More PROOF Jason Calacanis is a ____

Publicly Jason claims to be ignorant about SEO because it allows him moral flexibility and makes Google less likely to torch his site (even though he is blatantly violating their search quality guidelines, and has for *years*).

But when you look at the sales material that Mahalo pitches to corporations, in the 19 page PDF reads like an à la carte menu of SEO services, rather than sales material from a company ignorant of of SEO.

It includes a slide which highlights how well Mahalo Answers questions rank in Google titled "SEO value," as well as the following statements (followed by my comments):

  • Questions are imported from Partners’ Answers Community into Mahalo Answers, enabling 100% share of voice and high SEO value. (filling Google with duplicate content)
  • Category Selection Based on Keyword Intelligence and Customer Goals (doing keyword research, an SEO service)
  • Community seeded with high-value questions and answers (does the word "seeded" mean asking fake questions?)
  • By carefully policing the site, Mahalo keeps out inappropriate content, thus increasing engagement and utility. (no mention of the half million+ pages indexed in Google which contained scraped 3rd party content?)
  • We can help our partners increase their search engine rankings with these high quality pages. (that is the actual text from their slide titled "HowTo")
  • Mahalo’s team of editors will find the most highly-trafficked search terms and keywords for your brand, industry or product and build corresponding high-quality pages that will rank well. (isn't that exactly what "scummy" SEO companies do Jason?)

Given that Mahalo is now branded as an SEO play (in their own words), and that they scrape millions of content listings to publish on their pages, are creating tons of other duplicate content, have actively engaged in link farming, and are not above "seeding" questions based on keyword value, why should Google trust *any* of their business practices going forward? Especially when their SEO services enterprise was launched on the back of calling SEOs scumbags.

How can the Google web spam team members look themselves in the mirror each morning hunting smaller webmasters and ignoring operations like Mahalo? It must begin to feel arbitrary at some point, no?

Published: January 29, 2010 by Aaron Wall in marketing


Justin Seibert
January 29, 2010 - 8:23pm

One could point to other things, like this post: and how he threw his CTO under the bus (not to mention what he said about his former employee).

Your larger point is also not missed. "Trusted" sites play by a different set of rules.

January 29, 2010 - 8:26pm

good catch on him playing stupid... He obviously knows how to "play" the system well.

Hopefully someday Google will get rid of the real scumbags, and stop making me feel like a bad guy for submitting a website to a couple of high-quality web directories.

January 29, 2010 - 8:25pm

If you follow the timelines between the end of his tenure at AOL, his meetings with Jimmy Wales, his rejected offer to place ads on Wikipedia, and the beginning of Mahalo, it all happened within about 6 months. It's no secret that he's just trying to build another Wikipedia.

He'd love for Mahalo to be innocent & pure, but in order the do what Wikipedia did in 10 years, in 3 years, it needs a some steroids, some "juice" if you will, and that comes in the form of scrapers and SEO.

January 29, 2010 - 8:53pm

Sorry...but the Wikipedia comparison just doesn't fly with me.

If he cared about content quality he never would have had scrapper pages on his site, let alone having over a half million pages with scrapped content on them.

And if he cared about content quality his solution would not have been to fire most of their editorial staff & replace them with any old freelancer (and scraped content).

And answer spam isn't about collecting the definitive important overview of a is about surface level junk to pull in ad revenues.

Strike 3 he is out :D

January 29, 2010 - 8:57pm

can i fill in the blank? smart businessman?

i find your posts about mahalo to be completely interesting. i agree with all of your points about the site being a scraper, doing the web no good, etc etc. this most recent find is quite interesting as well.

what i don't feel is the urge to call jason names because of this crappy website. i don't use mahalo at all, but i love watching his TWIST show. in other words, his website mahalo is just one of his businesses that you and i may not like. it could be anyone's business.

this isn't about him being anything but a smart businessman making money while exploiting google and an unclear legal landscape.

i think if you focus on the sites...mahalo and google and the strange situation that is contextual ad business models...then there is plenty of discussion left. i don't think calling jason a bad guy makes any progress. i am with you, and i would hate for you to lose focus.

