The Demise of Writing Sites: Bubblews, Persona Paper and Niume
Bubblews: How I Knew It Would Fail
Bubblews was a site for people who wanted to write about anything with a minimum of words. It was founded by Arvind Dixit and paid a penny for each view.
Short posts usually don't get organic traffic since search engines don't see any value in it. Even those who wrote more involved articles couldn't reap the rewards of their efforts because the entire site had a low ranking. Spamming and low quality posts were a big part of the problem.
They attracted people who couldn’t write a complete English sentence. A lot of spammers gamed the system and they didn't do anything about it.
Other problems included server outages and system crashes, not to mention poor programming of the platform. When things went wrong, they made quick fixes without testing. That caused more bugs.
In July of 2014 a system upgrade produced a disastrous bug. All of a sudden anyone who had more than one image in a post had lost all the text after the second image. Many of us frantically edited our posts to put back the lost text.
What did management do? They considered the sudden rush by everyone editing to be a problem, so they removed the ability to edit posts. We were screwed. Google eventually dropped those posts from the SERPs due to empty content.
As a systems manager myself, having worked in two major corporations, I never allowed implementing programming changes without testing. Every time Bubblews tried to fix one thing, they broke something else. Good programmers test their code thoroughly, and managers check to be sure it’s working.
I’d rather write on a site that functions on a professional level. It’s hard to find anything else that matches the integrity and professionalism of HubPages.
With all these problems, it was obvious that Bubblews was headed to failure.
“Bubblews has distributed over $1 million to date, considerably more than our revenues.”— Arvind Dixit
The Downward Spiral
In November 2014, Bubblews announced that they are reneging on paying residuals on redemptions made prior to that date. At that point I immediately deleted all my articles. I had backups saved on my computer since I write everything offline. Many other diligent users deleted their content too.
The pending demise of Bubblews became clear on December 18th, 2014 when Arvind Dixit posted “Bubblews has distributed over $1 million to date, considerably more than our revenues.” This clearly meant that they were out of money.
Bubblews Shut Down Without Warning
The site remained for another year without paying anyone. I never could understand why so many people continued to write without getting paid.
In November 2015 Bubblews shut down without warning. Shortly before that, they changed their policy stating that anything posted on their site is their property and they retain the rights to use as they see fit.
Many people didn't pay attention to that new policy, but I stopped writing and removed my content in time. A lawyer told me that if we continue to post new content after they changed the rules then we are showing agreement to those changes and have given away our rights.
It was obvious that they never had a clear business plan and they were just winging it as they were going. As a businessperson myself, I could see right through that.
A Payment Model Destined for Failure
Bubblews had a payment model whereby they committed to paying earnings before they even know what amounts they will be collecting. I think this is a business model destined for failure. They created their own algorithms whereby they pay per view, per comment, or other user actions.
At some point Bubblews discovered that certain countries did not bring in any revenue, so they refused to pay those users the amount that was already posted as their pending revenue.
Then it got worse. I can’t forget how Arvind Dixit once stated that due to a “ridiculous amount of fraud” they would not pay anyone at all. Those of us who followed all the rules were put in the same class as the spammers.
When they stopped paying, many of us registered complaints with the Better Business Bureau. I was one of them. The BBB asked Arvind Dixit to explain why he didn't just hold payments from those who acted in a fraudulent manner. He never responded. Here is an image of an alert on the BBB website:
On March 26th, 2015, Bubblews accreditation was revoked by BBB's Board of Directors due to failure to eliminate the cause of complaints.*
Did Bubblews Steal Rights to Our Content?
In my opinion, if you deleted your posts before the policy change I mentioned above, then you still have rights to your work since you posted in good faith under the prior terms of service. In addition, as long as you stopped posting new content after the policy change, you are still under the old rules that gave you rights to your content.
Many things they have done were fraudulent and many of us have records on file with the Better Business Office about the fraud and payments still due to us. So I doubt they can even sue for rights to content that had been left on the site when they closed down.
Persona Paper: Failed From the Start
Persona Paper is a writing platform for sharing thoughts, experiences and knowledge. However, the first problem I saw was that many people wrote about their daily lives. One writer posted about waking up, having breakfast and walking the dog. What’s the point of sharing that? I’m surprised to see people were following her. Google finds no use for that and it hurts the ranking of the entire site.
A Difficult Start
Persona Paper was started on March 1, 2014 by Ashley (&Ashley). However, after a career change that involved a lot of traveling, Ashley turned it over to Heather Lee Chapman (&MaeLou) and William Chapman (&elitecodex) to manage the business from their home in Port Charlotte, Florida. They ran it as a Sole Proprietorship.
Unfortunately, they did something that caused their AdSense account to be canceled. This doomed them from the start. As an alternative they began using other ad agencies, but some of those ads were dangerous links to malware sites.
The red flags began to unfold.
Persona Paper Did Have Some Good Ideas
One can appreciate the value behind the following concepts. They were designed so that Persona Paper would never be plagued with spam or with fraudulent activity.
Payment Based on Ad Revenue Exchange Rate
They paid in virtual coins that were presently worth $0.0015 per coin. The value of the coins was based on an exchange rate that was adjusted in relation to the ad revenue.
Users could either cash out once they reached $20 worth of coins or they could leave it in their virtual bank and let it grow.
