Thursday, April 16

Killing Community: Graham Langdon, Entrecard


Graham Langdon, self-described as a 23-year-old college drop out intent on making money, has it all figured out. In 2007, he adopted the business model originally developed by BlogRush, which is best described as a defunct throwback to “Web 1.0″ affiliate schemes.

His solution was to develop Entrecard, which was originally a free "business card" ad swap network based on a credit system. The model has recently undergone dramatic changes after several failed attempts to secure venture capitalist funding and no takers when he attempted to dump the company for $100,000. (Several buyers told me the latter was more of a publicity stunt to establish equity than a serious intent to sell.)

The new model attempts to monetize what once was a free service by exchanging the credit system with real currency, and with Entrecard keeping 25 percent on the blogger's side of the transaction. Ever since, not all has been well in the land of Entrecard.

Trading community in for cash.

If there was any reason Entrecard survived BlogRush, it was because, just below the surface of what seemed to be a junk traffic site, there was some semblance of niche communities, especially among mommy bloggers and craft blogs and personal bloggers. No "A list" bloggers, mind you, just regular people who blog.

The new cash model trades down that community, because advertisers do not have to reciprocate with Internet real estate. It is much easier to spend $25 without any participation whatsoever than to participate under the new rules. That is, for now. At the same time Entrecard is opening the network up to advertisers, it is imposing rules on the original community that made Entrecard viable.

Dropping quality ad real estate for fairness.

Originally, the first placement rule was that the Entrecard widget had to be placed "above the fold" until the decision was reversed after push back. Not to be deterred, however, Entrecard launched a variation of the rule based on the pretense of "fairness." Unfortunately, crowd sourcing "fairness" is only as good as the most intelligent participants. In this case, none of placement restrictions consider the obvious; the program can never be "fair."

• Quality sites will always benefit advertisers with more traffic than inferior sites.
• Less ad competitive sites will always benefit advertisers more than ad heavy sites.
• Load time is much more signifiant than where an advertisement is placed.

Ask most media buyers and they'll tell you that it's better to own a page toward the bottom of a fast-loading quality site than for it to appear at the top of a slow-loading low quality site filled with ads. However, some suspect that there is another benefit to imposing the rule all together. Entrecard can now exempt many members from a cashout service, which would allow them to covert old credits into cash.

The service, which is being delayed until after the rule is imposed, presents several logistical nightmares in that Entrecard is attempting to justify exempting members from the service under the old Terms Of Service, while deleting their accounts for violating a rule created in what will be a new Terms Of Service. And, since Entrecard has since placed a cash value on credits, some consider its actions theft or, at minimum, another taxable event to go along with the credit to cash conversion.

Communication breakdown is commonplace.

In terms of communication, the entire conversation continues to be grossly mishandled. Most Entrecard participants had no idea the rules would be changed until they received a warning that they would be suspended if they did not comply within 72 hours. When members complained, the network pointed them to a post on the Entrecard blog, as if it was required reading.

What did not occur, like many network developers forget, is that most members do not read the network blogs. Communication, especially when it involves changes to Terms of Service (TOS), requires being proactive instead. And, in the case of Entrecard, its own TOS states it's required: "Entrecard reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace any part of this Agreement. In such an event you will be notified four days prior via the email address associated with your user account."

This is not the only time Entrecard has broken its own rules. Advertisers were recently surprised to see the service arbitrarily double ad rates overnight. The only notification advertisers received was after the fact, with the justification that the network doubled the cash balance listed in everyone's account (and here we thought only the government could create money).

Add to this all the other problems associated with the program, and its anyone's guess what will happen next. One thing for certain: some advertisers are miffed to learn that the promise of targeting a specific category does not work. Currently, if you select a category on Entrecard, the category selection is confirmed, but advertisements are placed network wide.

Sustainability seems to be in question.

The net result of Entrecard's quest for cash seems to be aggravating an exodus of better bloggers. The departures began approximately six months ago.