January 29, 2010 - 9:20pm

A person doesn't have to be a sleazy hypocrite to build a profitable business.

And if he wanted to be a general purpose web spammer there was no need to raise all that VC money.

I generally don't think it is smart to point sticks at smart people and then do the same stuff you were lambasting them for because eventually that comes back to bite you.

January 29, 2010 - 9:15pm

Typically, I wouldn't care less about a site like his(even though I probably should), but when he calls everyone else scumbags for doing something(or implying they are doing something a certain way), then he goes out and builds an entire business based on that model, that makes him a sleazy businessman in my eyes. Just like an SEO who reports his competitor for buying links when they have been known to buy quite a few links themselves.

January 29, 2010 - 9:18pm

Right. And what makes him worse is that he is using a far spammier strategy at a far larger scale than the people he called scum.

January 29, 2010 - 9:26pm

I have checked the site out and basically i think it blows. There are a ton of better sites than that out there for the same purpose and his ability to "swindle" money out of investors for some bogus "Me too" site is really his only skill, if you can call it that.

I have worked with many startups including SugarCRM, other DFJ startups and Mahalo just does not offer anything unique or appealing that isn't already out there. He needs to move on to his next lame project, which hopefully will be something of value to investors. I can't imagine how his investors feel about their return but a big fat doughnut hole is what they're going to end up with IMO.

January 29, 2010 - 9:46pm

Looking at it purely from a usability perspective, the content on these pages offers no viable information that I can't get through Google or any other major search engine. And in the end, if users exit these pages as fast as they came in from the organic results, Jason won't end up benefiting as much as he would otherwise, whether Google allows him to continue benefiting from the scraping or not.

My guess is that the more complaints Google gets from users about Mahalo's thin content, the quicker they will start axing those pages.

I do think Mahalo's points-based participatory system has merit though.

January 29, 2010 - 9:51pm

maybe i have just underestimated the amount of offense people took when he made those comments. jason has talked about "fighting up" and how it has helped him gain serious press with his new business open angel forum. i don't want to sit here and plug his show, but it was a TWIST episode where he talked about picking out the top of the industry, attacking them, and hoping that they responded and mentioned his name to gain all sorts of free press for his new competing service.

January 29, 2010 - 10:08pm

But it is the flip side of that story that he *failed* to talk about. If you piss a bunch of people off and are completely hypocritical about it might that come back to bite you?

The flip side of lying for attention is that it ends up hurting other people. Did you read about how some reporters got canned because of the false Ipad information?

Imagine being the person who trusted him and lost your job as a result. His schemes are not without expense.

January 29, 2010 - 10:29pm

Not so keen on this bloke are you? Did you read about his provocative 'insider info' statement that he made pre ipad release?

January 30, 2010 - 1:07am

Yet another example of lying for ink, with no concern toward the ill effects it has on others.

January 29, 2010 - 10:31pm


January 30, 2010 - 12:57am

Never mind, read the next blog post.

January 30, 2010 - 10:16am

Can you describe a Mahalo business model you could live with? I see links back to the source articles. Is it just that the links are no-follow?

January 30, 2010 - 3:15pm

When you take 3rd party content (without permission and offer no way to opt out) AND then use that content to pad out a page AND then put it below the fold (so it helps pull in search visitors but rarely sends any traffic out to the sources) AND you strip attribution from the links THEN all that does is "borrow" content & steal traffic from smaller sites (using their own content against them).

I guess if the links were not nofollowed it wouldn't be so slimy.

January 30, 2010 - 3:04pm

How come all the posts about Mahalo? I've been reading your blog for the past year, and the Mahalo posts are getting a bit redundant.

I understand your frustration with their scraper content, but why so many Mahalo posts?

January 30, 2010 - 3:21pm

A lot of times when you look at something what happens is others who bumped into something share it with you. Like I had no idea Mahalo was selling SEO & content services to corporations until someone else mentioned it to me.

