NowPublic shifts Link Baiting focus to Los Angeles

[*NOTE: There’s a lengthy comment thread on this post in which Leonard Brody, CEO of NowPublic weighs in and he’s agreed to add the correct links to the article which goes a long way towards fixing the problem. Will update when they are live. UPDATE: Links are corrected, thanks everyone!]

Earlier this year NowPublic implemented a marketing strategy (read: link baiting) of picking a city and listing who they think are the most influential people in some subset of some industry there. They did it in New York City and Silicon Valley, and now they are doing it in Los Angeles. There’s a few things that make this very clearly link baiting, first of is the lists themselves – clearly designed to get the most possible link backs and traffic from, secondly is the fact that there’s no external links in the articles – clearly a plan to keep you on their site as long as possible, and finally, assuming LA is following the same model as the previous cities, a marketing firm tipped off the people on the list ahead of time sending them all the info they need to make a post linking to it. Like I’m doing right now, although this probably wasn’t the post they had in mind.

I’ll explain all of those reasons a bit more in a moment, but first off I thought you’d like to see the list that a representative from themorris+kingcompany just e-mailed me, with the announcement that they’ll be making a full press release about this tomorrow. According to NowPublic, the web’s 20 most influential people are: 1. Jason Calacanis 2. Perez Hilton 3. Wil Wheaton 4. Micki Krimmel 5. Zadi Diaz 6. Dave Bullock 7. Erin Kotecki Vest 8. Zach Behrens (editor of LAist) 9. Felicia Day 10. Kent Nichols 11. Mark Frauenfelder 12. Alex Albrecht 13. Xeni Jardin 14. Neil Patel 15. Sean Bonner 16. Colleen Wainwright 17. Trent Vanegas 18. Christine Lu 19. Tara Settembre 20. Efren Toscano

OK so first of all look at those lists. I’ll talk about LA specifically but the NYC and Silicon Valley ones are pretty much the same. This is supposed to be the most influential people online in LA? Are you kidding me? There’s no question that a good number of people on that list have notable online presence but that’s very different than being influential. Having a few thousand people follow you on twitter because occasionally you say something amusing, or having a bunch of people listing you as a contact on flickr because you post interesting photos does not make you influential. These folks all do things online a lot, but does that mean they know what they are talking about? I’m on that list and that’s a total sham. Anyone who reads what I have to say knows I’m full of shit most of the time, so I’m certainly not influential. I’m not knocking anyone else on the list, they all have their own audience for sure, but if you look there’s not a lot of overlap in which audiences those are which might suggest NowPublic was trying to cast a wide net as it’s pretty safe to assume most of these folks might mention this “award” and link back to NowPublic, which again is obviously the point in the first place.

OK, so lets assume step one was successful and a handful of the people on the list above make a post on their own site saying “OMG check it out!” and link to NowPublic. I’ll use myself as an example – lets say you know who I am and you are impressed with this title that I’ve been handed and follow the link to see who the other 19 candidates are. Take a look at the pages they have linked to each of their names. (if the LA list isn’t online yet, check out one of the lists from the other cities) You’ll notice that rather than linking to that persons actual site (or any useful info about them) they are linking to a NowPublic profile of that person. One that in most cases has no info about them. In the list I made above I tried to find an accurate link for each person, this took me about 10 minutes, is that too much to ask? In the e-mail I got about this, I was given a login and password so I could update my profile on NowPublic. Why? Why not just link to my own site? Well, clearly NowPublic wants the page views and once you are on their site they want you to stay there. Actually giving you useful information is not the goal, getting you to click through a bunch of their pages is. Additionally, they want a bunch of search results pointing to those pages so that eventually when someone is trying to fine me, rather than finding me, they will find them. [UPDATE: See the comments for further discussion on this, additionally NowPublic has agreed to edit the articles and add links to the peoples individual sites. That’s a very good move and I applaud them stepping in and correcting this issue so quickly.]

This isn’t a new trick, Mediabistro does the same thing. Check out this post the other day, notice how every link from a person’s name points back to them rather than out to somewhere else? Couple that with a snarky post and bingo: link bait. It’s a crappy tactic no matter who is doing it, and a blatant SEO trick trying to get more search traffic.