While Langdon claims traffic has never been better, the truth is that Entrecard is becoming what people labeled it to begin with: a junk traffic site. Except, you have to pay for it. He doesn't mind. After all, bad publicity is good for business he says.

"A lot of people have this crazy misconception that bad publicity is actually bad for internet sites. Why just yesterday, we got a slew of bad publicity when we banned an Entrecard member for harassment and trolling," wrote Langdon. "Everyone was twittering about it and blogging about it, and tons of people were coming to Entrecard. Look at what happened to our blog’s traffic ... It doubled!"

Right. And more people will look at you on the road after an accident. Just ask Domino's.

What other members and former members are saying:

WTF, Entrecard Pt.II at Simply Saying

Entrecard Hoolabaloo at Vinallaseven

They’re Takin Your Booty Mates at Recycled Frockery

Entrecard Announcement at The Dirty Shirt

No More Entrecard at The Sofia Valeria Collection

22 comments:

Alan on 4/16/09, 12:02 PM said...

Great post per usual Rich. The better bloggers who formed the core of the Entrecard community seem to be congregating over at CMF Ads, a fairly new blog advertising service created by three of the most prominent Entrecard drop outs.

I well remember in the early days making a strong case that Entrecard was a social network, rather than a traffic exchange. And I honestly believe in the early days that it was. But Langdon has spent the past year and a half alternately ignoring and alienating his user base and many of us have simply moved on.

I fully expect that Entrecard will sooner or later go the way of Blogrush. And I have high hopes that CMF Ads will become what Entrecard _could_ have been had it had competent and professional management.

Rich on 4/16/09, 12:30 PM said...

Thanks Alan,

You're one of the original people who convinced me to check it out, and placed it on watch ever since you left.

Otherwise, it's been a year long fascination with the oddness of traffic generation and rating systems.

I enjoyed the bloggers (and many of those bloggers I visit anyway) but not the platform, and never used it for traffic generation. Then again, traffic was never been an issue here.

I'll certainly check out CMF Ads at some point. As you said, it seems to be run by good people.

Of course, this blog isn't very well suited for it (it wasn't well suited for Entrecard either, despite being popular there by its weird measure), but I'll be revamping a different one in a few weeks and will be sure to try it out there.

I may give another 'advertising' side run a shot over at Entrecard, but I doubt it. It's well overvalued and, sooner or later, people will figure that out.

Management and communication always makes a difference. So I agree with your assessment on the long term viability of the platform. It's not good.

Wish I could say different, but I cannot.

All my best,
Rich

Rich on 4/16/09, 1:35 PM said...

Interesting Side Bar:

Someone wrote me, saying Entrecard's content policies included asking them to remove their widget or a "video was of a troops campaign at christmas in TN."

Silly stuff. The blogger, kept the troops, naturally.

Best,
Rich

Lizzie on 4/16/09, 7:03 PM said...

Thanks for linking to my post. Be sure to see part 1 of that fiasco.

I'm very disappointed in the way Graham has handled this deal. I was willing to help a little by occasionally allowing paid ads to run on my widget-- but wanted to have final say. Apparently that just wasn't meant to be.

At any rate, some folks are still dropping on my non-existent widget, so it's still all good for the advertisers.

Turnip on 4/16/09, 9:19 PM said...

Nice overview of the situation there. "How many blogs are there in Entrecard?" Phirate won't say, even when asked directly. Neither will Graham. They will claim "Ten's of thousands" or say "Over 30k have signed up", but won't tell you how many people actually have the widget on their blog. Their forum says "Active Members: 456". If you take into account some members have 4 blogs, I'd say EC has under 2k active blogs and declining rapidly.

nadia on 4/17/09, 11:53 AM said...

Thanks for the link back! Great article. Langdon just doesn't seem to get it. He's not really interested in what we as members had to say, so I closed my account.

Rich on 4/17/09, 2:33 PM said...

@Lizzie,

It was my pleasure. I really appreciated your perspective and thought it paints a very common picture of where Entrecard is today.

@Turnip

You were always a class act and a regular stop. The quantity has always been suspect, but the quality seems to be declining even faster.

