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The trials and tribulations of Garden Voices and other cautionary notes

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Here are some changes that are definitely NOT for the better. Now, when you go to Garden Voices, the Gardenweb-hosted aggregator, excerpts from garden blogs all over the world are still listed (though it looks like fewer than usual, each taking up more space than they should), but none of the authors’ names are given, just an Old Roses byline, regardless of whose blog it actually is. Also, there is no comprehensive list of blogs, as there used to be, and no archive except for this month. Caren/Old Roses, who started the aggregator, alerted me that this was none of her doing.

The truth is that many of us now have our own feeds and readers that we use to keep up with garden blogs, and may not check Garden Voices as much as we used to (I was on it every day at one point). Still, Garden Voices is (or was) a great way to find out about new blogs not yet on your radar. But because Gardenweb is owned by iVillage, and iVillage is owned by NBC/Universal, they can and will do what they want, will likely do it in a way that we don’t like (kind of like my cable company), and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it. All I can say is beware. And repeat the old adage—if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For example, how many of you received a comment like this: “I think your writing is great! I would like to feature you in the Gardening Community on Wellsphere, a top 10 health website that has well over 2 million visitors monthly.” Sure you did. Chris C./Outside Clyde also got it, as did a friend of his. Upon further inquiries, Chris found that Wellsphere would love to own complete copyright privileges for all of his content forever and ever in return for … a link.

Our blogs may not seem terribly valuable to us in terms of cash, and most of us are fine with that, but in what is still kind of a Wild West, business-wise, a lot of would-be entrepreneurs spend all their time figuring out how to make personal profit from the web without actually creating something themselves. The fact is that most are still figuring out what will make money on the web other than gambling and porn sites, as many more respectable businesses—like media—aren’t making money yet. Plenty of you have suffered from the scrapers, who simply import your words into some generic-looking blog so—I guess—they can get google currency. I’ve seen my posts used elsewhere, so I limited my feed in an attempt to stop it.

A more legitimate exploitation may be companies you know asking you to blog for them in return for the glory of being associated with their websites. That’s up to the individual; personally, I think people should be compensated for such contributions. And then there is the barrage of press releases from companies who want their product mentioned on your blog. I’ll try something that I would really use in any case, and then write about it, but not too often. It can get to be a pain. And I can’t imagine why companies think you would recommend something on your blog without having tried it—but some of them do think that. I was discussing this with Carol/May Dreams and she listed the 3 most annoying requests she gets (all of which I’ve mentioned here), and I agreed with her conclusions: “maybe the best thing to do… just be true to yourself and don’t get all hung up on links, blog aggregator sites, product reviews …”

I didn’t get into this to make money and, sure enough, I haven’t. Which is fine. So my answer to all entrepreneurial inquiries is “delete.”

Too bad about Garden Voices though. That was a nice service. Thanks, NBC/Universal!

I’ve gotten so used to deleting the scam offers that I can’t remember them all. If you have an interesting one to share, please do!

ADDENDUM: I ought to have mentioned, though many of you already know this, that Blotanical is a great place to find and keep up with garden blogs.

Posted by on January 18, 2009 at 6:10 am, in the category What's Happening.
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32 responses to “The trials and tribulations of Garden Voices and other cautionary notes”

  1. We live in interesting times. I get those requests all the time. If it sounds too wonderful, I don’t even read it. Hint to garden public relations, don’t oversell your product. Your email may be deleted before it is even read.

    I’m truly sorry about GV. I liked it very much.~~Dee

  2. In addition to what Dee recommended to those few who might have a truly legitimate offer, don’t start out an email with “I really love your blog…”

  3. john says:

    I write and illustrate the occasional piece. When people wonder why I don’t do it full time I explain that it pays squat! They are often shocked. Most of the top tier editors or publishers I’ve dealt with tune me out the instant I deviate from the script – the “I’ll do anything to help you with your project” script. I don’t care. I’ve been burned too many times. I will get paid for my effort or I won’t participate. It only gets icky when it’s friends I have to disappoint. I have a well rehearsed speech about how this is something I do for money, and how good intentions don’t pay the rent.

    Maybe when the dust settles and the economy turns around we’ll be looking at a new world where spin and hype are squelched and hard work and talent move to the front.