And as if that isn’t enough, everyone on that LA list today got an e-mail congratulating them for making the list. This e-mail didn’t come from NowPublic, it came from a marketing firm who “focus on delivering measurable business results through a full range of consulting and communications disciplines. Our integrated approach generates ongoing media coverage and helps clients build awareness and reach their target audiences.” Along with the e-mail was the full press release patting themselves on the back for having such an awesome list. If they just wanted to let the people on the list know it, someone from NowPublic could have sent it. The fact that it came from a marketing firm with the press release attached clearly shows they are trying to get the people they listed to write about it. To make this even worse, I’m going to assume all those folks just got added to a another list at the marketing firm and will be spammed with whatever the next thing they want to hype is. I’d love to be wrong about that of course, but I’ve got very little faith in the scruples of PR flacks.

That said, congrats NowPublic, hope you enjoy the traffic and the inbounds and page views you get off this. I hope cluttering up the web with stupid SEO bullshit is worth the extra cash you make from the traffic spike to your ad servers. Personally I’m not impressed and really don’t want to play your reindeer games.

50 thoughts on “NowPublic shifts Link Baiting focus to Los Angeles”

  1. As someone who dabbles in a little PR bullshit to pay the bills I applaud you for calling this the crap that it is. I hope that the others on the list do the same.

  2. Thank you Cybele, for your kind sentiment.

    If influential was defined as being a cave-dweller that can cause 3,000 people to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night…. then I *might* be in the running for Southern California’s Top 1000 Fire Department bloggers. :)

    But seriously… congrats to those who earned the coveted Top 20 spots. Cybele, I’m sure you were 21!

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

    PS. Cybele, sorry to have missed you at the candy convention. I have not forgotten that I owe you lunch and then some. Thanks to you and the good folks at LA.METBLOGS (including several listed in the Top 20) for being my mentors.

  3. Annika, these are the same folks who sent a request for one of my Flickr pics for a story about David Bowie. The photo featured Slash and a friend of mine (not David Bowie.)

    In addition to being being link baiting douchebags, they’re not even very good at it. The old saying goes, “If you’re going to be a whore, be the best whore in the house.” They’re not.

  4. Oh, and Brian & Annika, can I use all your Flickr photos for a PDF brochure detailing my new webinar on how to be influential? Oh, sh*t…I wasn’t supposed to ask first. Never mind…

  5. hahaha, I think you gave me my first link to my unknown blog, Sean. Thanks! Me and my Okonomi Kai is very influential, it’s like the next trendy food that will be done up at Pure Luck…


    Zach from LAist, I mean my wordpress blog :P

  6. As some others mentioned behind the scenes, one of the biggest issues with this is that they created user accounts for every person on their list, which makes it look like those people use their site. I won’t be surprised when they issue another release later talking about all the influential people who use their site and then link to those accounts as proof.

  7. I am starting my own ridiculous list.

    I would like to be included as one of the Top 20 Online Jackasses in Los Angeles.

    Follow me, bitches:

  8. Sean, yes it appears that they’ve set up a page for you (granted, with a note that says that it was created for you because of your immense statue, not by you).

    And it feeds your twitter. And says that photos OF YOU will show up there too … like I could just tag some with your name in my flickr stream and they’d show up?

    Can you claim it and then just say on that page how you feel directly?

    (I’ve had lots of pages created by “services” deleted for me.)

  9. I have laid claim to the title of Best Former Influential Los Angeles Blogger Turned Influential Las Vegas Blogger. Come and get me, Now Public!

  10. lol rodger, that is funny, you know full well the only list I am on in Monrovia is the official list of bloggers the PD and others are not allowed to talk to unless they want to face disciplinary action.

  11. Leonard Brody here…I am the CEO and co-founder of NowPublic. I rarely wade into these dialogues, but alas, I could sit on the sidelines no more. Sean, quite frankly, this is way out of line.

    Firstly, we were actually trying to do something nice here. We were trying to establish (as best we could) a list of the key influencers in a market as it pertained to the new ‘news’ economy. Your critique is just a statement of the obvious. It is the written equivalent of telling people the sky is blue. Jeez, you mean we missed people? Holy shit? Really? And…wait, we were hoping to get traffic from it? You mean unlike your article in response where you were hoping to get no traffic? And…wait for it…you think we could have had a better calculation? Remarkable. Come on. Give me a break.

