Assorted Ideas

When Seth Godin Killed Squidoo, Was It Really Fraud?

Seth Godin killed Squidoo, the best content writing site on the web. Spammers hurt Squidoo, but writers took the brunt of it… while Godin and HubPages profited.

By David Stone

Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

Intro for Seth Godin Killed Squidoo

If you’ve been posting as long as I have, you’ve probably seen some gross abuse by website owners. Some vanish without warning, taking your work (and sometimes royalties) with them. One, Seekyt, under new ownership, continues to publish my articles, credited to a different author. 

Because the world trusts WordPress, I’ve migrated all my blog content…

Seth Godin killed Squidoo, built on trust, not contracts...
Good faith count as much as contracts when you write for the web. Squidoo made it personal, for better, then for worse.

It’s grisly, but when it comes to horror stories, the death of Squidoo in 2014 was the worst. Here’s my in the middle of the wreck commentary while kicking my way through the ruins…

Seth Godin Killed Squidoo: Serious Trespass of Ethics or Worse?


Already with a history of internet irresponsibility, his actions in laying the final hammer to Squidoo may top his other strange behaviors for their cunning ability to manipulate facts for PR and trusting followers for profit.

That Godin retains a reputation for internet marketing brilliance, even after a bumbling of Squidoo that rivals what you’d expect from a failing high school senior, shows us that the blogosphere loves hewing to the ongoing narrative as much as the mass media does.

The mass hates change once the story’s embedded.

Of course, being a klutz at marketing management, which Godin certainly is, is not a crime. Being impervious to one’s own inadequacies and failures, as Godin also seems to be, is perfectly legal too.

But taking control of assets belonging to others and leveraging them for your own private profit, while scheming to cut the owners out of their share, isn’t.

It’s what we call “fraud.”

Here’s how Wikipedia defines fraud:

Fraud is a deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.”

Wikipedia goes on to explain that fraud can be both a civil wrong and a criminal offense.

Seth Godin at Work

Godin has emerged as a skilled writer of inspirational marketing texts, but the results haven't matched up to the rhetoric.
Godin has emerged as a skilled writer of inspirational marketing texts, but the results haven’t matched up to the rhetoric. | Source

Let’s Look at the History

From inception, although Godin and his partners promoted Squidoo as a place to write about your passions, it was the go to place for marketing products on commission for affiliates, especially Amazon and eBay.

All the self-proclaimed experts selling strategies for making money on the internet, usually with little or no effort, on autopilot, sent their customers straight to Squidoo. It was free and easy. There were no restrictions on marketing excess.

Seth Godin built a site where anyone with internet access could pluck products from Amazon and sell them freely, gaming the web crawlers for key word dominance. You searched for “shower curtains” and you got a Squidoo catalog of pasted in Amazon products.

Other efforts descended from obvious to ridiculous

In a notorious initiative, Godin discarded the concept that made him famous:

From permission marketing fame to cyber greenmail shame, Seth Godin has finally jumped the shark,” according to internet attorney Mike Young.

What did the marketing genius do to earn Young’s condemnation?

He put together hundreds of Squidoo lenses for companies with major brands and promoted it as a Squidoo product, Brands in Public. In a Squidoo HQ post, Godin reported demanding $400 per month from each of the companies, even though — shades of the future — neither he nor anyone else had permission from the owners to create the pages to begin with.

If your brand wants to be in charge of developing this page,” Godin wrote, “It will cost you $400 a month.

Young summed it up.

“From an ethical standpoint, there’s little separating what Godin is doing from cybersquatters who sit on domain names filled with the companies’ brands demanding unreasonable sums.”

That’s our boy, Seth Godin, not just unethical, but unaware on top of it.

But they deleted his post, and abandoned the initiative in less than a month.

When Seth Godin killed Squidoo, it wasn’t so out of character.

More Questionable Ethics

In a post titled The stupidest thing Seth Godin ever said,” Chris at 1 Good Reason takes Godin to task for a gaff so mindbogglingly stupid, it stopped veterans seasoned in the Seth Godin Genius Sauce in their tracks.

It also offers insight into the ethical slant with which he influenced Squidoo.

In a blog post titled Ads are the new online tip hat, Godin proposes:

“If you like what you’re reading, click an ad to say thanks.”

His mission, he claimed, was to change the economics of the internet.

Blogger Patrick Altoft wondered if Godin was advocating click fraud before going forward with a reasoned explanation why an advertiser would be cheated with a click made with no intention of considering a purchase.

A commenter, Ranked Hard, who may have had an eye on the future thought…

“I’m convinced that Seth wrote what he wrote for linkbait. It’s too inane to be something he actually advocates. But I don’t know, maybe his goal is to get Squidoo smart-priced.”

Another commenter was more succinct:

“It is stealing.”

Seth Godin killed Squidoo, a foundation laid…

All things considered, it’s no surprise that Godin and co-founder Megan Casey populated Squidoo with catalog pages. They were little more than transfer stations for affiliate sales.

If you were there, trying to join company with good writing and smart ideas, you found despair, just looking around the scuzzy neighborhood.

