America’s 50-centers

Fiverr.com is a truly interesting site. People tell you what they can offer you for $5, you tell them the specifics of what you need, and within a day or two they provide it to you. (The provider gets $4; the fiverr administration keeps $1 of every transaction.)

Today, for example, a student (who happened to be Chinese) was offering to take your photo and photoshop it to make you look like a character from Avatar. Someone else was offering “the world’s best barbecue sauce recipe” (and that’s the kind of thing where you can really rack up big money – when it’s something already prepared that you can just email off to lots of curious browsers). Someone else offered to call one of your friends and sing Happy Birthday in Mandarin to them.

A friend introduced me to fiverr just yesterday. Curious about how it worked, I idiotically put up an ad saying I could write a 400-word article on any topic for $5. Within an hour I found myself with three orders for press releases, one about real estate, another about single moms raising young sons and a third about a line of soap products all made from hemp oil. It didn’t take me long to write these, but still, it was worth way more than $5. So I took down my ads. The only way to make money on this site is to have something pre-written that you can then tweak, refashion and recycle for multiple use, like a barbecue recipe. Once you figure out the formula, you can actually make a lot of money.

All of that was a very long-winded way of getting to my very small point: A lot of service providers on fiverr are offering to put up a set number of positive comments on your blog, or to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon. In other words, they are the Made-in-the-USA version of China’s 50-centers, employed by business instead of the government.

I was especially depressed to see the offers to write Amazon book reviews. I write a lot of reviews on Amazon and I work pretty hard on them (most but not all are from reviews I put up here). And, gullible as I am, I take the reviews I read seriously. I had to wonder, how many of these glowing reviews were ordered and manufactured on sites like fiverr?

I’m not really that naive. I was always aware a lot of what we call “word of mouth” has been planted by insidious clever marketers. But it was disheartening for me to see there’s a whole cottage industry dedicated to planting BS reviews, written by anonymous sharks who never even looked at the book they’re raving about. 50-centers; pay per comment, pay per post, pay per review. It was just another reminder that you need to assume just about all the user-generated content you read on the Internet is, or at least might be, bogus. A shame.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

Care to share your essay about hemp oil? Just kidding.

It’s easy to see both the potential and exploitative aspects of this site. Interesting.

July 1, 2010 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

It is interesting. And I left out one key point – for all the writing assignments, the only thing the customers care about is search engine optimization. The whole thing boils down to using strategically placed keywords to boost their google rankings. At least for the writing assignments. One customer praised my writing but criticized me for not using the SEO-friendly formula, “The five things you need to know….” IOW, he wanted me to write, “The five things every single dad needs to know about raising a daughter,” and then bulletting each item, starting each bullet with a keyword. These guys are stacking the google deck, and I guess everybody eventually will have to jump on the SEO bandwagon if they haven’t already simply in order to remain competitive as we continue shifting from advertising to search-based marketing.

July 1, 2010 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

Here’s your mission, should you chose to accept it – write something that will be picked up in the first five topics in Google AND Baidu ๐Ÿ™‚

July 1, 2010 @ 2:34 pm | Comment

That is why I have always laughed at the criticism leveled against Baidu for allowing paid links in the “organic” rankings….They, at least now, mark the paid entries and differentiate them from the “authentic” results…
But, Google cleverly spawned a whole industry around people learning to dance to the ever-changing music in their algorithm…
Companies pay SEO professionals $150-200K to dominate top rankings in Google…There is little that is authentic about that…
I advise companies on SEO/SEM strategy and will not do it for a company that hopes I will “trick” my way into good rankings on their behalf…We used accepted standardized SEO techniques combined with good social media broadcasting and our clients rank well because they have the right content to justify and sustain top placements…
That said, it is wise to be a little savvy about tags and titles, but better yet just do what you do Richard: write well…

July 1, 2010 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

Thanks – this blog actually has a respectable google ranking, and when I review a book it often ends up on the first search page. And for several glorious years, this was the No. 1 google hit for “peking duck,” until Wikipedia came along and ruined the party. My point being, as you said – good writing (not that I’m a good writer) and cultivation of trust with your audience (so they refer you and link back) and intelligent use of tags and keywords – those seem a better formula than all the games these guys are playing. Every time I think about mass-produced Amazon reviews I feel sick. (I never even used tags until last year, and since I did my traffic’s gone straight to hell. Any correlation?) ๐Ÿ™‚

July 2, 2010 @ 3:13 am | Comment

Richard, you were robbed. Demand Media pays about $15 for a 500-word article.

Anyway, these SEO people are not out to cultivate an audience. They’re out to make a quick buck. It’s the ultimate in the commodification of content. People generate content, the content is monetized, the page quickly sinks to the bottom of the search results. And then they turn around and do it again.

July 2, 2010 @ 8:33 am | Comment

Writing in SEO phrases ? This has to be stopped ! I perhaps can see the need for SEO, boilerplate writing on a resume or press release that’s looking to be noticed on the web, but good prose and news is what sustains and builds website and blog readership.

July 5, 2010 @ 12:39 am | Comment

Miss, if you think anyone can stop people from using SEO tricks to boost their rankings I think you’re in for a surprise. We are only going to see more, not less, of this practice. Ads and traditional marketing are less and less useful as everyone uses search to find what they need/want, and the only way to survive is to get to the top of the search engines. And the First Amendment means anyone can write whatever type of copy they want to meet their objectives. The only way this can change is if the search engines do a complete overhaul, and even then….

July 5, 2010 @ 1:43 am | Comment

This is why PKD has always been so awesome. Always going out there and finding new and interesting things to investigate. If PKD were a brand of toothpaste, it would be Colgate, because it is both varied and fresh. Whilst many doubt PKD’s staying power, this essay and the issues it addresses are evidence of how PKD delivers the goods yet again. I would rate this essay 9.5/10 and would advise my friends and family to read it as well!

….now, where’s my $5?

July 5, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Comment

The trick with fiverr is to find people like you who are just starting out on there. Many times they will put a service worth more than $5 like you did. Then again, these people have no reviews so it is a fair risk/reward ratio I guess.

July 9, 2010 @ 11:48 am | Comment

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