The following is my statement regarding the gaming of Mahalo Answers. For the complete article, and the back and forth between myself and Richard of Geek-News.net, where I initially defend the site, before finally coming to the realization below, click here.
Richard, it would seem my glowing reviews were colored very much by the lottery winnings I received…
I’m afraid, it turns out many of your criticisms are valid, and there’s a lot more.
Over the last few days, I’ve grown disillusioned… both with the site and it’s operation, and with the CEO. This is a guy who after I asked him two simple yes or no questions, refused to reply. Sure, I realize he owes me no reply, but one would like to think when TechCrunch, in association with Mahalo, use your name is an article, you’d at the very least get a question answered without being ignored. Apparently not.
It’s a personal slight, and frankly, I don’t appreciate it. Beyond that, it came at a time that Jason pitched Cannon over twitter asking what he could get to plug their products to his 45k “zombies” who follow him. Must be nice to not only ignore your followers questions, but profiteer off of them, while condescendingly insulting them, as well.
These things, and things like these, put me off Jason… completely, but it wouldn’t be fair to let my growing dislike for his personality and profiteering, affect my view of Mahalo Answers. I’m sure I’m not completely objective, but this brings me to the most important reason I no longer support the platform.
Mahalo Answers is gameable. Completely gameable. I suspect it is so, because Jason himself and his staff are the primary ones gaming it. Where do the M$ come from? Well, if you are a user, you need to buy them at a 1-1 ratio with real money. If you are Mahalo, you simply create them out of thin air, and then “put them into the system”. I read a claim that Jason had put hundreds of thousands into that system, on an msnbc news article, to promote tips. Is there a paper trail for all those M$, or are they just being created by the site? Good luck getting an answer on that. I strongly suspect it is the latter.
Regardless, the system is being gamed. Once M$ are in the system, the only way for them to cost Mahalo a penny is if they are converted to real money via paypal. The majority of this time, this does not occur. Instead what happens is this: Someone affiliated with Mahalo Answers who was given the M$ by the site (by their admission), posts a question offering a large tip $20-$100. Users believing they have a shot at it put in an amount of work, and that is what it is, based on the amount. MA gets around 20 good answers, for free, and then selects another MA-related user as the winner. The M$ go round and round, transfered through the Mahalo Answers affiliate botnet, and never reach an actual user who cashes them out (or do so only after multiple transfers, at best). It costs Mahalo nothing, to transfer the same M$100 from one affiliate to another, and each time they do this, they have essentially gamed the system, and saved the entire cost of that tip.
I have witnessed this occurring on the site, and the evidence of it remains. I first suspected this when I noticed users who are direct employees of MA, not disclosing it on their profiles. One of them Is Sara. I have an e-mail from her MA account with a link to her profile, to demonstrate it. Even after I raised this issue, her profile was not changed. Instead Jason claimed all employees disclose. That is a lie, and I suspect he knows it. Why Sara is notable is because she has been funneling hundreds of dollars through the system, and selecting “best answers” that indicate the system is rigged.
This would be no different than a business owner paying the $100 for M$100 and then asking a question that can be used to profit his business. After receiving all the answers, he selects a “best answer”, and transfers that money to an employee or to an affiliate of his business. And the scam gets repeated ad infinitum. Mahalo Answers seems to be running the same scam, with the difference that the M$ do not even need to be purchased. They can simply be created.
Due to the above, I officially withdraw all support for Jason Calacanis and Mahalo Answers. While it is possible to believe these are simply “accidents” or “coincidences”, it would be naive to think so.
Users have a right to know who the Mahalo employees are, and that they primarily select other employees to receive the tips. Users also have a right to know where the M$ used by these employees came from, and whether or not Mahalo actually payed for them, or just created them. In addition, and most importantly, users should know that the system in use can be gamed, and gamed easily, and nothing effective is being done to guard against this. I doubt that is negligence, but rather more profiteering, something which JC is a master at.
Edit: corrected name from “Mary” to Sara. I apologize for the inaccuracy.