Opinion: Shift Happens

What are Affiliates?

It is hard to get concensus on that. In my eyes affilites are “meta-thinkers” who are often dissatisfied with the status quo. Affiliates are all about finding “digital independence” and they do this by naturally pushing the envelope. Tactics vary but the internal make-up, the essence, is often the same. Quick and nimble meta-thinkers and creative system gamers.

What is Success?

Some say success is consistency of purpose, but if you consistently never achieve your purpose I am not so sure that is success. I can only define it for me. Success is how I choose to define it and for me success is independence. It is the ability to control my own destiny. I wish I could boil it down better, but I cannot. I can point you to people like Gary Vee who, like myself, believe that it is important to understand how to “keep score”.

Much To Do About Nothing

I received a nomination to be on the Formation Advisory Board (FAB) of the Performance Marketing Alliance. I have tentatively accepted. This means I will have to expend social capital and take some risk. At this stage in the game I feel any formal organization would be a step up over the current vacuum. It is worth the calculated risk to try.

The need in the performance marketing industry to adopt an organizational structure has been talked about for years, and I would know- I am a fossil at age thirty-eight. I have seen this over and over and watched attempts come and go. I have been a part of some failures e.g. AU. Perhaps Affiliate Union was partly successful as it did produce an excellent working document for contracts.

My Own Adventures over a Decade

I am such a relic they named an award after me – someone apparently thought I was dead because they don’t name stuff after you unless you are. This should not surprising given some of the adventures I have had. I have been shot, went botnet hunting with living legends like paperghost, built and played nightmarish ARGs and infilterated operations that make the “adware” problem on par with a comparison of chicken pox to the plague . I have even had the opportunity to make controversial films, explored new digital worlds and had the privilege of speaking at huge conferences. They even give me awards and I dropped out of college- how neat is that?

I have busted some pretty nasty operations too and got to travel to some interesting destinations. I have worked with FTC, FBI, DHS, and if you want to give it a three letter acronym it is possible I have been there and done that.

My relationship with performance marketing has been an almost surreal adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for another. I love the people, the creative aspects and I love the adventure and the risk.

For the most part, I was usually able to choose my own destiny, and that was a big part of the satisfaction. I started like most people- knowing very little and armed with scant resources. I am a meta-thinker and an envelope pusher. I am slow out of the gate, but once I get going- I can move at light speed and hit hard. I am not afraid to fail, nor am I afraid to succeed. I move one step at a time and with deliberation. I don’t fight unless I have too, but I never run from one either.

Keep Perspective Straight

For the record I don’t like what adware has become. However, I will defend to the death people’s right to download what they want and to have the liberty to make the choice- as long as they have a choice. Commissions lose out to liberty any day in my book. Still there are bigger worries so I keep things in perspective. You might pay attention to the giants (MFST) moving into the space, or understand what Google Checkout really means. The answers are out there- information is free, insights are not.

With issues such as the New York “affiliate tax” the need for something like the Performance Marketing Alliance is now. I know everyone wants transparency, openness and fairness but get over it. There is nothing to be transparent about at this stage in the game and to imply otherwise is not only premature but questionable behavior. Think for yourself- you are not a lemming- you are meta-thinkers. Many already are thinking for themselves and that is great.

There has been an attempt at stirring controversy because industry go-getters are trying to put some order into a “so-called industry”. I use “so-called” because industry means organization. Brad Waller who, for the record, was running an affiliate program before Amazon. Brook Schaaf a very respected manager, and Lisa Riolo a respected consultant. I have known all of these people for years, broke bread with them in person and frankly you cannot ask for better people. Others have been invited and the general concensus is let’s get everyone’s voice, big or small, in on the picture. Can you do that? Can you stop talking, complaining and speculating long enough to put together one sheet of coherent “wants” on a piece of paper? This is Web 2.0- use the damn medium to your advantage.

Don’t Like It- Get Your Own

For those who are so concerned with conspiracy theories I suggest you start your own movement. Of course you will find that starting these movements are not easy, and if you stand any chance of success you will have to get people with experience, ability and the social and political capital on board. Truth be told- some people wield more power than others. That power is often earned. You can also just ignore things. It is not compulsory and this is not socialism. Freedom is a cornerstone of Performance Marketing- defining your own path through creative, innovative and hard work by choice.

You are responsible for the contracts you accept and the conditions under which you work. You and only you.

Global Thinking & Good News

As an aside I want to add that in my early discussion I want to see a global alliance. This is even trickier which means Ambassadors will be needed too. Long have U.S.-centric organizations ignored the U.K. or what is going on in other c0untries. I have a video at the end to put that in perspective. I like to think global. I don’t see boundaries and lines. I see one world. I often learn a lot from those who live in other countries when I remember to shut up and listen first. That was a hard lesson for me because I sometimes like to hear myself talk. I have learned it is best to be quiet and get facts from many sources. Without facts I cannot make the best decision.