It stands to reason. Better bloggers tend to not subscribe to rules as outlined by others.

@nadia

You're very right. Langdon is attempting to apply predetermined crowd sourcing. ... That is when you highlight everyone who agrees with you, run off anyone who doesn't, and then claim those left behind prove you were right all along.

Best,
Rich

Rich on 4/17/09, 3:13 PM said...

UPDATE:

After making hundreds of members ineligible, Entrecard opens its cash out service at less than 20 percent of its promise. Instead of $5 per thousand, it announces the exchange rate at a mere $1 per thousand.

Meanwhile, despite reports of a runaway success program, our 'forced' system wide test run is still running after seven days with a minimal $25 investment (that was doubled after an unannounced price hike).

Best,
Rich

Rich on 4/17/09, 3:47 PM said...

UPDATE:

I really don't want to write another post about Entrecard so I'm providing some updates here.

As news broke on Entrecard's $1 per 1,000 credit cash out, Langdon Tweets: "it's just the introductory rate to clear out some credits. We fully expect it to get up to $3 shortly. #entrecard"

In other words, if you are in the "know," you can cash out for $2 more. But if you are not, then you've been suckered.

vanilla on 4/17/09, 6:46 PM said...

Thanks Rich for the updates,
Wrong decisions happens, but lies and lack of transparency is a sad thing.
Well, let see what will happened next

Rich on 4/18/09, 8:17 AM said...

Message from Graham. He obviously feels they can change the terms of any contract, any time.

Greetings Advertisers,

Tomorrow we're making an important change to the Entrecard Ad Network. We are temporarily disabling the cost-per-click option and offering only the CPM option. While many advertisers in our network have an astounding clickthrough rate due to good targetting and a well designed ad, a handful of advertisers using the cost-per-click option with ads that aren't converting into clicks are tying up the impressions for the whole network.

So, until we can develop gear that will reward advertisers for getting a high clickthrough rate by serving their ad more frequently (like Google does), we need to temporarily disable the Cost-Per-Click option.

If you currently have a cost-per-click campaign running, it will be automatically converted to CPM tomorrow at 5:00PM PST. If you want to re-design an ad or pause your campaign to consider how to proceed, please login before then to do so. You can log in at:

http://entrecard.com/advertiser/login

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we develop and evolve an efficient ad network.

yours,
Graham Langdon
CEO - Entrecard

Shari Thomas on 4/18/09, 10:25 AM said...

I too am one of the long-time members of Entrecard who is leaving.

Last weekend, the "Head Moderator- EC Staff Trainer", accused me of spam, deleted one of my blogs, and then stole 15000 EC from my blogs.

Between not knowing spam if he had a mouth full of it, placing paid ads even if you cancel/reject them, tell me where I have to place his widget, and then have the audacity to request personal information just to be considered for a cashout... they've lost my business.

I've been buying ads for a single blog, attempting to use up the remaning 2K EC, but it may not be worth the effort.

This whole business of no transparency, changing TOS willy-nilly, and then changing contract terms (type of ad purchased) smacks of such mismanagement that Entrecard should be put down before it dies a horrible death.

Mark on 4/18/09, 1:04 PM said...

I never bothered with Entrecard. Its initial pitch sounded too much like a hard sell to me. I couldn't put it into so many words at the time, but why the pushiness? And why the promises of a quasi-miracle? One blogger apparently saw results, but she's over it now. I myself didn't want someone trying to modify my blogging behavior with promises of a made-up currency.

Laane on 4/18/09, 2:13 PM said...

Great post.

You are right.
Meeting people who have to say something and who can make something special has been the main benefit of entrecard.

Rich on 4/19/09, 8:24 AM said...

@Shari Thomas

It seems more likely you were accused of spam because you had 15000 EC. It seems very likely that the EC motivation is to run off anyone who isn't lock step with Langdon to make HIM money.

@Mark

Great to see you!

You made a good choice. Unfortunately for me, I have to try some of these things out. Occasionally, there is something behind the hype. Other times, not so much.

