Is ATS’s business model ethical?

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Is ATS’s business model ethical?

Postby MrPenny » Wed Jul 23, 2008 2:33 pm

[Mod Edit: the following discussion began with this post and was moved here as a separate topic]


rilence wrote: They do engage in totally unethical behaviour when it comes to milking their members for free content whilst offering nothing of value to their site themselves and they also make a buck out of it...


First, I find the back and forth noise quite entertaining....

Now I understand the subjective nature of ethics, but I'm curious as to how you've reached the conclusion that the admins and owners of that site engage in "totally unethical behaviour", eg; milking members for free content. While they do have at least a couple of instances of paying for content--ad banner contests, etc.--the huge majority of the content has zero promise of any reward. Nothing implicitly or explicity stated. It simply sits there, inviting people to bang on a keyboard without coercion.

Does your conclusion also extend to any other Internet source that invites, and uses as content, input from readers? I can't think of any media source that has not jumped on the wagon and started including material submitted via readers....whether actual submissions, blog comments, or images.

There is an ad banner on the main page of these forums....does your conclusion extend to this forum?

I know, Access Denied will interpret this post in ways that mean something to him.....God love him, his heart's in the right place. Seems odd nowadays, doesn't it, to run across someone who can view issues from multiple viewpoints.....idn't it?
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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby ryguy » Wed Jul 23, 2008 4:29 pm

MrPenny wrote:Does your conclusion also extend to any other Internet source that invites, and uses as content, input from readers? I can't think of any media source that has not jumped on the wagon and started including material submitted via readers....whether actual submissions, blog comments, or images.


I've thought a lot about that point above too. A few posts back, I made the point that unlike other websites like Associated Content, Helium, and others that at least provide members with a portion of the ad revenue that their posts generate, AboveTopSecret offers...zip.

What's the difference between ATS and other forums, you ask? That's easy.

Other discussion forums across the internet advertise themselves as discussion forums - as social networks where people get together and socialize about particular topics. The forums do not try to portray themselves as "media" companies that produce content. That's the difference. Other "media" companies PAY for writers to produce the media that they sell. ATS is attempting to use the content that the discussions/social networking provides in order to sell it as "media". Other such companies that are explicitly calling themselves "media" producers such as Associated Content, Helium, etc - DO pay for people to produce that content. Because not only is it good business practice for a MEDIA company - but it's also the ethical thing to do.

Doesn't really matter what "angle" you look at it, or how you try to spin it, Mr. Penny, I'd have to say the correct angle, regarding business ethics, in this particular case is pretty damn obvious.

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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby ryguy » Wed Jul 23, 2008 4:39 pm

AND BY THE WAY...

That's the other thing that really irks me. In all of their press releases, you've got Bill Irvine touting this whole concept of "user-generated" media as some wonderful new business concept and trying to sell that to investors. There's nothing new or unique about it! It would be like Steve and I taking all of the posts people make in here as part of people utilizing a normal social networking tool, a forum, and then using that content as part of the media we produce on our main website...and then plaster ads all over that content in order to generate revenue, which we have no intention of sharing with the person who generated that content.

There's nothing ingenius about it - it's stupid. It's a forum who has grown to a size where they have so much content generated for free by the people who have used the forum as a tool for social networking on alternative topics...and now they think that selling this free content as "media" is somehow an ingenius business model.

It's only ingenius in that it "sticks-it" to the members. But if members are stupid enough to continue serving as free writers for a company selling their writing as a product for their own revenue - more power to em'. Good luck with that.

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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby MrPenny » Wed Jul 23, 2008 4:59 pm

If any person can view and read the content of a web page...regardless of its source...the distinction between "forum" and "media" outlet becomes pointless. At its basic level, it is content on a web page. That isn't spin....distinguishing between "forums" and "media" outlets is spin. Go take a look at the terms of CNN's Interactive section...otherwise known as iReport--I don't believe I see a salary structure there. The talking heads on Sunday morning news shows are a forum of sorts....two or more participants debating issues, sharing opinions, arguing, and other behaviors that you see in text form on Internet "forums"....yet, they are presented on a "media" outlet.