A Concept Designed to Avoid Hackers and Spammers
Two coins were earned for each unique view and one coin for each comment on other people’s posts. Nothing is earned for likes or comments received from others. I find this to be a unique concept that is designed to avoid hackers and spammers from gaming the system.
Motivating Reader Engagement
Payments for commenting motivated people to engage with the author of articles. Comments needed to be well written with at least 30 characters, not just “Nice Post”.
Zero Tolerance Policy
Plagiarism was not tolerated and was closely monitored. Accounts were deleted if duplicate content was found.
They also carefully enforced the proper crediting of images used from other sites. When posting, one needed to complete an "image credit" section. Even our own images had to be credited—to ourselves.
They Allowed Malicious Code on Ads
Despite the good business ideas that they had, which I just described, Heather (&MaeLou) and her husband Will (&elitecodex) didn't handle the system well.
Will was a programmer and the only one maintaining the site. I had reported a number of problems to him. The worst was malicious code used by one of their ad agencies that redirected Apple mobile users to their own product site by using a known browser exploit.
When I told Will about this, he said they needed to keep that agency because they paid a very high ad revenue. He obviously didn't care to provide a reader friendly experience.
Management Eventually Lost Interest
In August of 2015 both Heather and Will were nowhere to be found. For a couple of months, no one could get a response to queries or for help.
Finally on September 5th, 2015, Heather posted a message stating that they both became very busy with their personal lives. Gee, I thought this was a business!
Will also left a post saying they are discussing their options about how they will be moving forward. It was at that time that I knew they wouldn't be around much longer and I stopped writing articles.
On September 7th, Will posted a detailed explanation of the present state of affairs. Both he and his wife had full time jobs and didn’t have the time to commit to Persona Paper any longer.
Will also explained that they gave out more coins than they have the money to pay out. The same thing happened with Bubblews and we all know how that turned out.
They discussed the future direction of the site and came up with two choices:
- Pay out the money now to whom they can and shutdown the site. Or…
- Ask for volunteers to assist with day-to-day operations of the site.
Persona Paper Shuts Down
As of February 2016, Persona Paper announced that they are shutting down—just as I had predicted. It was so obvious. They never followed up to fix bugs. They warned everyone five months earlier that they ran out of money. It was only a matter of time.
Unlike Bubblews, they at least had the courtesy to leave the site online so people can copy and save their articles.
Business Purchased by a Savior
A year later, in March 2017, Meg Learner purchased Persona Paper to take over the entire business—software and domain name. Even though she says writers will not be paid any revenue, she invites people to publish new articles.
Meg says she doesn't have programming knowledge, so she leaves the system functioning as it was left:
- There is no advertising, but there are errors for ad placement throughout the site for unregistered ad agencies. I guess she doesn't know how to remove that code.
- No one is being paid. Meg makes that clear in her posts. However, she doesn't know how to change the FAQ and TOS pages that still say people get paid for content.
As of July 2018, Meg is still keeping the site alive, but under the above conditions. She needs to hire a programmer who can manage the software, but I realize she has no money coming in for the business so that's not to be expected.
Meg says that she has a couple of advertisers in mind but that traffic is not sufficient yet to bring in advertising. I don't think she realizes the little chance for that based on the present site architecture. It's a content farm, and Google frowns upon that.
All the articles are under one domain, and Google ranks that very low. Sites need to have a specific focus to attract organic traffic. That's why HubPages has over 20 sites in their network, which is a proven business model.
With all the latest algorithm changes by Google to only give good ranking to content that provides value to the reader, and the fact that the prior owners of Persona Paper had been banned from using Google AdSense, the task of turning Persona Paper into a profitable business is not going to be easy.
Niume: Never Focused on Search Traffic
Niume has always said it's a social network collaborative site. That implies that search traffic is not the focus.
I looked at Niume's XML sitemap and discovered that they never included author's posts. That's the file that shows search engines what pages to index.
It’s sad that they never had a good business strategy, or maybe they just didn’t understand how to do it. They required building traffic via social media rather than search engines.
I'm a system analyst. When I first investigated how Niume's platform was constructed, I knew their days were numbered and I predicted their demise as I did with the others that are gone.
On May 26th, 2017, Niume posted in their official blog that they would no longer pay revenue for posts.
On October 2nd, 2017, all content on Niume was deleted and the site was shut down.
My Final Thoughts
When a writing site displays ongoing problems, it's important to consider if time spent writing on that platform is worth it.
It's also important to observe how strongly management is willing to keep up with the latest trends with search engines and the Internet in general.
HubPages is constantly revising their methods to match the requirements of Google and other search engines. That is what's so important in order to remain profitable for both the writers and the owners of the business.
All the sites that have gone out of business had focused on accumulating posts that people wrote about any miscellaneous subject to their hearts content. That didn't serve any purpose, and it offered nothing that Google can use to provide answers to people's search queries.
A site needs to specialize in one subject and provide information written by people who have a demonstrated knowledge of the subject. It doesn't matter if they are specialists or simply experienced by being involved with the subject.
Nevertheless, even specialists will fail if they share their articles on a site among unrelated content. This is why HubPages is doing so well—they organized our content among individual vertical niche sites. That's why I'm glad to be writing on HubPages.
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© 2015 Glenn Stok