Don’t worry about that, Casey posted, the only real way to make money here is through Amazon sales. Shared Adsense revenue wouldn’t make you rich.

The values of Squidoo’s leadership team were clear enough.

But it shouldn’t surprise that Google, those dirty bastards, threw up their hands and decided, via Panda update, to stop sending searchers to Squidoo. Searchers easily found the same products after just a few clicks on Amazon.

While the lazy, marketing-addicted “lensmasters” who’d found Squidoo fertile for getting something for next to nothing railed at the terrible unfairness in Google’s actions, none really noticed that Google took money out of their own pockets as well in its efforts to improve user experience.

Then, it got ugly.

Seth Godin – WTF?

“But I didn’t kill Squidoo.” Seth Godin.

Megan Casey Skiddoes

Maybe Seth Godin killed Squidoo, but it wasn’t lonely at the top.

When a cofounder who’s experience in publishing was a key element in winning writers’ trust abruptly departs, you’d expect some details.

Nope, so long and farewell. Casey skiddooed, leaving for a new website about dogs.

But leaving one of the most prosperous sites on the web for one in the crowded web niche of dogs seemed a little strange. Squidoo was in the top 200 in the U.S. at the time.

Some speculated retrospectively that she anticipated what the big Panda was about to deliver at Squidoo, getting out before the fit hit the shan.

Godin got scarce when the going got rough too, leaving Bonnie Diczhazy, as community organizer, to scramble a rescue along with behind the scenes manipulators Corey Brown, Gil Hildebrand and probably a silent Seth Godin.

The cascading shared revenues, the chaotic filters, blocked lenses and locked out members following were well-documented. I’ll skip that bit of ugly history.

“Google, it seemed, penalized Squidoo…”

Many believe that Squidoo made things worse by chaotically employing medieval torture racks instead of working positively to improve what they had and help out the content creators who’d helped them.

Google, it seemed, penalized Squidoo, and Squidoo was conveying the gift bluntly to its writers, many of whom abruptly lost revenue they’d earned by following the spirited advice of guess who…?

Seth Godin.

While Diczhazy took gobs of flack, much of it personal, she stayed strong, never letting down, at least not publicly, and coming up with positive new ideas and suggestions consistently.

What did bother me was that neither she nor Godin or anyone else running the show at Squidoo ever accepted any responsibility for what went so wrong.

Perfectly within Godin’s skewed perspective, fingers pointed at the content creators, not the managers.

But if grew up in the non-digital American Middle Class, wasn’t taking responsibility a critical part of becoming a grownup?

I thought it mattered.

I’m sure Seth Godin disagrees. But what happened next was hair-raising.

HubPages Acquires Key Content from Squidoo

Kids and grifters, pay attention now, there’s a master at work.

“Here’s some good news, big news, news that will open some new possibilities for you…”

…was Godin’s opening line.

Yes, yes, yes, whatever’s coming, shade it positive, very positive right at the doorway. Marketing 101.

“HubPages is acquiring key content from Squidoo,” he cheerfully continued, “making it the largest site of its kind in the world.”

Are you getting this? Largest = better, without any justification whatsoever, and lucky you are part of it, just because.

My initial reaction was, Great! Squidoo fails, but there’s a new home on HubPages. Over a few years as a contributor, I hadn’t done as much on HP only because there are only so many hours in a day.

Then, others began to see something sinister, and my skepticism went with them on high alert…

  • First, how was it that HubPages was “acquiring key content” from Squidoo when Squidoo, the failing company, didn’t own that content. Their TOS, now deleted from the website, was always clear. Content belonged to the writers.
  • “We’ve been busy building transfer tools,” Godin wrote, “that will make it easy (and mostly automatic) for content to move…” How long had this been going on? And why the secrecy?
  • Squidoo’s content creators, never consulted, shouldn’t worry. If they didn’t want to become hubbers, they could opt out, but that had to happen within a strict deadline of two weeks. What was the big rush? Oh, sorry. Godin explained that. It was to be on time for Halloween. Honest. You can’t make up shit like that, expecting buy-in, although he apparently did.
  • “…the Squidoo team has always been focused on what’s best for you, our users,” Godin proclaimed, without blushing. Such self-sacrifice. It’s like this, if something is self-evident, there is no need to publish the information, especially as a compliment to your own goodwill toward your fellows.
  • When you read the accompanying details, you found that the Squidoo team’s best wishes for you meant that, if your pending payout fell below the newly increased threshold of $25 (from $1!), they confiscated every penny, turning it over to a fund where Godin served as a featured advisor.
  • But Godin never mentioned that, if you opted out of the easy transfer to HubPages, according to Squidoo’s TOS, you too sacrificed all your earning. You weren’t a member for the entire month.

Maybe Halloween wasn’t the big reason, after all.

Seth Godin killed Squidioo, but was it fraud?

“I’ll be working with HubPages to ensure that we make the best possible transition and impact going forward.” Seth Godin

Seth, really? In your wildest, self-aggrandizing dreams, did you imagine we’d be gratified to hear that you’ll come along and do for HubPages what you did to Squidoo?