  4. One other “offer” that I get quite a bit is from people who would like to pay me to put a link on my blog, and it doesn’t even have to be visible. Don’t fall for it. It, too, is a scam and not legitimate advertising.

  5. eliz says:

    Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so, John!

  6. That’s so disappointing about Garden Voices, but it seems to be more of the same iVillage junk that started screwing up GardenWeb in the first place.

  7. Glad you confirmed that thing with Wellsphere: I googled around when I got that comment, and suspected a scam, and declined, but it’s nice to have confirmation that they’re sleazy.

    Also Wellsphere is kind of notorious for being dicks to their employees (see http://uncov.com/2007/7/31/wellsphere-s-fail-tale-part-2#comments). Not that that’s relevant to my situation, but it’s something people should consider before getting involved with them.

  8. I am sure that blogs that get more traffic than mine receive more offers and solicitations than I do. When you higher traffic web savvy folks reject them, the predators move further down the food chain and find bloggers like me.

    I still get a bit agitated with these brazen attempts by business interests on the web to suck up other people’s content at no cost with the explicit intent of making a profit solely for themselves. They write up a bunch of mumbo jumbo for terms of service that as far as I am concerned makes theft legal. You agreed to let me steal your content.

    No matter what your pecking order on the web or the intent or the lack there of for your own blog or site, if your content had no value companies like Wellsphere would not be so intent on owning it. They are casting a very wide net to gather up free content for sure, but content has value and they know it.

    Wellsphere’s business model is following a predictable path. They build the site as cheaply as possible and increase the traffic to the point where it is now a lucrative property for advertisers. Currently it is eerily ad free. Once they have their numbers up high enough it is put on the auction block and sold to the highest bidder. The sites small core of owners and developers get obscenely rich and another Silicon Valley success story is hailed. All the little people who actually make the site popular with their content, visits and input get nothing and are nothing more than a demographic to bombard with advertisements.

    Full copyright privileges of all the freely contributed content pass into someone else’s hand to do with as they wish for their own profit and with no control over or compensation to the producers of that content. You never know when one of your photos or witty remarks could get sold and end up in a national advertising campaign costing millions of dollars and you don’t get diddly squat because you agreed to let them steal your stuff for the privilege of using their site.

    It wouldn’t be all that difficult to rewrite the mumbo jumbo of these types of terms of service to insure a more equitable scenario. That is not the intent though.

    As you can see I have a strong opinion on the subject.

  9. chuck b. says:

    I don’t any of this crap. I think it’s because 1) my blog is mostly snapshots not text, and 2) includes a lot of non-gardening stuff.

  10. Chris Upton says:

    Elizabeth,

    I always appreciate your thoughtful analysis of situations that I ought to have to use more effort to make myself aware of.

    Thank you

  11. Great topic Elizabeth. Depending on the relevance of the hosting site making the offer to include your blog, it is not a bad idea for some bloggers to accept. For instance, the professional garden writer who has a book or two that they want to promote. This can be an incredible “free” promo platform.

    What I look for in these relationships is a hyperlink back to my site, my bio included with links and the like. Also, the blog feed is incomplete and in order to continue reading, you press “continue” and it redirects to my website.

    If you have a book to sell or are a media talent, as I am, it can offer great exposure. For the everyday blogger, I have more concerns, especially if they feel exploited.

    Believe it or not, including other bloggers in major sites without compensation is very common.. I can’t confirm this, but I read somewhere that the Huffington Report doesn’t pay it’s high profile bloggers. On the other hand, these bloggers garner much attention for their own sites.

    Anyone know if the above is true in regards to the Huffington Post?

  12. Claire Splan says:

    I really miss the old Garden Web. It put me in touch with a lot of great blogs and also brought readers and commenters to mine. I’ve been using Blotanical instead, which is a fine service, but frankly Blotanical has gotten so big so fast that I’m finding it unwieldy. iVillage would be wise to re-think their recent changes to GardenWeb. Bring back the shorter clips representing a greater number of blogs, and update the site several times a week, if not every day. If they’re not willing to do that, they might as well take the site down entirely.

  13. Jeanne says:

    Not only have I gotten repeated “offers” from Wellsphere to use the content of my blog on their site for free, but after I blogged about this practice of theirs, I started getting nasty putdowns in e-mails that came from people who work for them.

    Sleazy, to say the least.