    Our intentions in doing this were in the right place. The only thing I agree with is that we should link out to other peoples sites. We didn’t avoid that to link bait…we actually just never thought about it. It is amazing how people assume the worst. In the next list we will be sure to do it.

    Next time someone honours you….how about just saying thanks.

  12. Sean, your comment on the member pages is off the mark – it says very clearly that the page was created by NowPublic for each person on the list (not by the person themselves). Oh as for the links to blogs and sites: some people have taken ownership of the pages and hey, look there: links their blogs and websites.

    By the way, I wouldn’t even know you existed if it wasn’t for that list.

  13. Leonard Brody….that’s a joke, right? Your response is a load of crap, frankly. You didn’t think to link to their own sites? You’re creating a list of people who are influential on the net and you didn’t think to link to where these people where being influential?

    What the fuck kind of company are you running? Do you not even understand the basic functions of the internet?

    Your response is childish and immature and I would expect the CEO of the company would have more tact.

  14. Wow Sean, quite opinionated there are we?

    Looking at it from an objective perspective, I can see that the site doesn’t generate ads, so it doesn’t generate ad revenue. Maybe you might want to look into this a little more and consider revising your piece.

    Another thing we want to ask is: is the list relevant to the site? Why do they want to go through all the hassle since these calculations may take weeks, or even months to come up with.

    Even though these people are not the most influential people online, they certainly have a huge audience base. Have you ever considered the possibilities that they might be awesome citizens journalists since they are great news carriers and can get the word out pretty fast?

    Just take a look at all your comments Sean, and tell me how influential you might be. Just by a simple post, you’ve managed to generate tons of discussion.

    Not influential eh?

  15. mxb (marcb) – that’s really strange. I clicked through all 20 of those links on the NowPublic site and every one of those profiles still has that default text that says that it was created by NowPublic. (Which was painful as the site is freakishly slow.)

    Leonard – I hope your PR folks keep you from wading into these things in the future. If you did one google search on Sean you’d know that this is what he does.

    Funny that you agree with Sean about the links … yet you have done nothing about it.

  16. MXB – First off I wish you didn’t know I existed. Secondly, do you really not get this? How can you possibly think making a user page for someone without their consent, not linking to them, and then demanding they log in themselves to fix it is a good thing?

    LBRODY – Cybele is right. If anyone pays attention to anything I say online it’s because when I see blatant bullshit I point it out. As Panasonicyouth stated, do you really expect anyone to believe the CEO of a web company that thrives on people contributing and link to them didn’t even consider to actually link to the people you were talking about? Your only thought was that the best thing to do was to create a user account for that person on your site, fill it with content you scraped from somewhere else WITH THE OBVIOUS EXCEPTION of a link to their site. Really? If that’s the case you guys are nearly as cunning as I thought, you are just stupid. Given that the standard (that has existed for how many years now?) is to link to a direct source, I can’t believe for a second you guys are that dumb to not have even thought about it. Given that I know some of your investors and advisers I certainly don’t believe you’d have the job you do if you were that stupid. You guys fucked up, admit it, fix it, and move on. It’s really very simple.

    There’s nothing horrible really about making lists, everyone does it, the problem is you guys were lazy. You picked a terrible set of metrics – prolific does not mean influential. A spambot could ace your test. How about actually talking to people rather than looking at completely gameable numbers. And you want me to thank you, for what, telling me that a few thousand people follow my flickr feed? Something I know already? Your writer wanted me and everyone else on that list to jump for joy because you told us the sky was blue and point our audiences in your direction. A good first step in changing that might be to engage and contribute to the communities you are trying to benefit from, rather than just trying to get them on your site. Just look at these comments, how many people know NowPublic as “that company that always trys to take my photos from flickr.”

  17. Well, Sean and Cybele, none of you have responded to my comment.
    Which is strange because Sean, you yourself have handpicked comments from this thread to actively respond to.

  18. Hickorysticks – um, why am I obligated to respond to your comment. Is there some sort of terms of service here that says that I gotta respond to what you say or what anyone says?

