May 05, 2005
The Creative Commons & BzzAgent Kerfuffle
Posted by Gordon Smith

If you haven't been following this story, here is the chronology:

  • Last week Creative Commons announced a partnership with BzzAgent Inc., a word-of-mouth marketing firm in Boston. If you are really interested in the details of a BzzAgent campaign, visit the BzzAgent site and take the tour. The basic idea is that BzzAgents -- regular folks like you and me -- sign up to promote certain products and are rewarded with points, which they can redeem for rewards.
  • Surprising that CC didn't see this coming, but the reaction was less than favorable. (The linked post is from Corante blogger Suw Charman. Read the comments, too.) To many people, this didn't look like "real, honest Word-of-Mouth Bzz."
  • BzzAgent CEO Dave Balter called Suw Charman a liar, and that was a bad idea. Charman responded. Balter apologized. 
  • Today, Larry Lessig and  Balter announced the end of the partnership. If this story interests you, read both posts. Charman approves.

As Christine has noted, we are not accepting advertising on Conglomerate. We have had plenty of offers, but we don't want to clutter the site with anything but our opinions. Moreover, we want you to know that those opinions are untainted by a desire to please sponsors or prospective sponsors.

This last point is the important one in understanding why the CC-BzzAgent partnership became a PR nightmare. CC evangelists resented the idea that someone would need to be paid to promote the Creative Commons. That CC would feel the need to incentivize evangelists cheapens the underlying idea. Larry seems to get it:

Authenticity is essential. The power of the authentic act — an artist giving up remix rights; an author allowing her book to be shared freely -- is the power that makes this movement grow.

That authenticity is not jeopardized, I believe, by the fact we have (a small number of underpaid) employees at Creative Commons. No one here is doing it for the money. Nor is that authenticity jeopardized when a company “partners” with us (though again, none of our “partnerships” are partnerships in the traditional sense): Everyone understands companies are paid to pick winning strategies; when they align with us, that simply reinforces our strategy. But I have come to agree that that authenticity would be jeopardized by messengers whose message is mixed. If BzzAgents do as their rules require (ie, reveal their affiliation) then the person who hears their message wonders: are you saying this because you believe it, or are you saying this because it will earn you a reward? And if it is the reward, then where is my reward? What's my cut?

Exactly right. Strange that he didn't recognize that earlier.

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