    Jeanne
    The Assertive Cancer Patient
    http://www.assertivepatient.com

  14. susan harris says:

    I want to echo Carol’s warning about taking money to put links on your site or blog – it’s against Google rules, which you can find if you put “google webmaster” in your search engine.

    What I get most often are offers of guest posts written by PR people if I’ll include a link to the company they’re working for – thus getting around Google’s disapproval of excessive, blatant link-swapping, which is a red flag to them. Thus companies offer crappy content to wrap around their link so it doesn’t offend the Gods of Google but then what – we’re left with crappy, commercial content on our website/blog – no, thanks.

  15. Kathy says:

    It *is* a kind of Wild-West situation. Our content has value, our PageRank has value, and our word-of-mouth has value. I avoid any offer where the marketer hasn’t done his or her homework. I’m not impressed with press releases. I try every product before I review it. I turned down the Muck Boot giveaway because I had never worn Muck Boots and he wasn’t willing to provide me with a pair to try first. Passed that one along to Carol.

    Do your homework before you sign on to anything. Check out the website. Google the name of the company and the marketer. Ask your fellow bloggers. Read the fine print. Imagine what effect it would have on your relation ship with your readers. And go with your gut instinct. If something gives you a bad feeling, even if you can’t put your finger on why, DON’T.

  16. Genevieve says:

    I think we should distinguish between this, and guest posting in which you create original content for a site with a high profile in exchange for a link back to your own site.

    Guest posting is a great way to reach new readers for your own blog, and that link is worth something to google when deciding whether to show searchers your page.

    The Huffington Post is bringing up the rank of the people writing for them with every article they write, since it’s only on HuffPo and not duplicated elsewhere, and the writers get a cred-filled link back to their site.

    If they have a way of monetizing their own site, this can be an excellent trade. Would you have heard of most of those writers has you not seen them on a famous site? Often the case is no, so the writer is benefiting a lot.

    The problem with WellSphere is that:

    A, they take your copyright for the entire body of work,

    B, they are putting up the exact content you have on your site and since they are bigger than you, Google will show searchers their site if they search for things related to your content, and will assume your tiny site is the one posting useless duplicate content – meaning you’ll stop getting organic searchers to your site, and

    C, WellSphere hasn’t built up a fantastic site where people go every day to see the latest, like they do with HuffPo, so you probably aren’t gaining regular readers from their link. When they monetize they’ll almost certainly be catering to one-time searchers and showing lots of ads to them.

    They aren’t adding any value to the internet, just working the system for money. Decidedly uncool.

    That said, Elizabeth mentioned changing her feed so that scrapers / thieves don’t steal her feed content. There are two ways that I commonly see that people do that – one is shorten the feed so you have to click through to read the article, inconveniencing your regular readers and making new ones reevaluate whether what you have to say is really *that* interesting, and the other is using a plugin that allows you to attach the title of your post and a link back to your site at the bottom, so if people are stealing the feed, at least you get a link back (link cred) and it’s clear the feed did not originate from that other source. (You can also put in feed advertising, so you benefit that way from feed thieves.)

  17. greg draiss says:

    Super post!

    The garden industry blog Open Rregister is also running posts about the falling off of gardening in the news etc.
    There are two gardening magazines that are claiming to fill in the gaps by providing information to gardeners that the newspapers/mags are dropping.

    The Gateway Gardener in St. Louis is one of them. The publisher does not pay for content written by St. Louis area garden professionals but profits from the ads in the magazine. The editor is Robert Weaver. He can be reached at 314-968-3740, robert@thegatewaygardener.com http://www.gatewaygardener.com.

    Ellen Barredo of Bowood Farms in St Louis actually has the nerve to say Weaver is doing a great service by providing this magazine.

    I replied back in my comment that he is not doing anyone a service but is exploiting garden writers and professionals by not paying for content. I was then told by commenters that people volunteer all the time for schools, food pantries etc!

    Can you beleive the dilution that is going in the name of volunteering. Michelle, Eizabeth, Susan and Amy you ladies all make a living (or a part of your living) writing. Would you describe your literary efforts as doing a public service and donate them free of charge?

    Elizabeth good for you! GET PAID FOR YOUR TALENT!
    I for one will not write, photograph, speak or do anything else in my profession free where the producer, editor, event co-ordinator is making a profit.

    I urge anyone else who receives such offers as a free link, name on the program etc. to tell said PT Barnum “SCREW YOU SHOW ME THE MONEY”!

