I received a link from a friend on Facebook promoting a recent travel article on a site called Associated Content. Or at least that's what the URL implied.
I read the article, found it helpful, then spent the rest of the day looking around; trying to figure out what was going on between Associated Content and Yahoo! Contributor Network - and how this connection might affect some of the freelance travel writers I know.
Apparently, Associated Content has been around since 2005; and so had quite a few of the Contributors I came across, it seemed - creating something of an unofficial 'you read me and I'll read you' type of circle. This is not uncommon when writers are paid for views, and the community has an easy trail of ready-made links from one face to another. It also keeps them on the site a little longer.
Anyone who remembers Themestream will know how this was used and abused by many; especially when Themestream paid out 10 cents a read to encourage writers to produce more material, market themselves, attract more readers, who might in turn then become content creators themselves.
There was an uproar when the rates were racked down to 2 cents a read - from registered members only. The quality of some of the 'content' on Themestream became something of a joke; as user greed helped milk the money cow dry.
Although Yahoo! boldly proclaims to have 'more than 400,000 contributors and growing', I actually found a large percentage of dormant accounts; while searching for travel writers. I even came across some faces famous for revealing all on Twitter, but their Associated Content portfolios remained bare.
Perhaps that's why this particular venture has not shown up on my radar, until now.
The move from blue to purple is not without its problems.
The day I chose to sign up was in the middle of a profile photo upload fail; which has left an unresolved trail of broken images. There have been a few other bugs - that are probably just another Yahoo acquisition thing.
I hope this doesn't signal the start of the demise for hardcore, former Associated Content producers. Many good (to some) things have suffered during and after such takeovers - Geocities, Webring and MyBlogLog are just a few that come to my mind.
Yahoo had a part to play in all of the above, along with the demise of Maven Networks, Farechase, Jumpcut, blo.gs and bix.
Right now they're probably thinking about how to tune everything in with Yahoo ids, or who to acquire to fill in the possible void to be left by Andrew Siegel (Yahoo’s head of corporate development, who is in charge of its mergers and acquisitions strategy).
Looking around some of the older Associated Content 'writing guidelines', written by their veteran 'citizen journalist' content producers, there is a concern that too much emphasis is being placed on writing for search engines. Sure the articles need to be found, but they also need to be informative or enjoyable for the human beings who take the time to read them.
There are signs that some content may be distributed on other Yahoo! properties (FAQ) but no mention of anything being used on Yahoo! Travel, as yet.
Fingers crossed that all goes well, and that the market for travel writers to reach more readers is helped by Yahoo's influence.
Making Money For Your Content on Yahoo
While some assignments claimed from the 'Assignment Desk' come with an up-front payment attached, most earnings will be based on the amount of traffic your content receives; with that micropayment increasing along with your 'clout'.
Update - April 1st, 2011
While looking through the 'Featured Travel Contributors' closer I did wonder about the terminology; especially as some of the writers seemed to write about almost anything and others didn't appear to have much to say about travel for almost a year - although they were willing to supply top tips for applying make-up, 'articles' about the latest television personality 'making the news', or even attempts at broadcasting news from what they'd just seen on the television.
No wonder some people and, recently (to uproar from some contributors on the website), Google avoid giving too much weight to such online material.
I thought that if I were a Featured Travel Contributor I'd want to be writing about travel and anything related to travel, and so expected to read such material from those who were. Travel is such a broad subject, it shouldn't be too much to ask.
But then I noticed that some Featured Travel Contributors were also featured contributors for a couple of other subjects and realised how diluted some of the material in a given subject might become, especially when rushing to complete end of the month deadlines.
While some writers hoped that the arrival of Yahoo might mean greater exposure for their articles, others - myself included - wondered if it might not signal the beginning of the end. I did mention my fears in the December blog post.
Yahoo! have now moved another step closer to confounding those fears by announcing that they will be shutting down another acquisition of theirs - MyBlogLog.
It therefore came as no surprise that Yahoo! decided to review all the featured contributors it had acquired with the purchase of Associated Content. It's what companies buying out others tend to do; review their assets and try to sift through the deposits to find the gems.
What did surprise me though, is the way this was handled. Contributors who were only recently accepted into the featured program now had to apply again and very experienced writers were being discarded with copy and paste style rejection notes.
To really sort out the wheat from the chaff, it might have been helpful if the writers had been offered more feedback over the last few months. The fact that they weren't seems to imply that this was a radical cost-cutting exercise from corporate head-office (in some departments).
It was announced that those accepted into the new featured contributor program would be informed on April 1st, but 'rejection slips' were going out earlier.
The rejections have obviously hurt a lot of people, judging by responses given in the Yahoo! Contributor Discussions, but freelance writers in the real world do well to get every submitted article or proposal accepted.
Some very famous writers have even had their first manuscript rejected by various publishers before finding the right editor who would help launch their career into the stratosphere.
Of course I was surprised to see some featured travel contributors I enjoyed reading being told that the 'application contained incomplete and/or blank fields', or just being discarded with some other 'template response' and that they could apply 'to each Featured Contributor subcategory up to three times in one calendar year' - once they found their voice (or other template response).
Personally, I'd only been writing as a 'Featured Travel Contributor' since January so losing a little title was no big deal. It even appears that my response was on a more personal level, albeit without the editor's name nor his travel editor e-mail address:
Thank you for applying to the Yahoo! Contributor Network International Travel Featured Contributor program. Your application was not accepted at this time. While you have great experience, the content examples you provided reads more like blog coverage of events and relies too heavily on your own photographs.
Also, your pen name doesn't meet our guidelines for this program. Featured Contributors must have pen names that comply with our guidelines.
I'm sure they are the same pen name guidelines that were in use when I applied, and was accepted, just a few months ago.
Of course I rely heavily on my own photographs (being a travel writer AND photographer - it's what I do).
As for the examples being 'like blog coverage of events', two of the articles were originally published in travel magazines for more than ten times what the new featured contributor program would offer to pay for them; and at least five years before Yahoo! was even founded.
The terms weblog and blog hadn't even been used back then and I believe the Internet was still something that only the military and scientists knew about. Have I really been travelling around the world that long?
I may still continue to publish 'display-only' articles and read some of the travel content being written there.
Funnily enough, when I do submit an article on the 'travel guide' template I am encouraged to:
Use this template for travel tips, travel journals and hotel reviews.
Oh, the irony.