    Oh, wait! Lo and behold it’s because I WAS WRITING MY POST while you were posting yours (as I mention in mine, I clicked through all 20 of those freaking profiles and said they took a long time … a minute each sounds about right).

    And um, hickorysticks, you didn’t address me by name. It’d be gauche for me to just insert myself into someone elses discussion.

  19. Hickorysticks -Missed that line, sorry, you are right and I crossed out the bit about ads in the post. My mistake. As for the rest of your comment…

    “Have you ever considered the possibilities that they might be awesome citizens journalists since they are great news carriers and can get the word out pretty fast?”

    Yes I have, but have you considered that they might *already be doing that* on their own sites? Or that the fact that they (probably) have been doing it long before NowPublic ever existed and some of them might have even been part of the inspiration for it’s creation? Your comment makes it seem like no matter how good at whatever it is these people do, they aren’t doing it right unless it’s through NowPublic. I’m pretty sure all the people on these lists are doing fine on their own and NowPublic has more to gain by being associated with them then the other way around.

  20. Sean,

    I didn’t mean that these people have to participate through NowPublic, or even necessarily get mentioned through NowPublic. =) Yes, NowPublic certainly have some gain through this, but isn’t it the way things are? Microsoft gained by developing Windows, but in the end the platform benefites millions of users.

    Isn’t it nice that there’s a list for journalists or bloggers to now reference to if they ever need to promote some “breaking news”?

    Crappy list or not, generating traffic or not, it’s still nice to have such a list available now that citizens journalism is in the works.

    It certainly helps if one of these people retweet my posts! Think about the methods of distribution!

    Why so negative Sean? I did found your website on the NowPublic profile.

  21. Let me make this clear again. I have been in this business as long, if not longer, than you Sean. I built my first company back in 1993. So, I understand very well the concept of linkbaiting and linkbacks. Again, there was no malice intended and, for the next lists we undertake, we are definitely going to fix that. So, as I mentioned in the earlier post…we made a mistake on that. Point taken. I have no problem admitting when we are in error.

    The list was never intended to be anything other than it was…a fully transparent stab at quantifying publicly available numbers. Do you call bullshit on Quantcast or Alexa when they estimate site traffic? Same diff. Again…we never said this was a definitive list. We never even suggested that we did anymore work than what publicly available data would provide. And by the way, as far as calling it lazy, I can assure you even with the public data available it was actually still quite a bit of work to amalgamate and analyze. And you suggest we talk to people? Why? To get subjective influence so friends can tell us which friends they want to support? We weren’t interested in engaging in that nonsense. That is why we did it with data that everyone could see.

    And..for the record, you bitch at us because we make people register to claim their accounts…I had to freaking register to make this comment!!! You are a total hypocrite. You piggybacked on traffic generated from this story already..stop playing holier than thou and pretending you are in it for the good of it. You sell ads! We don’t even sell ads against our content.

    With respect to the issue of me not knowing who you are and what your gig is…believe me, I am familiar with you. You are one of those guys who ‘shoots from the hip’…’tells it like it is’…I just didn’t realize that there was a patented lock on calling bullshit…and that you owned it.

    This will be my last post on this issue…as I actually have work to do. As far as your request for wishing we didn’t know you existed…granted.

  22. lbrody – um, you could have blogged your retort elsewhere and use a trackback.

    Or left your comment on his personal site, in case you don’t know what that is, it’s and there’s a post about this there, too. No registration required.

    And I think Sean got +2 experience points for having an email address available here

    Finally, I do have some capital to venture and would like to know how you accomplish that last wish. Can I buy some of that? (Not to wish that I didn’t know Sean, but perhaps some other things I’d like to selectively remove from my own consciousness and hopefully other people’s.)

  23. Oh man, are we doing this now? OK….

    Again, there was no malice intended and, for the next lists we undertake, we are definitely going to fix that. So, as I mentioned in the earlier post…we made a mistake on that. Point taken. I have no problem admitting when we are in error.

    THEN FIX IT. Know what I mean? You have articles online right now for NYC, SV and LA. Add links to those articles. That’s one of the beauties of the web, you can edit stuff. So if you know this is a mistake, then correct it. Don’t wait till next time, fix the mistake you already made.