    The (my time/your dime) TROLL

  18. When Garden Web changed ownership I read their terms of agreement and stopped participating regularly on their site .
    There was no way I wanted to give away my voice and or work product to a profit making company who at any time could use the content for their own profit making publications and give no credit or compensation to those who contributed to the financial gain or benefit to their company.

    What ever Garden Voices was ( I never visited so have no idea ) it seems like you felt that it had tangible value. Why can’t you play Garden Webs own game and steal their former format and instigate it here at Garden Rant , thus creating more value for the site ?

  19. eliz says:

    Michelle, I loved the Garden Web forums (and remember your comments well) and have wondered if we could recreate such a thing, but it seems people like Dave’s Garden for that pretty much.

    I think, but am not sure, that bloggers look to Blotanical for what Garden Voices provided, though it is not quite the same. And google reader provides a similar service to GV. We DO host a forum here for garden writers.

  20. John says:

    I will add that I live and breathe GardenWeb but mostly in my states forum. Everyone is pretty civil there and it helps to organize local activities such as swaps and group shopping sprees. I never got into Garden Voices much. I never post a photo, nor do I give it all away when offering advice – if the site owners want to make money off of my ideas they will have to pay me for them.

    It is odd though, here I am volunteering for the Garden Writers Association symposium to be held in Raleigh this fall and over and over we hear how there is no free lunch. Anyone and everyone will have to pay (and pay big) whether they are the keynote speaker or making a presentation. It just seems odd that a group of people who’s work is often undervalued would plan on NOT paying someone for their efforts.

    When cruisin the ‘net I have been fooled. Only after I responded to someone’s article did I get a reply back that the piece was originally written for someplace else and that it had been stolen where I saw it. Someone will come up with a way to protect info on the web eventually. I work in advertising and the young people today just feel that “if it’s on the web, it’s free to use”. Daily I have to give lessons in the basics of copyright protections.

  21. Doug Green says:

    GardenWeb would appear to have set up a scraping operation if that main page is any indication. A full feed is displaying the entire post – part feeds are displaying the part post. In short, a copyright infringement if the full post is being shown. This probably calls for notifying those who’s content is being illegally posted there in it’s entirety.

    And the original concept isn’t dead. It will recover shortly – there are a few of us discussing how to bring it back stronger and under gardener-control. Stay tuned.

  22. Dawn says:

    Thank you for this update about Garden Voices. I loved GV under Caren’s care and hate to see its destruction.

  23. Elizabeth,
    just a thought, – Dave’s Garden requires a subscription fee to fully participate in their forums.
    My subscription fee was due last week and I am not rejoining.
    I suppose several hundred people are also reconsidering their membership fee as well.
    So whatever it is that Daves Garden was/ is doing and you feel that they have cornered that niche, there may be room for another venue and that venue could be Garden Rant.

  24. Pam J. says:

    Shirley B. asked “I read somewhere that the Huffington Report doesn’t pay it’s high profile bloggers. Anyone know if the above is true…?”
    The answer is “yes, it’s true” if you believe an Oct 2007 article in Fortune magazine (http://money.cnn.com/2007/10/26/magazines/fortune/huffington.fortune/index.htm). From the article:
    As a business, the Huffington Post has a controversial element: Some pundits have criticized the site for not paying its blogging contributors, or at least have wondered if they will stick around if Huffington and her colleagues get rich on their work. The counterargument is that no contributor is forced or expected to produce. Rather, the idea is that posting with Huffington is easier and potentially more influential than setting up and maintaining one’s own blog.
    Of the three dozen Huffington bloggers I spoke with, none grumbled about not being paid.

  25. I was never much of a participant in Garden Voices, even before it turned to the Dark Side. I just updated my profile there to remove even the link to my Web site. They provide no option to completely remove me from their site.

    I do not make money off my blog. I’ve never had ads. I see no point. However, I want to protect my work. In particular, noone else should be allowed to make money off my work.

    I truncate my blog’s feed to block the blog-scrapers. However, Blogger only gives me the option to truncate or not, and then with a fixed number of words. I would prefer more flexibility, such as the ability to provide a synopsis for the feed.

    For the same reason, I now block my blog from Google Image search. I found that most of the hits to my blog were coming from that, and it’s just not worth it to me. I wish that Yahoo and the other search engines would offer the same ability.

