dick Wisdom's uncovering of some shady affiliate marketing sites registered to Maria Popova, Good Blogging advocate, mastermind behind Brain Pickings, and co-creator of the Curator's Code. I've been a fan of her quality-driven approach for a long time, so it was a bit shocking to see the kinds of spammy stuff Mr. Wisdom found publicly attached to her name.

The sites are all designed for gaming search engines, and that's sort of the opposite of Curation with a capital C. It's spam. Some of it has to do with health questions, which, as my frien-tor Mat Honan said, tends toward a serious issue of messing with search quality. So I was concerned. I didn't like thinking of a blogger I respected as a potential spammer.

And on the other hand, choosing blogging as a career is not exactly a guaranteed home run. Having a side business is understandable. But not so much a sketchy one.

So anyway, I talked to Popova, and she didn't want to speak on the record, but it's okay. There are plenty of ways for us to understand and misunderstand what this was on our own.

Helpful person Sudama Adam Rice tweeted me an interesting example, which I was too much of a n00b to remember. WordPress itself got tangled up in all kinds of shady affiliate marketing stuff in its early days, and it was all just a misunderstanding... apparently.

The WordPress explanation was that, basically, software to help search-optimize stuff the right way needs lots of testing. And because of how freaking complicated Google is, it's easy to screw up and do it the completely wrong way.

Now again, the substance of my conversation with Popova is off the record, and I'm not going to blow that. But if you look at the stuff Mr. Dick Wisdom found, you'll see that the sites are old, and many of the domains are about to expire. If they're renewed, then we'll have more questions for Popova. But if they aren't, I think it's reasonable to assume that someone who wants to make a career on the Web will dabble in all of its arts to learn how they work. I'll say that, given what I've seen, I could believe that's all there is to it.

This could also be a top-secret money-making scheme, but then why would someone who is otherwise quite good at Internet forget to anonymize the WHOIS listings? In any case, we'll see in a few months when the domains expire, as they are set to do.


UPDATE 11/28: Well, Popova took all the sites down. That doesn't look so great. I guess that settles that, though!