Speaking on for myself — No, thank you.

Update, November 18, 2014: With the huge collapse of views on HubPages, it seems Godin was indeed able to bring his reverse magic to the new platform. Long time Hub writers as well as imported lens writers are taking a massive hit.

One reason, something smells bad around the smoldering ruins of Squidoo. In fact, it smells so suspicious, like kerosene after an arson, that the officials ought to have a look at it.

Fraud? I don’t know, but let’s take a look at the signs.

Yes, Seth Godin killed Squidoo, but was it fraud?

Let’s go back to the dictionary.

Fraud is —

  • wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
  • a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Was there deception? Yes, of course.

Pinpointing when they struck the Squidoo to HubPages deal is elusive, but no later than early July is most likely. That’s at least a month before the surprise announcement.

That’s when Squidoo’s development of its own promising new lens format stopped in its tracks. It’s also when the innovative “review” template underwent radical surgery, converted to a standard hub design, without explanation.

Suddenly, the reviews were just right for a uniform transfer to HubPages, and they dumped potentially conflicting new designs.

Seth Godin and his enablers will never own up to the stages in which they worked in secrecy to move content to HubPages, unless forced under oath to do so. The best we can get are educated guesses.

What’s wrong with closed door negotiations to protect the transaction from outside interference?

Nothing’s essentially wrong with that, of course — except that Godin and company worked to prevent inside interference, too.

It was pretty nifty, what Seth Godin did. Since he couldn’t sell the content on Squidoo — he never owned it — he sold access to it. Not just that, he did it in a way that took all the value out of the content by diverting it into his pockets and locked up the process in a way that guaranteed maximal benefit — to him.

All worked out well in advance, the timing of the announcement smartly orchestrated.

Grifters and kids, again, take note.

  • Most obvious was moving of Squidoo payday to 8/13, two days ahead of schedule. Happy “lensmasters” were happy with the early payout, but then, on what would normally be payday, 8/15, late in the afternoon on Friday, came the “good news.” As any public relations disaster control expert knows, that’s precisely when to dump bad news to guarantee the least exposure possible.
  • Secrecy prevented the owners of the content from influencing the deal with HubPages and, most important, from staking a claim. Squidoo’s TOS, now deleted from public view, makes a big deal about sharing revenue with writers. Not now. After supervising the disaster, Seth Godin decided that all value accrued to him and his favorite charity, the Acumen Fund, where he contributed as an advisor.
  • Haste was a critical factor in turning the gears before there was opportunity to gum up the works. After weeks or months of negotiation with HubPages and, then, designing transfer tools, why was all the cheery “good news” accented by a hard deadline, just two weeks away? Go along or get out?
  • “Will I get paid all the money Squidoo owes me?” “Yes, of course!” was the resounding answer in the accompanying FAQ. But it was as untruthful as it was resounding. The plan meant all payouts for less than $25, including a majority of lensmasters, went instead to Seth Godin’s favorite charity. That minimum had recently been ramped up from $1 (to streamline operations, Squidoo claimed.) In the resulting fury, Godin reversed that . But not reversed was the fact that, if you deleted your account by August 29, as demanded by Godin, you lost all your earnings for that month.
  • Sale? What sale? In Godin’s Black Friday announcement, he never once said he sold anything. It was an acquisition, artfully phrased to look like a merger, “combining these platforms.” Yes, at the bottom of the FAQ on a different page, whoever wrote it did say that Squidoo sold “its platform,” but it was a lot more than the platform, wasn’t it? Godin never ‘fessed up to the moneymaker he sold — that is, access to your content without your consent. Yes, you could opt out, downloading all your content in numerically coded files of raw html, to do with as you like, if you knew how to deal with it at all, could sacrifice the months of income required to post again elsewhere and had oodles of time to redo what you’d already done once.

Ahem…

In reality, Squidoo’s content creators were faced with extremely limited choices, but Godin arranged it so he couldn’t lose. If you transferred to HubPages, he pocketed whatever reimbursement had been negotiated. If opted out by the deadline, he then pocketed your earnings for at least the month of August.

Why the hard deadline of August 29, a Friday yet, when it could just as easily have been three days later on Monday — in October? Waiting until October would have let those opting out collect their August earnings. Of course, Seth Godin and his team were always “focused on what’s best for you, our users…”

Kids, grifters, did you get that?

If something is so sour and ugly no one would eat it, throw some sugar on it. Yum!

Conclusion

The evidence for fraud is strong. Seth Godin has not helped his case by refusing to respond to questions or concerns and tossing responsibility for managing the resulting mess to Corey Brown and Bonnie Diczhazy, neither of whom were empowered to do more than carry out his policy.

I’m not a cop or a prosecutor, and I don’t pretend to know if a crime was committed. But as an affected user, I’m entitled to ask someone who is to look further. Seth Godin has been publicly chastised for questionable ethical conduct before, as detailed above.

Did he take it too far, this time?

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