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March 23, 2008

Jason Calacanis - Why I Didn't Throw Veggies At Him At SES New York

By Li Evans

Li Evans & Jason Calacanis at SES New York 2008I wanted to, I really, really wanted to.  Everyone knows I really did not have a "love" nor a respect for Jason Calacanis.  The man took every opportunity he could to bash our industry (and my livelihood) for the past year and a half - and people still continued to give him a stage, and the free reign to pretty much say whatever he wanted.  This is a guy who has pissed off more of us than he can likely keep track of.  I took offense to everything Jason was spouting, because I'm not one of those "snake oil salesman", I'm one of these online marketing professionals that believe a sound online marketing strategy is the best practice for a client's success.

So, with that in mind, it's why I called out SES for putting this guy on stage for a 3rd time.  It's also why, when offered the opportunity to see if this guy really knew his stuff, I jumped on it and asked for all of you to send in questions.  I got a lot of questions, and you all really submitted some great stuff.

There was some tense moments, apparently some rumors were floating around people intended to "heckle" Jason.  I think that was something that was just "miscommunicated", or taken the wrong way from some of the comments that were on Sphinn about the post I wrote.  We didn't need to bring in the NYPD, Kevin Ryan did a fine job at keeping things on an even keel, and getting the questions asked and no one heckled Jason ... nor threw veggies.

That all said, showing a bit of humility, is always a good thing.  When you can say "perhaps I was wrong", in front of an audience of more than 1,000 people, credit does have to be given.  I still don't totally agree with Jason's methods or tactics, but I do have to say that I think enough people in this industry have worked at giving him insight into what we do, that he seems to have a different opinion of us than he did back in 2006.

So now onto all of the questions that were submitted & asked from the keynote audience at SES, and those that were answered (answers in red):

• As the keynote of SES, do you feel you have gained notoriety because of your work and contributions to the web or because you've been so outspoken against SEO? (Eric Hebert)

Kevin Ryan asks Jason Calacanis questions at SES New York 2008• Jason… You’ve repeatedly dumped on online marketers, most notably through your keynotes at the recent Affiliate Summit and at SES Chicago ’06. The only positive messages in both sessions appeared to be your calls for better website content but in both cases your comments sounded like you where shooting at the messengers and failing to understand the reasoning behind the messages. If you were an online marketer (as most in this room are), what would be YOUR methods for promoting client content to an Internet audience? (Jim Hedger)
Jason's Answer:  The best way to promote is to have a great product.  Making a great product.  Had no ability to get attention for his great product.  the products spoke for themselves - Engadget, Autoblogger.  Authentically inserting yourself into conversations that exist.  Making your blog come from real people.   People don't want to deal with products w/ no personality behind them.  Engage people.

• It appears that many results pages on Mahalo are structured in a way that encourages both search engines and human visitors to get deeper into the site (category and page links at the top). Is the search engine part intentional?  (YM Ousley)

o If it is, why doesn't he consider the efforts search engine optimization?

o If it's unintentional, would he add attributes that don't affect human visitors to keep the content out of search indexes (noindex, nofollow, noarchive)?

• What value would he give the traffic Mahalo receives from search engines - i.e. is it comparable to direct traffic, traffic as a result of PR/linking sites? (YM Ousley)
Jason's Answer:  Some site depend on it.  Search was a way to convert people.  Majority right now comes from SE.  In some cases we deserve our ranking.  We are a content company at the end of the day, we do wirte original content.  We're in it for the long term. 

• How does he view vertical specific search engines such as Kayak (travel) or Indeed (jobs)? (YM Ousley)

• Jason, are you completely stupid, or cynically working the mob? (Dan Thies)

• I'd like to hear him start by defining what he thinks that SEOs do?  (Eric Enge)
Jason's Answer:  A lot of the silicon valley are outsiders.  I find that the SEO folks and affiliates, are good "hustlers" (that gets a few eyebrows raised, but he clarifies "hustlers" as people who work hard to get things done in a good way), however, SEO's are  outsiders in the Silicon Valley.  SEO's are stuck in short term thinking - and maybe spinning their wheels, and a some of the group are misguided by the short term thinking.  Think long term, and that will get the SEO's farther.

The black hats are polluting the web.  Bad results creates mistrust - that's what gaming the system is.

