This was sent in response to an e-mail I received from a Mahalo employee regarding my previous statements. I am not reproducing their e-mail, as I have not notified them or asked their permission to do so, and consider it a private correspondence, at this time.
Hi, (name removed). You are quite right. I meant to say “Sara” not “Mary”. I have posted a correction.
You are correct, moving M$ around from user to user would make no money. It would, however, also cost no money, either, and yield free information, as well as generate site activity. For example, a Mahalo freelancer can post a question needed to finish a guide they are paid $175 for by Mahalo. They post a question asking for detailed information (that they will then sell through Green House), offering a $20 tip. 10 users post, all providing valuable information. A final user posts and copy/pastes elements from the above users answers. That user is then selected as best answer. That user is also a freelancer, or a dummy account run by the OP. $20 was now saved, and the information that was posted came free, plus generated more revenue after being used in a guide, which was then sold. The process then repeats itself.
This is just a single example of how the system can be gamed. As you can see, there is in fact a benefit to this behavior for those who engage in it. I think you and I both know, questions of this type are in fact being asked, and copy/paste answers from previous answers are being selected for tips. It’s not too difficult to figure out why.
Let me give you another example, I run a website. I want to drive traffic. I offer a $1000 tip for some bogus question, in which I can promote my website. I reap the rewards of the answers and the traffic, and the publicity for such a high tip. I choose the best answer, and the person I choose is the next link in the chain. Subsequently, Mahalo Answers gets huge publicity in articles mentioning such a big payout, and my site’s traffic goes through the roof, as blogs and media pick up the story. My $1000 is well-spent, especially since it will be broken up and transfered around in a similar manner among my multiple accounts, yielding me even more freebies, until I eventually cash it out myself by proxy. Total cost to me. $250. And that’s assuming, I decide I want the money back, and don’t just keep traveling it for free information and site promos. This is how someone outside Mahalo’s infrastructure would game the system.
I believe you probably are completely genuine when you say you are not aware of any deception or gaming by staff. As an outside user, though, when I see staff posting questions with $M provided by Mahalo (which I suspect they generated out of nothingness), questions which coincidently are related to their freelance projects, and then awarding best answer to other staff, it creates an appearance of impropriety.
The facts are this:
1. User disclosure of Mahalo employee status is voluntary unless it is made compulsory, and verified. Some employees are disclosing on profiles, and others are not.
2. Employees are both asking questions and answering them on a regular basis, with no official oversight. This is, in fact, encouraged by Mahalo, and M$ were given to these users to promote this.
3. Employees are awarding other employees with “best answer”.
4. Tips are traveling from one employee of Mahalo to another on a regular basis, and indicate a sort of network, whether or not that is the intent.
The bottom line is, Mahalo has allowed a system to run in which employees can game the system for free, and anyone can game the system for 25% of the amount an honest user would pay. The question you have to ask yourself is “why?”. Given the ambiguity surrounding who works for Mahalo, and in what capacity, and who doesn’t, as well the trend for Mahalo employees to favor other employees, a very clear impression is created.
Gaming the system, in fact does benefit Mahalo. It’s only the exposure that would be a negative. Creating a system with these loopholes works very well for those exploiting them, and as long as those who feed the real money into the system, either participate in the gaming themselves, or are not aware of it, there is no backlash, and Mahalo profits. In the meantime, real users who are submitted real information for free, and doing so in a rigged system are the ones who lose out.
The solution is rather clear, Mahalo employees should be restricted from answering questions, altogether. The M$ they were given should be removed from the system, unless someone actually used real money to purchase them to begin with. Still waiting for Jason to answer that charge… It seems he’s forgotten in his haste to make vague denials of knowledge in point form.
Mahalo employees should be enabled to ask questions, but the answer should be selected only by vote (despite the fact Mahalo could easily rig the vote results). The questions asked by Mahalo employees should be color coded differently, so users know it’s a Mahalo question, being asked as a Mahalo strategy while on the clock.
I’m not opposed to Mahalo employees having a separate personal account, so long as there is no interaction between the two, and it does not reference employee status directly or indirectly, at any time, and no questions or answer are provided on anything relating to Mahalo.
Additionally, the M$ should be tracked to ensure they are not being transfered around to clones, fake accounts, or a network of users engaged in gaming the system. I realize this will not be easy to do, but it is essential for Mahalo to be able to ensure it’s users that no gaming is taking place. Presently, there is nothing at all to back that assurance up, even if it were given, which it has not been.
Freelancers, who do not work at Mahalo itself, are a different matter. While they should not be restricted in the manner of employees working at a Mahalo office, I think there should be a set of protocols to follow for their participation. One of them should be not using the user submissions for content they are gathering to sell to Mahalo. This may seem unfair, but I think it is necessary. The source for content Mahalo is purchasing from it’s freelancers, should not be Mahalo users, who are being utilized as a resource on the sites own infrastructure. To allow this creates a real incentive for freelancers to game the system.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mahalo Answers should post a full list of all employee accounts. I would also like to see an average for tips received from Mahalo employees vs non-Mahalo employees, and an explanation where the M$ that were given to “jump start” the system came form, and if they were ever purchased, or just created by the company out of thin air.