    And by the way, as far as calling it lazy, I can assure you even with the public data available it was actually still quite a bit of work to amalgamate and analyze. And you suggest we talk to people? Why? To get subjective influence so friends can tell us which friends they want to support? We weren’t interested in engaging in that nonsense. That is why we did it with data that everyone could see.

    But that is exactly the problem, because of the metrics you chose to look at and value, you decorated the room before you ever built the house. Really, take a look at the factors you are considering – these do not spell influence, they spell activity. Number of search results returned on YouTube? Number of updates on Twitter? Those say nothing about the quality of what a person is doing, just that they are doing a lot of it. Again I point to myself as an example, there’s no way in the world I should be on a list of influential people just because I have a big mouth. But by only looking at those numbers you are instantly skewed AGAINST people who aren’t using all of the tools you felt were important. There are hugely influential and important people doing things online in Los Angeles that don’t use Twitter, and don’t do things with video – or do video but do it on their own sites not YouTube. Without talking to people in Los Angeles about this you miss all of that important info. The numbers don’t tell the story you are making them out to. That’s what I’m saying is lazy, anyone can do math. It’s take someone with a vested interest in a story to actually talk to people about it.

    And..for the record, you bitch at us because we make people register to claim their accounts…I had to freaking register to make this comment!!! You are a total hypocrite.

    For someone who “been in this business as long, if not longer” than me you sure do say a lot of things that make you sound like a guy who thinks the internet is just a series of tubes. Let’s look at this:

    Metblogs: A person has to register an account for themselves to post a comment. This makes sure they aren’t a spambot, and that they are at least somewhat accountable for what they say.

    NowPublic: NowPublic creates an account for a person without their permission, populates it with data (links, rss feeds, ect) without consulting the person, then sends the person a username and password and tells them if they want to change any of it they have to log in and do it themselves.

    Are you honestly saying those two things are the same?

    You piggybacked on traffic generated from this story already..stop playing holier than thou and pretending you are in it for the good of it. You sell ads! We don’t even sell ads against our content.

    I piggybacked? Check the post times sir, my post was live before your list was. I quick look at my referrers does not show a bunch of inbounds from NowPublic, it shows a bunch of inbounds from people I know who posted links to this article because they thought it was important enough that other people should read it. If I’d made a post about how flattered I was that you counted my facebook friends and asking everyone to pat me on the back would I be piggybacking then? Would you be here congratulating me? And really, don’t even try to pull the ads/doing-the-right-thing thing – you have salary and a VC backed funded company, we have massive credit card debt and wrecked personal lives. The good of it is the only reason I’m in it, I’m certainly not benefiting from it in any other aspect of my life.

    This will be my last post on this issue…as I actually have work to do.

    Maybe you should consider this work. You run a company centered around people contributing and corresponding online, actually talking to people online is an important part of that.

    As far as your request for wishing we didn’t know you existed…granted.

    Don’t read too much into my snark. You writer Marc was trying to insult me by saying he didn’t know who I was before he wrote the article (a point I’ve been trying to make since the beginning of this, I’m not someone most people know about) and since I was complaining about his article specifically I was responding and agreeing with him that we’d both be better of if he still didn’t know about me. You? I’m glad you know about me, if you tell your writers to include proper links because of this little back and forth then it’s been more than worth it. Good day to you sir!

  24. Okay…so I promised my last post was going to be the end of it…however, I want to clarify two final things. I don’t have time to respond to everything you wrote save for the following:

    When I said we made an error around linking back to sources, I want to be clear that our mistake was not making the links visible enough. However, to suggest that we are not linking back is ridiculous. Are you looking at the same user page I am? There is full link to your site under “Sean Bonner’s Sites” and a link to every single one of your Twitter feeds. This is the same for every profile on the list. So, the links are clearly there…we could have made them more visible however. So there is nothing to change but design…which as you know takes time.

    Secondly, we didn’t create your page on NowPublic and then make you register as a way to trap you..we did it to give you an opportunity to participate in the process in a more meaningful way…to, ironically, give you a tonne of opportunity to get links back from NP for your content.