    The result of these actions is that I now get about half of the traffic I would otherwise get. That’s fine. I’m not interested in page hits. I’m interested in readers.

  26. Thanks Pam J. for providing the answer to “if Huffington Post” pays its bloggers.

    I’m a fan of Blotanical. You have the option of reading the “signed up” blogs in the “Blotanical tab” or you can be redirected to the blog site itself to read the post. This is a good thing for the blogger.

    I have no trouble with the publisher of the Blotanical site making some money (as more advertising is added to the site). It takes a lot of time and money for the publisher to maintain this gardening meeting ground and should be compensated for the community he has built for us. I’m sure it will soon be is full time job, if it continues to grow as it has.
    As a matter of fact, this site brings lots of visitors to my blog. I have the choice to monetize my blog and benefit from the traffic.

    I believe this type of social network aggregator is exempt from the list of sites to avoid. We just have to be careful and weigh the risks and benefits.

  27. It isn’t against “Google rules” to sell your own links or ads on your blog. What is against “Google rules” is to sell links solely for the purpose of selling your blog’s PageRank, which is itself a Google construct. To remedy the situation they advise that you add “no follow” tags to links that you sell on your blog or website. What the “no follow” tag does is block the other site from benefiting from your Page Rank while still attracting visitors/customers.

    As much as I love Google and their products, many of which I use: even if it was against “Google rules” to do so-so what? Google doesn’t own the internet and it isn’t the only search engine around. If you have a commodity (your blog and readers) and people see a value from it- capitalize on it if you want. Just make sure you wouldn’t feel embarrassed being associated with a site you’re selling a link to. If you can live with it that is all that matters.

  28. My blog is listed on Blotanical and has been from the very beginning, which effectively makes me a member of the site. I have not used Blotanical at all though. It’s about me and what I want from social networking on the internet, not about what Blotanical is or is not.

    This discussion got me curious. I went to Blotanical this morning and searched high and low on every page and could not find any type of Terms of Service agreement. As I suspected, Stuart, the owner of the site does not look to be claiming any rights to the content of the blogs listed there. An unwritten code of netiquette must be operating there.

    I refused to be listed on GardenVoices when it first appeared because as an arm of iVillage/NBC/Universal their grabby TOS applied.

    It seems it is possible to have an effective business model that adds value to the net as Genevieve so aptly put it without resorting to legalized theft.

  29. susan harris says:

    “Gardenbloggers”, in my experience when people wanting to exchange links with me or pay me to put their link on one of my sites or blogs finds out I’ll “no-follow” the link, they lose all interest. That’s how you know they’re just trying to increase their Google page rank.

  30. helen says:

    I’m quite new to blogging and I can say that gardenweb has gone to the dogs better still the thrash heap! I have sent them several emails regarding canceling my membership and to date they have not been taken me off their list. The reasons I decided to cancel are many, the main one is that I cannot post on their site and participate in their forums like I used to in the past when it was under the old management. This became frustrating and after many many unanswered emails asking why that was so I decided to cancel my membership. I think blotanical is a great site for garden bloggers in fact one of the most organised. They cater to global gardeners and it has in many ways educated and continue to educate many gardeners around the world. There are many sites that prey on garden bloggers work for their own profit by copying and publishing their work. I don’t know if the free copyrights sites are totally competent but many of us list our sites with them. A good way of us copyrighting our work is to send ourselves by email copies of our postings soon after we have posted. Also Blogger dashboard will have saved all your work. Garden Bloggers have the potential to make some money in many ways utilizing their work and photos. I really don’t know how much income they can generate. Since garden bloggers communicate regularly amongst each other ideas will naturally be exchanged and creativity will flourish.

  31. gardenrant says:

    I know I have mentioned this before, but no one needs to take any special measures to copyright their work.

    Your writing is copyrighted when you write it. If someone else publishes it without permission, they are violating that copyright. That’s all there is to it.

  32. jodi says:

    Incidentally, while reading through these comments as a followup to other posts on similar topics, I discovered that Wellsper (misspelling intentional to keep them from getting direct hits from here, etc) has indeed been purchased by another site. So the founder makes a googillion off the sweat of others, who get little but shite and abuse. Nice. But i still believe in karma…it just takes time for arsewipes like those people to get theirs. And for good people like our Ranters to get theirs in a good way.

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