Speaking of trying to make a buck off of other people’s property, this is pretty impressive:
Rather than convincing companies to set up their own public profile pages for their brands to aggregate and manage online conversations, Squidoo is creating hundreds of unofficial ones (e.g. for Guinness) in the hopes that companies will come to them and cough up $400 per month for the right to develop the page on their terms. Once a company pays up and gains control over the relevant Squidoo lens, the left hand column will ‘belong’ to them.
Obviously Squidoo is smart enough not to use Guinness logos or other branding on the page, but what’s the real intent here? Rather than wait around for some user to put up a Guinness page, Squidoo is priming the pump in the hope that a discussion will get going that Guinness will then feel compelled to take ownership of. It’s a wonderful example of extortion by social-networking proxy, and I can see why somebody thought it was a good idea.
The reason it’s a bad idea is that unlike the Google Books case Squidoo has chosen to pick on heavily-armed corporations as their intended victims, and I have a hard time believing that one or more companies are not already in the process of sending a cease-and-desist letter. It’s quite possible (maybe even likely) that there is no legal precedent that covers this issue, but I’m equally confident that some of the exploited parties would be glad to pool resources and drive a new precedent through Squidoo’s neck if it holds even a tiny hope of keeping the next internet pirate from trying this sort of thing.
Then again, it’s hard to fault Squidoo when mass-enabling the threat of identity theft is all the rage these days. Facebook did the same thing earlier this year when they announced that they would allow users to claim a Facebook username URL. In effect, by adding this ‘feature’ to their site, Facebook forced individuals and companies to claim URL’s in order to protect those previously-non-existent URL’s from being hijacked by a third party. For its trouble Facebook got more traffic, more users and lots of free buzz and press — all because of a threat that Facebook itself created.
In both instances, for-profit companies created new online spaces which compelled people to join the for-profit company in order to protect their online and real-world interests. Squidoo’s initiative is simply a more bald-faced variation on this online protection-racket theme.
Update: less than a day after I posted this (and I’m not claiming any causality), Seth Godin pulls back. Props to him for recognizing the mistake.
— Mark Barrett