    I don’t think Marc was trying to insult you…he was just making the point of why the list was created in the first place…we wanted to people to know you exist because we like your work and so do many others. The point was to uncover talented and active people There…you see…I admitted it finally. I am a fan.

    I guess we’ll put each other back on one another’s xmas/hannukah card list now. :)

    And..oh yeah..if you think VC money is good thing…I would way rather be in your position. VC’s have their own little fun challenges!

  25. I’m just going to pop some popcorn and continue to watch this thread. Good times.

  26. Hi Leonard, thanks for sticking around. Really. I do appreciate those links on the user page, and that’s a good step for sure, but it’s not what I was talking about. I’m talking about your main article page:

    That list of people, there names should link to their own sites. If you also want to include a link to the NowPublic pages you’ve created that is fine, but someone shouldn’t have to click through a profile page to get that info. If you are writing an article about someone doing someone online, you should link in that article to what they are doing.

    That said, I do appreciate you stepping in here.

  27. Looks like Linkbait Leonard got a bite on his line bigger than he can reel in.

    Their post isn’t even that great. # of friends on social networking sites = influence? Where the fuck is the logic in that yard of bullshit?

  28. Linkbait Leonard, you are truly and utterly clueless.

    When is it EVER standard procedure to sign another person up for your website without their consent? Even stating that you want them to “get involved” in an interesting process is still dishonest, especially considering your earlier comments that you are in this business for traffic.

    Sean is still spot on. The original links should NOT link internally to your own site. These “influential” people are not being influential on NowPublic. They’re being influential on their own sites. Proper netiquette would be to link to their own sites.

    Face it, Leonard. Nrek said it best. You bit off way more than you could chew.

  29. It’s 2am…and I keep asking myself why I allow myself to get sucked into this. Short answer…can’t sleep…and I don’t want to buy the abdominalizor currently being sold on TV.

    “Linkbait Leonard”…that’s actually kinda funny. Put a smile on my face.

    So, let me make sure I understand…your big beef is that we didn’t put the initial links to the profiles on first inbound article? Well, I can honestly say we felt we were doing enough by posting the many links on the profile pages themselves. Honestly, nothing we are doing here is any different that what Arrington does with Crunchbase or Technorati does when you are required to claim your blog.

    Either way…I have instructed our team to make the changes based on the feedback here. Will probably take a few hours…but should be up soon.

    And wrt “bit off more than I can chew”? If this is the most gravitas I have in the getting in over my head category, I will be a happy man.

    This really has to be my last post here as my 7am breakfast meeting is going to be really ugly.

    Linkbait Leonard signing off.

  30. Thanks Leonard. That’s fantastic. I’ll update the post to reflect that. I’m glad that you ventured into this mess and I think the outcome will be better for everyone!

  31. With all due respect, Leonard, I still find it awkward that those mentioned in the top 20 Most Public were notified not by NowPublic, but by themorris+kingcompany. That’s really set off my skeptic nerve.

    No news org that I”m familiar with — whether citizen-generated, professional, or otherwise — employ a third party to notify individuals 24-hours in advance of them being subjects in an article/post.

    Where is the line drawn between where a PR firm/consultant is advising and actually creating content?

  32. Hey Sean, I’ve added the links from the member pages to the article itself. I guess this kind of stuff falls to the ones with insomnia, since no one else is around, thank Leonard for keeping me up – as long as he hasn’t bought the abdominzer it was worth it.

    As Leonard mentioned, when I pointed out that I didn’t know who you were, it was simply meant to point out that the list (link-bait or not) is meant actually flows both ways… overall the point is taken and we’ll make sure we reformat all of the MostPublic index pages to take in all of the feedback we’ve received here and elsewhere.

  33. Wow, what an interesting exchange. I’ve learned a lot. I learned that Sean has an immense statue. Do I want to see it? No thanks. I learned that there is someone named Leonard Brody who can grant wishes. Do we each get three wishes? I would like to start out with a Bentley Continental GT, or maybe an Aston Martin DB5 c.1964. Oops, is that 2 wishes? And speaking of Anglophilia, I learned how to spell “humour” and “tonne” the British way. That will come in handy as I will need to distinguish my Aston’s bonnet from its boot.

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