Mark Cuban's Mahalo Wants Your Blood (And Gets it TOO!)

Mark Cuban recently talked about how search engines and content aggregators are vampires.

There is no reason to be indexed in Google. ... You haven’t gotten anything back

But he failed to disclose how his Mahalo investment loots content.

If Google is a vampire (while sending away billions of Dollars of traffic for free) then what does that make Mahalo (which borrows your titles and abstracts as content to pull search traffic into their ad cluttered pages pages, while placing your content below the fold (while using nofollow on attribution links))?

Is the following accurate?

If you think otherwise, then please explain. ;)

Danny Sullivan TORE UP Mark Cuban in a must read article which only Danny could have wrote. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants to understand the hypocrisy behind the Mahalo position on content scraping / vampiring.

Published: February 3, 2010

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Comments

February 3, 2010 - 3:04pm

Aaron, thanks for pointing this out. So many of these big players are playing games when it comes to content.

Yet the real losers are the small publishers that create quality original content, but don't have the big bucks to algorithmically scrape content and create junk pages on a massive scale.

I'm tired of hearing crocodile tears from big media outfits, when they get away with blatantly gaming the search engines like these other content aggregation sites, while they throw sticks and stones at the search engines ... and then try to whip up public opinion into feeling sorry for them.

February 3, 2010 - 8:20pm

I do love a good cartoon!

However, I think Mahalo should be more of a small leach sucking on the Google vampire rather than eating the entire thing. I mean, by comparison they're a small parasite compared to Google :)

February 4, 2010 - 6:52pm

I was trying to have the leech emphasize the "long tail" of search :D

February 3, 2010 - 11:32pm

I love that you've picked up the Mahalo/content aggregator issue and have run with it Aaron. You are so right to point out the hypocrisy and you are in the best position in terms of industry knowledge, respect and readership to really make a difference! I support you 100%

February 4, 2010 - 6:19am

Maybe Mark Cuban invests in things that he think will get a good return, even if the company engages in behavior that he doesn't agree with. That would definitely put him in line with a lot of other bottom-line oriented, amoral investors. Or... maybe he didn't bother reading the details of what Mahalo's business model actually is. He could also just be another one of these stupid ignorant CEO's.

It's amazing how many CEO's become stupid and ignorant as soon as people ask them about shady dealings going on with their businesses.

Maybe we should require CEO's of web companies to sign some kind of document acknowledging that they are actually aware of the details of their business and understand how they generate revenue. (something similar to the kind of documents now required in publicly traded companies about company financial statements.) As soon as you start mentioning aggressive SEO techniques, CEO's of successful SEO-dependent companies start trying to convince everyone that they are in fact complete morons when it comes to internet stuff.

Reminds me a bit of scribd, but at least in that case the CEO mentioned that their recent drop in traffic was due to ending some of their more aggressive SEO techniques. (Wonder what the real story was... but even that admission was revealing.) That was definitely much more honest than the 'sorry I'm stupid and ignorant' approach that Jason is taking. Mahalo needs to hire a PR agency asap before Jason destroys Mahalo and his reputation along with it.

It's doubtful that the good PR he receives from his work with Open Angel Forum and This Week in Startups can truly counter all this negative press. But he's definitely giving it a good try.

February 4, 2010 - 7:00am

When Mahalo first started up, it was going to be the "anti-algo" search engine that hand-crafted all of its results. Obviously that didn't pan out, but I wonder if Cuban bought in before or after the switch in model/pitch?

In general I think there's a lot of overly reactive behavior and comments happening in this space, and it's starting to come off as bizarre. Or maybe Mark has discovered Jason's technique for making big, outrageous statements at conferences to get press coverage...in which case mission accomplished.

February 4, 2010 - 6:51pm

As a major investor in a project I am sure he had some say or sway when the project changed course. But if he invests in things he doesn't believe in, and he is out bitching at everyone else to change (BEFORE attempting to change his own investments) then it is at best poor form and ignorance.

I like a lot of what Mark says...but he lost some of my respect this week.

February 5, 2010 - 2:25am

This whole Mahalo thing has really got me thinking about things. This goes back to my big beef with Google which is how it handles duplicate content. Instead of supporting the creator of a document, Google waves its magic wand and chooses one that better suits its purpose. Google staffers keep saying there is no duplicate content filter. That might technically be true, but when the filter is misapplied -- as in when my original content is replaced in the search results by a copy that was stolen from me -- that's a penalty.