The "social networking" aspect of it is meaningless. Those functions are not open to the public....and the gains and benefits of participating in the activity are for the most part, not measurable, known only to the participant, and completely voluntary. And apparently ATS does in fact share some of its revenues with the contributors...as I noted previously, cash and other prizes for contests, and payment for submissions to particular content areas.

If ATS is actually selling the content, violating the terms of the Creative Commons license....someone needs to show that...and call them on it.

Calling a business model that one doesn't agree with a breach of business ethics is simply a matter of opinion.

I just read your additional post.....again, where's the ethical violation? Nothing is coerced or forced. Nothing is promised. How can their business model ethically violate people who are taking part in a voluntary activity?

I think this is strictly a values issue and ethics has nothing to do with it.
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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby Access Denied » Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:33 am

Well, putting aside MrPenny’s questionable “caveat emptor” defense aside for the moment, it should be pointed out the “ATS Premium” thing that pays $75 per article is a joke. Case in point, in response to this (non premium IMO) article written by an ATS member who (by the way) is now a Moderator…

ATS Premium: How Could They Know That? The Dogon Mystery.
http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread308383/pg1

…Issac Koi, a respected UFOlogist (and RU member at large) wrote this meticulously researched (counterpoint) article which was rejected by the management of ATS…

The Dogon Mystery
http://kevinrandle.blogspot.com/2008/01 ... ction.html

[via Kevin Randle’s blog]

I thought some of you might be interested in my article Dogon Alien 'Mystery' Demystified, which can be found (with proper formatting and various hyperlinks) at the link below:

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread326227/pg1

I was provoked into writing about this subject by an article promoting the Dogon mystery which was distributed by abovetopsecret.com (ATS) via its email newsletter to its 60,000 members.

Since I thought that the relevant article only gave one side of the story (a point which the author of that article has since accepted), I drafted a fairly lengthy article in response.

My article (Dogon Alien 'Mystery' Demystified) was not accepted for distribution via the abovetopsecret.com email newsletter, so I simply posted it on their forum at the link above.

I'm happy for my article to be displayed elsewhere (although, for formatting reasons, some hyperlinks may disappear if displayed other than on the ATS forums).

Kind Regards,
Isaac

It appears Bill and Mark’s claim of editorial neutrality is bunk.

Now this is more like it…

Google's answer to Wikipedia? 'Knol'
Users can show off — and profit from — their expertise on a topic

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25820832/

Google Inc. is taking the wraps off an Internet encyclopedia designed to give people a chance to show off — and profit from — their expertise on any topic.

The service, dubbed "knol" in reference to a unit of knowledge, had been limited to an invitation-only audience of contributors and readers for the past seven months.

Now anyone with a Google login will be able to submit an article and, if they choose, have ads displayed through the Internet search leader's marketing system. The contributing author and Google will share any revenue generated from the ads, which are supposed to be related to the topic covered in the knol.

[snip]

Since Google disclosed its intention to build knol, it has been widely viewed as the company's answer to Wikipedia, which has emerged as one of the Web's leading reference tools by drawing upon the collective wisdom of unpaid, anonymous contributors.

[snip]

Unlike Wikipedia, knol requires the authors to identify themselves to help the audience assess the source's credibility. Google doesn't intend to screen the submissions for accuracy, Dupont said, and instead will rely on its search formulas to highlight the articles that readers believe are credible.

It should be noted Wikipedia is 100% ad free and supported entirely by donations.

MrPenny wrote:If ATS is actually selling the content, violating the terms of the Creative Commons license....someone needs to show that...and call them on it.

Excellent suggestion…
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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby remus » Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:17 am

MrPenny wrote:If ATS is actually selling the content, violating the terms of the Creative Commons license....someone needs to show that...and call them on it.



Haven't they sold the content by accepting money from private investors? Not being smart, its a serious question.

By accepting finance from a group of private investors (who remain anonymous) doesn't that mean that they have actually sold their members content in whole or in part?