• What is your opinion on buying links?  If you were to engage in that activity, what would be the key to your success? (Chris Boggs)

• How does his Web site accommodate the three types of querying (search) behavior better than the other engines? (Shari Thurow)

• Mr. Calacanis, does your company have a marketing department, and if so, does it strive to reach users across all mediums, including search engines? (Donna Fontenot)

• Do you honestly think creating controversy is a good long term strategy for brand building?  (Nick Wilsdon)

Jason Calacanis demonstrates Mahalo's new features at SES New York 2008• Why do you seem to be able to succeed in social media despite not actually being social? (Jenn Laycock)

• You use Twitter, but only to promote yourself and your products, tell us why you think that's a good strategy? (Jenn Laycock)

• I am having trouble understanding why Mahalo.com does not have a canonical redirect in place. Most SEO experts agree that a canonical redirects should be implemented to consolidate link popularity and avoid duplicate content issues. Can you explain why you chose not to implement a canonical redirect? (Chris Philips)
Jason's Answer:  I wanted to have urls "Fat", I decided that we should do /car, /mustang,  /1992,  and get there easy.  People Remember easier.  Just a personal preference.  Just like myspace was revolutionary when they got rid of the users directory. 

• What business advice would he give the owners of a fast-growing profitable search marketing firm? (Amanda Watlington)

• What is the most prominent example that you have of witnessing an SEO campaign that negatively impacted a client without using any black hat techniques?  (Julie Joyce)

• In light of recent events - like Yahoo/Microsoft and Ask.com, what is happening to the search industry?  (Frank Watson)

Kevin Heisler submitted questions around Digg:
1. Who will buy Digg?
2. What's Digg worth to each bidder?
3. Why? & What happens to Digg if they don’t sell now?

Questions From the Crowd at SES:

In the demo he showed that the Mahalo install pushes the paid ads down, why? (Jeff Rorhs)
Jason's Answer:  When the results come to the user desktop its there.  Remixing it in the privacy of their own home is allowable.  Not worried about legal ramifications.

What about the link baiting? (Didn't Get this person's name/company)
Jason's Answer:  Link baiting can only be taken so far, even I know when to call it a day.  I don't want to be at war with the affiliate and SEO industries.  I don't feel that you all suck.  I definitely think I'm over exposed.

What about the long tail? (Didn't get this person's name/company)
Jason's Answer:  I don't believe one solution will solve the search problem.  It will be a blend of techniques.  When you are talking about general terms, its where "regular" search starts to fail.  Midtail - that's where social comes in.  Users don't care how their pages are built, all they care about is the result good - are the facts right.  They just care that its good.

Becoming an SEO and affiliate marketer - what are you trying to gain?   (Joost de Valk)
Jason's Answer:  If SEO is defined as clean sites.  I am.  The affiliate stuff - I think there's potential there when we are building pages, having hand crafted pages to have hand crafted affiliated link, that might make sense.  There is some promising stuff - I've only sold display advertising, so I'm just still learning, I don't know enough about it to say it will work for Mahalo just yet.

The first UGC project was the Oxford dictionary (Professor and The Mad Man).  How would you characterize the contributors of Mahalo?  (Didn't get this person's name/company)
Jason's Answer:  I think just like Web Blogs Inc. there are people who don't like full time stuff, and have a passion for stuff.  There's a lot of these people.  Some are information junkies, some are working, some are students, IT consultants, its a range of people.  I think that if we come back here in a year or two, it will have been built up to be the largest distributed workforce on the planet.   

Li Evans & Jason Calacanis at SES New York 2008So there are all the questions asked, and those that were answered.  Kevin had the list, but unfortunately not the whole hour to ask them all.  Questions were intermixed with the ones submitted with the ones from the audience.  Also, Jason did see the list of questions before the keynote - we just didn't want them out here on the blog for speculation weeks before the keynote.

Has my mind been changed about Jason?  To a degree, yes.  I do have to respect when someone admits they were wrong, and shows that humility.  There are also a few neat things that he showed that Mahalo will be incorporating.  While I don't think it will be a "Google" killer (and he now also states it won't be), I do think the changes could be something the social media world should take a 2nd look at.  For now, I guess we've called a peaceful truce. :)


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Its nice reading your article... its true that when your are promoting the business the product you are introducing must be good enough to capture the market and search engine marketing services will help you to take further steps in the business growth.

This is very interesting! I have enjoyed reading this very insightful post. Very engaging and informative. Thanks for sharing.

I wish we had more time so I could have asked more of your questions.

Well, except that Forrest Gump question. Stupid is as stupid does.


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