January 30, 2010 - 6:28pm

Aaron, I support these posts about Jason and Mahalo. You have a strong enough voice that it's conceivable you might trigger enough of a reaction to reduce this kind of practice. No one wins in this environment (except Jason) and if this practice continues unchecked, it promotes a greater cesspool that Google is supposedly desiring to clean up. (Although ranking Mahalo certainly flies in the face of that object). I believe it's in everyone's best interest to forward solid business practices, even if that's an idealistic and somewhat unrealistic perspective.

January 31, 2010 - 5:01am

Frangipani face is a waste of your time. The troll feeds on publicity and you are giving him LOTS. A look at his Twitter feed during the 24 hours leading up to the iPad launch and 24 hours beyond makes it perfectly clear what his MO is. Don't let him get under your skin, he's really not worth it.

January 31, 2010 - 6:13pm

just thought i would share my email with you to the rest of the commenters here. We're really thankful for the advice and look forward to you visiting Mahalo!


We're taking a bunch of your advice and refining our SEO over the coming weeks.

1. The pages that are short content we're going to noindex after seven days of inactivity and delete them after some period and warnings to users. we don't have any interest in breaking any rules or even doing anything border line.... 90% of our traffic comes from the big content pages (how to, Q&A and walkthroughs) so there is no upside in these in progress/stub/whatever pages. Do you think is a good plan?

2. WRT to the "scraping" advice we are using Google, Bing, etc APIs to pull in their searches and refreshing them as the pages get traffic. Not sure what the issue is because our design takes shorter abstracts than Google/Bing/etc!

3. Do you think we should remove nofollow from our links? we added this to avoid the problem of SEOs coming in and turning Mahalo into a link farm... this has worked really well IMO. We've seen discussions on message boards where folks say "don't bother trying to use Mahalo for building links."

Anyway, thanks for keep us on our toes and we look forward to more great (free!) advice from you and your team. Our team had dinner in Korea Town last night during our quarterly "codejam" and they were all raving about your advice and brainstorming over it for an hour! We really do appreciate you spending so much time on our site, design and model.

Our new goal, now that we've reached the top 200 sites in the United States, is to:

a) be the largest content site in the United States (bigger than even Wikipedia and!)
b) be the largest and most efficient Q&A site in the United States (yes, even bigger than Yahoo Answers so day)
c) be the best provider of comprehensive search results in the United States (note: comprehensive search to us is five or more search APIs on a page including things like links, news, blogs, twitter, products, books, images, videos, facebook, ebay, etc).

Without the critical eye of experts like yourself we'll never get there.... and for that we're thankful!

Where are you based? Would really love for you to come by Mahalo and have lunch with the team and continue the discussion of how we can do better--and even how we can use your SEO techniques to grow! Additionally, would love to have you on This Week in Startups.

all the best, j
Jason McCabe Calacanis
Office: 310-593-6134 / Mobile: 310-456-4900
Mailing list:

January 31, 2010 - 9:36pm

I'd love to see an official Google response about the pretty strong argument that their behaviour here is arbitrary.

January 31, 2010 - 10:40pm

Hi Aaron,
I double checked and that IS Jason's response (above). You can see it posted on his blog.

It certainly sounds genuine to me.
Looks like Mahalo is ready to take some of your advice!

I really hope you do take him up on the offer to be on This Week In Startups (#twist). Who better to sort this out in public than you and Jason?

February 1, 2010 - 1:13am

If you read the latest thread on Hacker News you will see what most intelligent people think of the response in terms of its (lack of) authenticity

This quote captures it nicely:
"Sadly, no. More duplicitous ignorance and classic "PR framing" piece straight out Political Communications 101."

February 1, 2010 - 6:14am


Your research/investigation is really interesting. Mike Arrington had a similar investigative piece on scammy gaming companies a few months ago, but this is the only other example I've seen of really analyzing the business model and practices of an active and successful Web 2.0 company.

Keep up the good work and I think you're doing a benefit to the entire community.

