ShareASale and Toolbars / Call for Participation on Guidelines

As I’ve stated a few times recently in blogs or interviews, it is my feeling that 2009 will see a great increase in the number of toolbars implemented throughout various affiliate and/or merchant sites. Due to the increase in installations of Firefox extensions as well, these toolbars will have varying levels of interaction with the user and will pose various levels of difficulty.

ShareASale has traditionally allowed no software related affiliates to participate on our network due to interference and potential interference with site based affiliates. We plan to modify this policy, with the help of the community, to make sure that we are allowing for legitimate customer service concerns – while also protecting site based affiliates and their clickstreams/commissions.

My proposal is to lay out what I feel is a base guideline document – this isn’t a final document by any means… as you’ll see if you read on. I’d like to establish what I feel are some of the main concerns and then we will open the entire discussion to anyone who would like to get involved and share their ideas.

We will host a “Toolbar Roundtable” (possibly more than one) – with the first session coming on Tuesday February 3rd at 3pm Central. Depending on participation level and how far we get, we can schedule further roundtables. We will welcome any merchant, affiliate, or industry member to participate and will be providing a call in number as well as an online meeting so that we can all chat and look at possible scenarios that should be considered.

In order to participate, we will need your RSVP to brian@shareasale.com.

Here are some points that I have outlined that will be discussed.

1. Toolbars must be used for the main purpose of customer assistance and support. As just one piece of this, this should rule out any use of the toolbar as an ad-delivery mechanism. Our aim is to allow affiliates to use toolbars as customer service tools, not ad platforms/popup delivery/behavioural targetting.

2. We will attempt to draw a distinction between ownership of content on a website, vs. ownership of a browser. It is my opinion at this point that content of a webpage belongs to the person who created that content. I.e., if it is an affiliate site it belongs to them, if it is a retailer it belongs to them, etc… As part of this distinction, we will aim to disallow the practice of a toolbar modifying any content of that web page. Conversly, the browser (in my opinion) belongs to the user of the computer. Receiving messages through parts of the browser which are not attached to the content of the page should thus be a decision between the toolbar creator and the user.

3. No automatic redirection should take place at any time. Regarding toolbar software, there really should never be any errors in this regard.

4. A distinction should be made between positive notification, and negative notification (on the toolbar). A negative notification (one that says something like “You are not earning via this toolbar) could be construed as a more marketing message/interference with previous clickstream. A positive notification should be a customer service reinforcement of a previous click that took place from that particular toolbar content provider.

5. Distribution of any toolbar should be through intended download directly through a corresponding account on the provider’s website. It must be by choice, and not incentivized to the customer to use. (i.e., the provider’s site should work perfectly fine without the toolbar installed). This coincides with the desire to allow toolbars as customer service tools – not marketing initiatives. As with automatic redirection, there is little room for errors or ommissions here.

6. Industry participation and history should be relevant. In terms of participation through ShareASale, past history of a company or toolbar manufacturer will be relevant. Past errors, ommissions, glitches, bugs, etc… will have an impact on a necessary confidence factor that needs to be in place.

We strongly wish for your participation in this process. Please let me know directly if you would like to attend/participate/listen in/etc… My email address is brian@shareasale.com or feel free simply to comment on this post with your intention to participate, etc… Feel free to email me any questions or comments you might have. We need to find a common ground on this issue, and we need to work together to get there. It may not be the easiest task we’ve ever taken on but it is necessary and one that I am confident we can succeed at. I look forward to hearing all of your thoughts!

-Brian Littleton
-President/CEO ShareASale

Comments

  1. says

    This is good news. Dawdle.com has been fighting and fighting for an exception for an affiliate we run on GAN that we want to transition over to SAS. I’m glad that SAS is acknowledging these semantic web, social media, and social sharing toolbar players and their role in a better internet experience. E-mail sent; look forward to it.

  2. says

    Brian,
    I am the guy talking to you at the Affiliate Summit about our search engine, and how we can be part of your network. You declined us for the search toolbar.

    We have the most innocent search toolbar, and it does not deliver any ad. This is lot less intrusive than even Google or Yahoo toolbar. It has been tested by download.com for its innocence.
    Site URL: http://aafter.com
    Toolbar URL: http://www.aafter.com/index_aafter_toolbar.htm

    Regards,
    Subhankar Ray

  3. says

    Please, please, please Brian don’t allow this toolbar to remain in your network or any other toolbars to made from affiliates already in your network.

    I know business is business and even understand your reasons for doing this but your network has always been respected by affiliates and I at least always thought you genuinely cared about all your affiliates (big, small and even teeny) I’ve always thought of you as one of the good guys. :)

    Please, please, please don’t compromise everything that your network has stood for, your principles and give into this. Please don’t allow toolbars into your network.

    Kathy

  4. says

    The perception of toolbars among the public is one of polar opposites, depending upon the brand (imagine Compete.com or Yahoo! vs. Adware toolbars). At the same time, there are some great toolbars out there (Dealio comes to mind) that have real utility, but are widely treated as PUP software. Tread lightly with your good brand, SAS.

  5. Gayle says

    If the toolbars are only providing customer service and not providing ads, and particularly not providing ads based on the content of the pages displayed, why are they asking to be allowed to be affiliates?

  6. says

    Gayle,

    Part of the reason is that sometime those companies have other properties and would like those other properties to be involved at the affiliate level.

    In the past they have not been able to do so simply because the toolbar existed.

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