We already know about global economics. Performance marketers live and die on the razor’s edge of risk although they will need to evolve in order to stay alive in the next years. The good news is that new horizons, like ARGs, digital video, podcasts, and virtual worlds when combined with shifting distribution models and JIT inventory, and Print-On-Demand are going to open up brand new opportunities for the daring and the bold. Brian Clark was just too early with his revolution predictions.

Not What You Lose- What Could You Gain?

In terms of an organization I would ask people to put aside fear and worry for a moment (because it serves no real purpose) and do as I advise my self above- shut up and listen. Instead think about what you want.

What would you want if you could get it?

For example a group that could wield enough mass to get health insurance would be a great thing. Having been very sick recently I know just how important it is to have health insurance .

Instead of thinking of what someone is trying to “strip away”- think about what you might be getting. Representation? The ability to define some basic parameters so those outside the idiosyncratic world of performance marketing would have a clue as too what you do.

Put aside the “adware” worries and Illuminati theories for now. Yes- stop worrying about parasitic software because the vast majority of people do not even understand how it operates or know how to do an appropriate technical dive or audit. In fact most affiliates fail to understand that from a biological perspective- they are ecosystem parasites. Not all parasites are bad. For example some parasites live in the digestive tracts of animals and perform useful functions. Step back for a moment and look at the web of relationships and think for yourself.

Because if you are going to speak out about something at least do your homework or people who actually do know are going to take you to task. Remember this is a business environment. You have choice. Don’t like operations?
You can leave.
You can even file a lawsuit.
You can do nothing.
You can do many things.

You can speak where you choose and write what you wish. You have to accept the consequences of course, but isn’t it great that you can?

Shift Happens

The forces are already aligning to make an organization happen, and I think it can happen, although it is still in the nebulous stage- this means people are talking and trying to get some bare basic organization. This is so nebulous that people have not even accepted their FAB post. I do not think it will be perfect and I do not know if it will even last, but the inflection point is here. The time is now. Historically I have a good sense for these things. I am not better than any other person and I started just the same. One person who wanted to choose their destiny.

Start out with simple goals and worry about the complex matters later. An alliance is not a “boss” nor a “police force”. It is a group of professionals, working in unison, to serve a group. How can an organization serve you? What are the problems that need to be overcome now and in the future?

Are you even asking the right questions? Are you demanding and striving for something better? Shut up and listen then produce something worth reading or hearing. Put your dreams on paper and see what happens. Fear is the mind killer…success means risk.

Shift Happens…Participate or watch…because you choose your own destiny.

About Wayne Porter

Wayne Porter is one of the original founders of ReveNews.com, and served as the CEO and founder of XBlock Systems a specialized research firm on greynets and malware research before being acquired by unified communications security leader, Factime Security Labs. His work includes serving as a panlist at the Federal Trade Commission to shape legislation on software and the creation of two patent-pending technologies for corporate networks. Wayne is a frequent speaker at e-commerce & business events including CJU, ASW and RSA and frequently cited in the press. He has been designated a Microsoft Security MVP three times and is recognized on Google’s Responsible Security Disclosure page- in addition to receiving the first Summit Legend Award. Wayne currently works as a Security Consultant on Social Media and operates a consultancy on digital worlds. His hobbies include reading science fiction, playing chess, fishing, writing, collecting shiny digital gadgets, playing racquetball and studying memetic engineering. He maintains a personal weblog at WaynePorter.com detailing his explorations in security, web 2.0, and virtual worlds.
You can follow Wayne on Twitter: @wporter.

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Wayne Porter is one of the original founders of ReveNews.com, and served as the CEO and founder of XBlock Systems a specialized research firm on greynets and malware research before being acquired by unified communications security leader, Factime Security Labs. His work includes serving as a panlist at the Federal Trade Commission to shape legislation on software and the creation of two patent-pending technologies for corporate networks. Wayne is a frequent speaker at e-commerce & business events including CJU, ASW and RSA and frequently cited in the press. He has been designated a Microsoft Security MVP three times and is recognized on Google's Responsible Security Disclosure page- in addition to receiving the first Summit Legend Award. Wayne currently works as a Security Consultant on Social Media and operates a consultancy on digital worlds. His hobbies include reading science fiction, playing chess, fishing, writing, collecting shiny digital gadgets, playing racquetball and studying memetic engineering. He maintains a personal weblog at WaynePorter.com detailing his explorations in security, web 2.0, and virtual worlds. You can follow Wayne on Twitter: @wporter.

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9 Responses to Opinion: Shift Happens

  1. Evan W. says:

    I agree completely…

  2. Wayne, I think one of the problems is you're not an affiliate, maybe way back in the day but I'm talking about now, so some of the stuff I have to disagree with.

    What you said about adware, put it aside this and that. There are some trust issues there, with other affliates associated with adware, with some of the networks. It's there. It's easier if people feel they're on the same page. In the UK they have an assocication which seems to be working but the major networks have taken a stand against adware, minus one of the networks, so it's a little easier.

