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I’ve been a dealnews watcher for a while.  Dealnews.com is one of many sites out there on the interweb that aggragates ‘sales’ for consumers.  I’ve found a lot of crap I don’t really need on there, and I’ve bought some of it. There are a bunch of similar sites: SlickDealsBen’s Bargains, and FatWallet to name a few. But Dealnews made it easy for me to do a quick once over, with a picture of the item and the price highlighted. The site is well laid out and easy to use… what they do, they do fairly well.

They’ve matured during our time together and the things I would have liked to see haven’t been added while plenty I question has. Noticeably absent is a forum area to comment on or ask questions about the deals being offered. Another absentee feature is a price history statistic. A lot of bargain watching is about getting the best deal, and often that involves watching historical trends. These features are available at Ben’s Bargains, although with rudimentary implementation, but sadly are unlikely to make it to Dealnews because the site has opted for a different tack.

All of these sites started by posting user suggested deals in combination with a bit of bargain sleuthing by the author.  It’s somewhat analogous to Drudgereport.com, an aggregator with an opinionated overlord, and a much more familiar site.  While I prefer a more egalitarian approach in theory, something more akin to Digg.com, I could understand the usefulness of the overlords in keeping the site tidy, manageable, and visually useful.

However, things have drifted afield in my opinion.  I liked being privy to the exclusive, hot finds and smoking deals.  I would do my part and submit one’s I stumbled across as well.  I reported errors and did my part all around.  I can understand that there needs to be some sort of revenue stream to keep things going, and I would begrudgingly submit to that as well – unless that revenue stream was based on peppering the deals with veiled advertisements, pushing the site into e-circular realm for the e-coupon-cutter.

And so it began, the regularity of it all, the same retailers, the same brands… not deals or secret codes or the best product configurations, but simple sale announcements.  Then, instead of linking to the product page, I found myself gradually being forwarded more and more often through a series of click-through ad counting agencies, designed to track how many people click through from a site, what products they are looking at and whether they buy or not, and associate it all to the site (the deal site) they came from – so that the site can get paid for hawking the retailer’s goods.  Dealnews specifically, has started using an advertising payment system called Commission Junction as well as other click-through tracking programs and retailer affiliate programs.  Commission junction itself is an aggregator… of trackable advertisements for members, where publishers, such as Dealnews, can get links to display, and get paid for having users click-through to one of the advertisers.  So instead of being a list of deals found on the web, Dealnews is at least partially, a list of discount advertisements produced by retailers themselves.

But they need to get paid you say… they need as large a revenue stream as possible as a principle of business.  Sure, so long as the quality of the service isn’t effected.  When I see the first 20 or so entries listed on the site at any given time, I get the impression that most of them are advertising plants.  They may be good, they may not be, but why should I be reassured that they didn’t leave out a better deal for the same product from some place that doesn’t have the same potential to increase the site’s revenue?  Am I not supposed to get a sense of collusion when a search for a common product on their site that used to return a list of all the matching deal entries in the site’s history (the backdoor method of determining a price history) now results in a list of matches available at stores through a PriceGrabber.com API below a banner of ‘relevant’ Google ads.  The same search on Google with ‘dealnews’ added will return the list I wanted to see in the first place. It exists, it’s just not what they want you to see anymore.It’s their right, just like it’s my prerogative whether to check them out or not. Personally, I think they’ve been too aggressive in courting potential revenue sources, to the detriment of their credibility and the quality of their product, as well as being too unresponsive to their customers’ and the market opportunity’s demand for functionality improvements.

My real point isn’t so much about dealnews.com specifically as it is that they are completely typical on the internet in general.  Some site’s motives are completely straightforward.  I know Amazon is trying to sell a product, nothing more nothing less.  But large swaths of the web were created out of something wholly different, and it isn’t until monetization gets introduced when they decide whether those initial motives are enough.  Some organizations can manage both, even if it means keeping things modest – take craigslist.org for example – and some sites parlay their exposure into whatever revenue they can manage – say myspace.com for this.