Love the link. That's a great write up from a solid blogger. She need not need to worried about traffic. If anything, I think many bloggers will find Entrecard diminished their traffic.

The best thing they could now, is reconnect with each other. That doesn't require a credit system.

@Laane

Thanks for coming by Laane. Yep, and as I just mentioned, bloggers do not need a credit system to connect.

So, the solution might be to reconnect, and then if the blogger still wants to advertise, use other services like CMF Ads (which I am testing with a movie blog I'm overseeing) to help build awareness and introduce new blog readers to a site.

That seems to make a lot more sense for zero headache. No one else seems to have so many content rules either.

All my best,
Rich

Junk Drawer Kathy on 4/21/09, 4:55 PM said...

@ Mark, thank you for including a link to my blog.

@ Rich -- EC just deleted my account, so now I'm officially gone. My traffic has dropped perhaps 20% already, but I knew that would happen. I'm back in business, though, reading all the blogs I really love and commenting/networking more. The time had come.

Great article.

Rich on 4/22/09, 11:05 AM said...

Kathy,

Take heart. I've seen an increase in traffic after dropping Entrecard. The bounce rate is down. Time on site is much longer. And, inbound searches improved.

Makes me wish I would have dropped it sooner, but I stuck around so I could understand their ad program.

About that, well, let's just say the same money is better spent on Facebook and CMF Ads. :)

Yeah, anyone can quote me on that.

All my best,
Rich

Jenna on 4/23/09, 6:37 PM said...

Great post.

Graham has actually gone to several blog posts and commented denying any issues with the new Entrecard system. Can anyone not agree with me that it's an issue when someone on my site wishes to click on an Entrecard Button on my site thinking it's something to do with "Crafting" which in turn actually takes them to a well, site of a sexually graphic nature. True story, it happened to several Mom Blogs I know of. I'm fine with Entrecard being gone from my site. I'm not missing out on much ;)

Jenna
www.loveofbabyonline.com

Rich on 4/24/09, 6:30 PM said...

Jenna,

Great update. There are many problems with the system, and it has made is worse. Who wants to be an advertiser when half of the community is mad and banning them?

I don't miss it either, but I haven't rediscovered all my frequent stops again. Not yet, but I will.

I liked seeing what non-business bloggers were doing. :)

All my best,
Rich

RE Ausetkmt on 10/2/09, 11:00 AM said...

Rich - lots of new strategies have arisen and we are taking the game back at entrecard.

the real deal is that the entrecarders had lost their incentive to be in control of the program. we sent that perception to the trash bin today when we started our new program "Don't Feed The Vampire Widgets". apparently the program is working as widgets are getting second looks instead of clicks when the reader feels empowered, instead of infringed upon.

we think smarter is the way to go.
entrecard is just a vehicle, and now we're driving the traffic instead of them driving us crazy.

I'll keep visiting this post and updating as long as you approve my comments. it will let you see how the commitment of the entrecarders to own their traffic is going.


Thanks and Keep In Toucfh with us please,

Rich on 10/3/09, 12:18 PM said...

RE,

Please do.

While the experience was terrible, especially during the change, there is a living community experiment at Entrecard that is hard to ignore.

I'm not saying I'll be rejoining anytime time soon, but I will visit at some point to see how things are progressing. It seems to me any time too much change is thrust upon an established community, it will crash. So now the challenge for Entrecard might be to reestablish what will be a new community. Best of luck with that.

All my best,
Rich

P.S. If there is an irony, CMF Ads benefited from those mistakes and then force implemented changes on the community, negating their obligations to past participants as well.

One of these days, programmers will learn not to implement sweeping changes. However, I will not hold my breath. :)

Glenny on 9/13/10, 12:55 PM said...

The big problem that i have with Entrecard is the bounce rate - i'm a new blogger and when i see that i have 20 visits from Entrecard with a total of 50 seconds viewing time combined then my head hangs. I read somewhere that this is what entrecard is all about - for every 10 droppers, 1 person might actually read one of your posts. Although the odds aren't that great, i'll test me luck anyhows :)

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