Over the last 10 years, Web-based advertising has become huge -- a $23 billion business which could eclipse print and television. Despite the rapid growth, Web-based advertising is still an immature industry. There are new businesses being created, ranging from social networking sites and open source ad networks to mobile apps with location-based content. Part of the thrill of high tech is figuring out how to use new technology to help businesses solve real problems. Unfortunately, there also those that will try to game any system to gain an unfair advantage or rip off consumers. We've all seen link farm sites, dubious banner ads, and phishing scams.
When the FTC announced that it would require disclosure of fees and endorsements by bloggers starting Dec. 1, some complained this was overkill. I have several personal blogs outside of InfoWorld, and I don't mind disclosing that I've occasionally received review copies of books, CDs, and the like. I also run Google ads on some of my blogs. All told, the money that comes in is less than the price of a decent guitar, and I dont believe I've compromised my integrity as a writer. I suspect many bloggers are similar; if they make any money, it's to fund their hobby.
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But there is a more serious situation that's arisen over the last few years: the proliferation of bogus review sites. These sites purport to be objective evaluation of products, but they are simply paid advertisements. The sites are either selling the products or receiving a kickback for referrals. If you dig into it, it's not uncommon to see many similar sites with the same content, but slightly varied graphics. I have no idea whether they make money, but the fact that there are so many gives a clue. Even Google is benefiting from the ad words these sites are running.