Rand’s Comments about LinkScape, Dishonesty, etc.

October 22, 2008

First I’ll say that I’m generally a fan of SEOmoz and have been for quite some time. I feel that most of the stuff they put out is of high quality and polished in its execution. I appreciate that. I’m not a groupie or anything for them, but I have found their blog to be a worthwhile read, their guides to be fairly comprehensive and their tools to be useful over the years.

I’ve also appreciated the level of transparency they have generally had in the past. Rand has published things like his firm’s revenue figures and generally been very open and honest. IMO that’s a large part of the appeal they have. You feel like you can trust them.

This post is not about explaining their new Linkscape tool, or even about debating the issue about their avoidance of the requests from many people asking for their crawler’s UA so they could block the bot. If you are unfamiliar with this little soap opera, here are a few places that will fill you in.

Instead, this post is about something disturbing I saw Rand write. As one paragraph in a very long comment reply… which was one reply in a deep series of comments, he wrote:

About dishonesty to help myself or my company – I guess it’s something I hope I wouldn’t do, but the bigger the business has grown, the more I’ve found that honesty (and especially transparency) does come into conflict with promises that have been made and the needs for stealth and protection. I will always try to do my best on this issue, but I think it’s a fair critique to level. I wish there were more I could do, but so far, it’s been a tough path to navigate, and I doubt that as we get bigger it will get easier, unfortunately.

Regarding John’s [not me, another guy with the same name but different spelling] accusation that my judgement is poor – it could be. I obviously try hard to make the right decisions, but as a CEO, I make dozens every day and hundreds every week. Whether all of those are the best they could be and always right isn’t up for discussion – with so many to consider, it’s impossible that I’d always be perfect. I don’t think anyone is. My job is to make enough “right” decisions to help grow the company, keep our investors, our employees and our customers happy.

http://sphinn.com/story/79700#c55828

That’s disappointing. He also says elsewhere in comments that they did purposively omit certain pieces of information about their tool not for the purpose of generating additional sales, but rather for the purpose of fending off competitors. If they told us exactly how their data was gathered, it would be easier for competitors to enter and try and take some of their customers.

I guess I’m just a little disappointed as I feel like some decisions were made here with regard to honesty and transparency and they sacrificed “what is right” for “what is profitable” as the latter is required to pay employees, deliver returns to investors, etc.

This is nothing special. Earlier today Tim pointed out to me in a discussion that large corporations make these types of decisions every day – be a little less transparent and honest… downright lie b/c they are trying to show profits and returns. One of the reasons I’ve always liked small businesses more than large corporations is because I felt like a small business owner has more freedom to make the “right” decisions rather than simply showing short-term stock gains, etc. Those types of things lead to dishonesty and all sorts of ethical dilemmas.

I believe before SEOmoz got venture capital funding this would not have been how they would have went about launching this product. But after a little VC-funding now Rand has other people to answer to, and indeed his decisions are more complex. There are more stakeholders. There are less options that seem to be totally right or totally wrong. Its a tough spot to be in. Remind me to never accept such funding, and to never grow in scale to such a spot where I have this degree of competing factors in my decision process.

Understand that I’m not saying Rand is a bad guy or SEOmoz is a bad company. I’m not. I’m saying good people make bad decisions sometimes, and that’s disappointing. I’m disappointed. Not angry, not upset, not feeling deceived (maybe a tad deceived, but not much…) – instead I’m just disappointed.

The tone and general stance Rand now seems to be taking seems to be completely opposite from his tone not quite 2 years prior. See his discussion under “Takeways” in this post. Just seems like their priorities have shifted a bit in reading that post and then reading Rand’s recent comments. He’s gone from working for free and the love of providing great SEO tools and services to hey if we have to lie a bit to turn a better profit than that’s just business.

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