    And some of the other stuff about asking the right questions, getting into the conversation. Where you at? We have a thread going, a lot of issues are being brought up and talked about with some input from the people behind it as well. It would be great to see you, Todd etc join in the conversation.

    Side note, MSN, nothing to worry about :)

  3. Wayne Porter says:

    Jonathan,

    I do engage in "affiliate marketing". Granted on a very limited scale…I even do it in Second Life :) …it is even harder now than it was "back in the day". The Web has matured. The skillsets are far more complex.

    Where am I? I am in the conversation. First step however I wanted to be quiet and listen.

    Note: Stop calling them parasites…because by nature, all "affiliates" are parasitic. See Reality Check Post…

    On the trust issues- it boils down once again to choice. People do not have to participate. Is it over the COC? No one could be more dissappointed than I was that self-regulation didn't work, but life moves on…will the problem ever get solved?

    I don't know- I still have some ideas, and I have tried alot of them. I AM going to take one last attempt at it and see where it goes…but before something like that can be tackled it would be nice to have "an industry". Because right now- there is NO INDUSTRY. Anyone who says there is in the land of ***sunshine and lollipops***.

    On asking the right questions and where am I?

    On the phone asking questions, on skype, in IM, writing blogs, etc… :) Like anyone else I can choose where I want to have my conversation(s). I simply choose here, but invite people to choose what is *best for them*.

    The most important thing is that we have meaningful conversations. I would love to see people just throw open word pad and start a list of THINGS THEY WOULD LIKE TO HAVE…send my way, blog them, comments, forums- wherever. People read them. I know where industry news is…

    Everyone I talked to seems supportive of this attempt but it will get chill if it looks like it is going to be big headache.

    I know some will say well "thousands of affiliates from site X" say you are wrong. I disagree. The influential people (those that actively make a full time living, attend conferences and build connections) would like to see something. Even the security community is noticing and would like to see something.

    http://www.vitalsecurity.org/2008/06/mid-week-spy

    This isn't my idea- I was approached and asked to serve…so one last time I doubt the adware controversy is going to be solved to everyone's satisfaction, but people HAVE A CHOICE. Don't do business with places that are not in alignment with your goals or values. Don't read what you don't like. If the market forces were really that strong, we wouldn't have a problem.

    In the grand scheme of things I thought ok- it would be "a good thing" if decent "affiliates" stopped getting a bad rap for the actions of a minority of blackhats. It would be a good thing if indy publishers could get health insurance and REALLY make a go at it…it would be a good thing if the press had a clue what it was…and how it works. There are other problems and an organization has to start somewhere. At the this point- keeping it simple and seeing if there is an "industry" out there.

    Sidenote: MSFT cashback…Google Checkout…the industry is going to change. Time will tell if I am right…

  4. Jonathan – care to get more involved with the association formation discussions? Your comments here and on ABW are insightful and having your involvement early on would be important to the industry. Please email me:

    rebecca@performancemarketingalliance.

  5. Wayne Porter says:

    Rebecca,

    Suggestion and Caveat:

    Suggestion- Perhaps a call for papers that have outlines of questions…(or an online form)…

    a) People can be anonymous if they want to submit ideas

    b) Not everyone has time for forums, etc

    Caveat: I think it is important the PMA be a supportive force. I sense some think a "forum" might be a community disruptor (I don't think so), so while the PMA might have a forum now or comments on (maybe access for due paying members if and when it congeals) it is one that doesn't try to usurp readerbases, members, etc. It nees to be a neutral entity and supportive of the existing communities out there.

    e.g. I see insurance benefits and education as an important issue.

    Note on the dues. Affiliates and indy publishers bear enough risk as it is. I think any dues for affiliates need to be a low hurdle. I doubt we will see thousands of members even though there are thousands of affiliates. Most just are not that active…another reason to broaden scope to performance marketing so we can serve those that fall ouside of the normal "affiliate description". e.g. those who use etsy, or publish their own art, etc. They live on performance, but happen to own their own brands or products.

    Large networks, etc and merchants have budgets and should bear a higher range of cost. Like the IAB does…

    best,

    wayne

  6. Well said Wayne. Thanks for taking the time to write this and put it out there for discussion. I think the vast majority of people in our industry feel the way you do. I am looking forward to seeing something happen that can gain traction and trust within the performance marketing industry. It will only make it stronger and benefit us all in the long run.

  7. jgoode says:

    great thoughts – thank you for putting them out there – i’m excited to see where it all goes – and i love the video, always good for reality checking

  8. John Farina says:

    Well said Wayne. I agree with the majority of your post!

  9. Wow! That was a great article by Wayne Porter. I couldnt have said it better, yet i feel the same way about affiliate marketing. And as Obama begins his presidential run, I too will be embarking upon an exciting and new life long mission. So in conclusion this article has inspired me so much that, I had to save this site to my favorites. And I will refer to it often and regularly in my conquest of affiliate marketing.

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