Back to the topic at hand: Mahalo is not the first, nor will it be the last company to pull this stunt. There are a lot of aggregators out there -- whether they are official aggregators or blogs or spam sites -- and most of them are built on the backs of content creators. Some of these aggregators add value and SUPPORT the content-creation system, but more and more of them just recycle content from other sources. It's frustrating to see this latter group in Google's search results. You know none of them are paying the people who actually do the work and write the content. It's doubtful that they even asked to copy the text.

It's very unfortunate, but increasingly it seems that when an idea for a website fails to generate a profit (ie. Mahalo's human-edited, anti-algo search system) then companies turn to cheap, spammy ways of boosting their presence in Google so they can make money and pay off their investors (ie. scraping Google search, scraping Google News, scraping other sites, and splattering everything with ads).

Because of how Google operates (ie. they refuse to rank the original source and filter the copies and instead wave a magic wand and choose whatever they want), they make it all profitable for everyone except content creators. The smaller you are, the more likely you will be screwed.

Google's bet is two-fold:

1) The small content creators can't muster the legal power to challenge them. If Google did the same thing to a large corporation, they might be in for a big battle that they very well could lose. They might not be directly infringing on copyrights. But they are contributing to the infringement, which is also a crime. Google hides behind the DMCA, but they *know* full well about the various Blogger sites that are stuffed with or pointing to copyright infringing materials. They also are aware of all the torrent links in their search results. They even suggest them. Yet, Google does nothing about any of them, which -- if taken to court -- surely would eliminate them from safe-harbor protections.

2) Google doesn't care that small businesses will fail because of sites like Mahalo. Google believes that there will always be users who can and will generate more content to feed into the machine. They're probably right about that, but the problem is this: How much of what is left will be reliable?

February 5, 2010 - 9:15am

100% agree with you on points 1 & 2 MyContent. Absolutely spot on about Google's exploitative business practices reflected in their lack of respect for copyright & intellectual property.

The one spot where I don't agree with your comment was where you stated "it seems that when an idea for a website fails to generate a profit (ie. Mahalo's human-edited, anti-algo search system) then companies turn to cheap, spammy ways" ... I think all along the intent was cheap / trashy / spammy content.

You could see it in the way Mahalo forced some employees to hype junk on their blogs, group gamed social media, and how they would chase nonsensical pages just because the keywords were currently hot on Google Trends. And this was not highlighting just the best content ... but also lots of garbage. And it is not something that happened in 2009 or 2010, but something that was there from the beginning.

February 5, 2010 - 5:23pm

I stand corrected. I took a look at your older articles on the Mahalo issues, and you've been on this all along. I was giving them (and the other cheats) the benefit of the doubt.

By highlighting this, you might get Mahalo to change its ways or get Google to slap them down. But another spam site will just rise up and take their place.

The only thing that is really going to change the game and level the playing field is to get Google to change its practices. Google needs to stop making this so profitable by protecting content creators rather than harming them. At this point, I don't see that happening.

I can tell you one thing: I hope Google doesn't get to scan and control the content of in-copyright but out-of-print books. Google has demonstrated its inability to properly credit creators. I can't imagine what will happen if they actually are given custody and control of this information. It's like letting a pedophile watch your kids. Once this cat is out of the bag, all bets are off.

February 6, 2010 - 12:52am

But another spam site will just rise up and take their place.

Very few will be able to operate at that scale with that level of automation and not get burned for it.

February 6, 2010 - 5:28pm

True, Mahalo has been allowed to linger, while others would be sent packing. But even when Google does respond, it is slow. In the time between a spam site's birth and the time that it gets torched, a lot of innocent sites are obliterated by Google's duplicate content filter, among other things.

February 7, 2010 - 1:53am

Doesn't Digg comes under same category as Mahalo ?

February 7, 2010 - 6:28am

Is Digg recycling Google search results and feeding them back into Google? That is what Mahalo is doing.

February 9, 2010 - 12:27am

I echo the guy who posed the obvious question; isn't Digg recycling Google content and feeding it back to the Net? As if that's true, then what about Stumble Upon et al?

February 9, 2010 - 8:32am

There is a bit of a difference between:

finding stuff that is remarkable and creating a community built around sharing it and commenting on it (StumbleUpon)

AND

scraping millions of search listings with a robot with no human interaction at all & then heavily wrapping it in ads (Mahalo)

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