One thing that might help is to make it clearer what your end-game is. Are you looking to basically put Mahalo and similar companies out of business or force their CEO's to resign, or are you instead just trying to get the companies to change their ways? thanks again!


February 1, 2010 - 8:53pm

I just want to show how arbitrary the search rankings and editorial guidelines are. I just think the web keeps getting tilted away from the small guy, and I want a public record of the trend. I don't have any particular motive or whatever beyond that.

February 1, 2010 - 10:25am

Wow, that guy bonsaitree is intelligent. At least it couldn't have been stated better. But his response implies that Jason is knowingly orchestrating damage control. But I don't think he is.
What if bonsaitree or someone else from your camp joined you on the show?
The thing is, this is a real opportunity to sort some shit out! You have the opportunity to put this front and center. I bet Jason would even pay your airfare.
I don't work for Mahalo or anything, but I am a fan of the show and can email Jason directly.
If I can help set this up please email me.
John Humphrey

February 1, 2010 - 9:00pm

1.) I have far better things to do with my time. These blog posts typically take 15 minutes or so, but flying somewhere just to value my time at $0 is not a legitimate business strategy for me.
2.) On principal I wouldn't want any of Jason's money. He offered in the past and I said no. Taking any of it would put me in an uncomfortable conflicted position.

February 1, 2010 - 9:58pm

I'm only disappointed because there are no two better people to represent each side of this complex issue. You bring the SEO expertise and Jason brings the public eye, which for this would be massive. Between the two of you, it seems to me anyway, some best practices could be established for everybody!
What if we collected contributions for your expenses from the HackerNews etc. community? Would that make a difference?

February 2, 2010 - 12:30am

I don't want anyone paying my expenses...and I value my time & knowledge too much to fly to give it away publicly to someone who has been deplorable and offensive in almost every public interaction I have seen.

And I think you miss the bigger picture when you talk about "best practices could be established for everybody" ... the whole reason the conversation has been public is because the rules which *do apply* to you or I have not applied to Mahalo.

Google decides the best practices which apply to everyone. And then they decide who gets a free pass.

February 2, 2010 - 3:59am

Obviously what I'm thinking is that you and Jason in an actual dialogue, as opposed to shooting volleys over blogs and emails, could move the discussion forward. I'm sure your readers and the HackerNews community are following the argument, but until Jason's audience and the public at large are invited to participate, these issues are going to stay in the shadows.
Did you see John Andrews's Google’s Legacy - the Internet Cesspool? We certainly can't expect things to get better as long as we leave it entirely up to Google to call the shots.
Would you consider being part of an episode as a call-in guest?

February 1, 2010 - 2:20pm

Maybe Google is a little biased towards Mahalo because Sequoia Capital was a big investor for both of them...

Check out Mahalo's PDF and Sequoia Capital's wikipedia

February 1, 2010 - 9:47pm

They have a new show "This week in Android". Is it valuable for Google? probably
They have a new sponsor: Bing. And Jason is giving them great credit in the not-so-fond-of-Microsoft community. Is it valuable for Bing? probably
Will it affect Google and Bing decisions favor of Mahalo? probably.

February 1, 2010 - 11:05pm

Aaron you are really onto something here and this seems to only be the tip of the iceberg. Google is finally revealing what everyone has suspected for a long time... that they skew their search results so that only people who are not their 'friends' need to obey their SEO rules. Jason seems to be clearly using his and his associates' influence to ensure that Mahalo isn't penalized by search engines. It has been a tremendously successful strategy so far. (Mahalo is a Top 200 site???!!!)

If these are the current 'rules of the game', the most valuable black hat SEO's are going to be the ones who promote google and bing products and services in a big way. :-) Guess its time for everyone to start promoting Bing search, Windows 7, Google Docs and Android.

Monopolies aren't illegal. What is illegal is using monopoly power to help stifle competition. If Google is using its power here to skew its search results it needs to be investigated and stopped. This scandal could end up being the case that gets the DOJ to finally get serious about their anti-trust case against google.

Keep digging... we smell a rat.

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