What if these anonymous investors are involved in the msm or publishing? What impact would that have on a members content being used by the investors or the ATS owners for reasons not foreseen by the member who originally posted the content?

What do the investors expect to receive in return for their investment?

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Re: ATS's Bill Irvine Complains to host about ATSWatch

Postby ryguy » Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:43 pm

MrPenny wrote:If any person can view and read the content of a web page...regardless of its source...the distinction between "forum" and "media" outlet becomes pointless.


The distinction is absolutely critical, not pointless. Read the excerpts below and I think it's fairly obvious where the future of "user-generated content" is headed in terms of so-called media companies attempting to use that free content to generate profit for themselves.

ATS "executives" should read the excerpts below very carefully and take heed. If you want to identify yourself as a "media company" - you better consider quality over quantity. Letting the "users drive the content" simply won't get you there. You'll end up in the 90% crap category.

What is a "Media" Company?

Excerpt below from a NY Times article:

But when I spoke to David Eun, Google’s vice president for content partnerships, he took umbrage with the media designation. He noted that Google did not create or own content — in his mind, part of the definition of a media company. Rather, he said, Google is a technology company: “I would say we’re a conduit connecting our users with content and advertisers.”

The point may be semantic, but it reminded me of the longstanding friction between cable companies and TV broadcasters over whether cable should pay for distributing the free over-the-air signals — or whether cable was doing the broadcasters a favor by putting their signals onto the system through which most people watch television.

Again, Mr. Eun disagreed, noting that Google is not a distributor: it tries to push people to other Web sites and takes immense geek pride in how quickly it does so.


This article is fantastic... Take the time to read it.

A Bear Market for User Generated Content

How quickly things can change. Just as Bear Stearns shareholders watched BCS close at $4.81 yesterday after closing at $62.30 a week prior, those invested in user-generated content (UGC) must be wondering if they bet on the wrong horse as questions are increasingly being raised about the appeal of UGC, both from a consumer standpoint and a financial standpoint.

[snip...]

There’s an old adage “nothing is free.” Or, to be more accurate, “nothing good is free.” User-generated content is very appealing because it eliminates the costs of content production, which can be fairly substantial. Why pay writers and editors when you can build a business on content supplied free of charge by your users? In theory, it works great.

There are a few problems emerging with this, however, as the market matures:

[Snip]

90% (or more) of user-generated content is crap. A smaller fraction is good. At the end of the day, services that attract quality content have more appeal, and services that attract the crap will probably lose market share. Logically competition will emerge for quality content and the producers of that content. It will not surprise me to see media companies sign deals with really talented content producers, and in fact this has already happened.

[snip]

The question to ask people that think MySpace and YouTube are doing nothing unethical, if not outright illegal, and proclaim the death of big media is: if big media is dying, why is everybody so fond of big media’s content and uploading/sharing it on such a massive scale? The answer is obvious: while there’s a lot of hype around user-generated content, for the time being, the professional content being produced by big media is what people primarily want to consume.

[snip]

And now the inevitable has occurred: more people are starting to recognize that UGC has some significant flaws and hasn’t really had the impact many thought it would.

On March 6, the same Newsweek that put Flickr on its cover two years earlier published an article entitled “Revenge of the Experts” with the subheadline, “The individual user has been king on the Internet, but the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward edited information vetted by professionals.”

Why? Consumers are demanding it:


[snip]

In other words, for all of the Web 2.0 hype, not only does the emperor have no clothes, Old Media has actually taken note of some of the useful ideas within the hype and is adapting - and quite successfully at that.

Of course, none of this should really come as a surprise. The old adage “content is king” didn’t lose validity the minute every idiot gained the ability to produce “content.” Quality content has value and quality content typically doesn’t get created freely by people who have no skills and/or qualifications.



The distinction between "forum" and "media" outlet is obviously far from pointless when you are seeking to generate revenue and build a business on that content. Who generates the content, and the quality of the content, is absolutely critical. A million stories about an alien friend in the garage just isn't going to cut it.

-Ry
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