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E-Business Secrets

How strong is the new commission network agreement?
Some feel the standard is too vague and open to abuse

By  Brian Livingston January 14, 2003  

Some of the largest commission networks that process affiliate payments for e-commerce sites released last month a new code of conduct to regulate "shopping plug-ins." These small software programs generate commissions for their owners when consumers make a purchase online. In some cases, plug-ins have diverted commissions from affiliates who had attracted the consumer to make the purchase in the first place.


Significantly, the biggest commission network, LinkShare, did not lend its name to the new code, saying the standard was not strong enough to prevent abuse.

As I reported in E-Business Secrets on Nov. 6, the four largest networks met in New York to discuss the problems of shopping plug-ins. Commission Junction, Be Free, and Performics last month endorsed a statement that includes the following language regarding the automatic diversion of commissions:

-- "A Publisher or Technology Provider may not use methods or technology to automatically replace a Service Provider's tracking identifier of another Publisher with its own Service Provider's tracking identifier or otherwise intercept or redirect an End-User from being referred by another Publisher."

The statement continues with the following language permitting plug-ins to "pop up" when a consumer visits an e-commerce site that pays commissions to affiliates:

-- "Publisher may notify an End-User once that End-User has arrived at the Advertiser's Web site of an opportunity to utilize technology employed by that Publisher and obtain the End-User's consent via affirmative action upon each occurrence to proceed with the operation of such technology."

In an interview, the CEO of LinkShare, Stephen Messer, said the language of the new code of conduct wasn't specific enough to end the clever manipulation of the affiliate system.

"It's very vague," Messer says. "There's no definition of terms. Every provider can interpret it in any way.

Messer points out that none of the three networks that signed the code has changed the language of their contracts as a result. By contrast, he says, LinkShare published a new affiliate agreement back in February 2002 when the issue first arose, followed by an addendum in June, to prohibit the diversion of commissions.

"If you use browser plug-in technology to prey on other network affiliates, then you can't work with LinkShare," Messer says.

Many of the promoters of plug-ins have, in fact, changed their ways since their practices became controversial last year. Messer cites Ebates, FatWallet.Com, ShopAtHomeSelect.com, and WURLD Media as software vendors who've come into compliance with LinkShare's new contract conditions.

The full text of the code has been posted by Commission Junction at: http://www.cj.com http://bri.li/4e7b

LinkShare's own statement on its position is at: http://www.linkshare.com http://bri.li/6203

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If you're like me, you've had your laptop or some other small device run out of battery power while you're on the road. The answer is to carry a tiny cigarette lighter adapter to draw power from the battery in your rental car -- or any car.

There are many such adapters, but I've found the Linksys Power2GO to be the best bargain at less than $40. It powers anything up to 140 watts, and (unlike other adapters) it warns you and then automatically stops drawing power if your car battery falls below a safe level. It won't support major appliances such as stoves, but it will handle tiny refrigerators, in case you're thirsty: http://www.secretspro.com http://bri.li/758b

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Finally, there's a book that shows the good and bad of Web site design that isn't written by Jakob Nielsen! Of course, I have nothing against usability expert Nielsen, and I've enjoyed many of his books (including ones I've reviewed here). But "Designing Web Sites for Every Audience," by Ilise Benun, takes things in a new direction.

Ilise Benun, who directs a design consulting firm in New Jersey, dissects 20 sites with her own trained eye for concerns. This includes selecting the most readable type and choosing page layouts that download quickly. A lot of e-commerce sites would benefit from this advice: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/158180301X

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1. Accepting debit cards and e-checks attracts ethnic groups to e-commerce: http://www.iht.com http://bri.li/443

2. Google's shopping engine, Froogle, isn't up to par with others: http://www.businessweek.com http://bri.li/82b

3. How has the Digital Copyright Act affected your site and others: http://www.eff.org http://bri.li/c13

4. New Morpheus features ease file-sharing as Kazaa legal woes mount: http://www.pcworld.com http://bri.li/ffb

5. Music industry uses patented technology against peer-to-peer systems: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/13e3

6. If you prep photos for your site, you need these test results: http://www.robgalbraith.com http://bri.li/17cb

7. Prize-winning browser said to quadruple Web surfing speed: http://www.newsobserver.com http://bri.li/1bb3

8. Mark Pilgrim tells you what not to like about the new XHTML 2.0: http://www.diveintomark.org http://bri.li/1f9b

9. Make sure your Web site is protected from these 10 coding errors: http://dc.internet.com http://bri.li/2383

10. People paid $85 million into the Nigerian e-mail scam last year: http://www.sfgate.com http://bri.li/276b

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For those of you who have too much time on your hands, the U.S. Patent Office has issued an official patent to the inventor of the Life Expectancy Watch. This little device sits on your wrist and calmly clicks down the years, days, and minutes you have left.

The inventors thoughtfully provided an on/off switch, which allows you to temporarily halt the countdown while you engage in a healthy activity, such as taking a walk. There's an official illustration of the now-patented device at TotallyAbsurd.com, but hurry -- I'm not sure what address the page will move to when it's no longer considered the "absurd patent of the week." See: http://www.totallyabsurd.com http://bri.li/c3ab

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston: http://SecretsPro.com

Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

You'll receive a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. mailto:Brian@SecretsPro.com

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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