Isn't it funny how things tend to recycle? A few years ago when I first broke into the whole "internet marketing game," one of the "tried and true" methods of promotion/advertising was the traffic exchange. Then, the preferred type of exchange was the Manual Surf. I suspect few are unfamiliar with traffic exchanges but a good educator leaves no child behind.
The Traffic Exchange concept is relatively basic in it's purest form. In exchange for advertising your program/product to others, you must surf or view other peoples programs as well. The rates of exchange vary with each program and program owner but the gist is usually the same. You view 50 (for example) other sites and may get anywhere from 25-100 hits on your site from others doing the same. There are also generally levels of membership in which you may pay a fee to acquire more hits to your site(s) either as a one-time thing or perhaps monthly.
Manual Exchange sites were preferred to the Auto-Surf Exchanges. The Auto-Surfs were basically the same as the Manual Surfs other than you didn't have to click some kind of number between every ad viewed as you do with a Manual Surf Exchange. It was automatic, hence the name. When I joined all the newest MLM's and Affiliate programs then, Auto-Surfs were very much taboo. The argument was strong that Manual Exchanges outperformed Auto-Surfs in terms of people actually viewing, and perhaps joining/buying your program or product. Auto-Surfs were not a legitimate advertising commodity so said the gurus then.
Somewhere in the course of the past year to year and a half, something happened to shift this internet marketing trend. All of a sudden, the Auto-Surf industry was all the rage. People flocked to it in droves. Many of these people were the same ones who eschewed the Auto-Surf concept in favor of the more traditional and reliable Manual Surf Exchanges. The paradigm shift was in full gear!
What happened next very few foresaw. When Stormpay Inc (a payment processor) decided to freeze the funds of 12 Daily Pro, in February of 2006 the Auto-Surf industry as a whole was shot down in it's full prime. Government officials, lawyers, pundits, even local media coverage painted 12 Daily Pro as nothing more than a thinly veiled Ponzi Scheme. At the time, 12 Daily Pro was the largest Auto-Surf in the industry by far and growing even as it was being cut down at the knees. Most of us who lived through the event know far too well the evidence was supported and 12 Daily Pro was deemed illegal.
What's interesting to me is the cyclic nature of not just human behavior, but of business in general. After the shock wore off and the information fully made itself available, many within the Auto-Surf Industry decided some fullscale changes were necessary. To watch these changes occur over the past 6-8 weeks has been interesting to say the least.
The Auto-Surf industry was built on greed and opportunity. It was never meant to be a medium of any real advertising significance. This is precisely why so many Auto-Surfs went away when the well ran dry. They had no clue as to how to effectively and legally run an internet business site based on something other than simply making a percentage of money everyday. Advertising sites, programs, or products was an afterthought to the Auto-Surf industry. The idea was simply to make a large percentage of money by "actively" surfing a certain amount of sites per day for a given length of time. Then collect your paycheck, re-invest (maybe) and start again. Important to the autosurfer was not getting his or her sites seen. Important to the autosurfer was surfing and getting paid a huge percentage of money over and above what was initially "invested."
Herein lies the rub. Manual Surfs were created specifically to advertise sites (opportunities, programs, products). Auto-surfs were not created, nor joined for this purpose. In essence, the Auto-Surf industry much closer resembled the HYIP (High Yield Investment Program) industry and arguably may be nothing more than a glorified type of HYIP in the final analysis. All risk and no real work.
The problem for the Auto-Surf industry today is steeped in that historical backdrop. The industry far out "scammed" any of it's contemporaries with the notable exception of the HYIPs. Program Owners and Surfers alike were and still are faced with the task of legitimizing an industry if not founded upon, certainly propelled by, greed and vice. Ahhh, who says there is no value in History?
What we're seeing today is yet another subtle, but measurable shift in the traffic exchange industry, but it's not new. Although there are a handful of sites trying to maintain the high spending, high returns on investment and making little change to address the legal issues of the day, most that are trying to stay afloat have conceded a need for systematic change. To that end, Program Owners have looked long and hard at what they can do. Lacking any real creative ingenuity, they did what many others in business do. They adopted someone else's platform or business model. And the circle is complete again.
Sites such as Alien Trust (arguably one of the top 5 Autosurfs during the height) and Total Rune have went to a Manual Exchange system. Alien Trust re-launched as a Manual Surf while Total Rune just this week announced their change in structure. There are others in varying stages of making similar types of changes. I expect that because this industry is so reliant upon gossip errrr I mean forums.....that like everything else, this will be the newest, best strategy to cope with what we all have had to endure. This domino effect will probably not be rapid, but I suspect it will dominate the landscape by the time we close the book on what was called the Auto-Surf Industry.
A couple of things are probably gone forever (dare I say the f-word)? One of the reasons the Auto-Surf industry worked was because of Big Investors. Many thousands and thousands of dollars were floating in these little casinos. Big investers are probably long gone from the industry now as the risks far outweigh their ability to buy influence. More importantly however, as these sites change their business model to reflect more the traditional exchanges of the day, they further alienate these types of investors who really want nothing more to do than invest and collect later. They aren't terribly willing for example, to answer a quiz following a Manual Surf session at Alien Trust. Well, if truth be told, that little experiment isn't being embraced by many in the industry. Do these changes signal the end of an era? Do they save the Auto-Surf Industry, or merely change it's definition?
There remains a fundamental difference between a traditional traffic exchange and an exchange such as Total Rune for example (whether we're still calling it an Auto-Surf Site or not). In the end, Total Rune is still paying a percentage on the surfer's buyin as an ROI. You can dress things up all you like but in the end this is what the Feds will be reviewing. It doesn't really matter if you are purchasing ads, or "working" for your ROI by "surfing" sites, you're still paying a PERCENTAGE return Based on INVESTMENT. This remains a slippery slope legally.
I haven't declared the Auto-Surf industry dead, but it certainly is on life support. I applaud those who have made efforts to stay afloat and keep the industry viable and sustainable. There is a lot more to be done. Likewise, I'm somewhat intrigued by the business modeling shift to the more traditional manual surf approach. I do not think in the end however, that simply changing from an Auto-Surf to a Manual Surf will in and of itself pass legal scrutiny.
In the final analysis a successful business has one or both of the necessary ingredients; 1) Superior Product (that which everyone either needs, or wants), and 2) Superior service. (Maybe the product's not outstanding, but the service delivery, and person or persons operating it are talented). There remain some savvy business people in this (auto-surf)? field, who will work at this until it's right. It may take some time, but these folks no doubt, will rise to the top when all is said and done. The question remains whether or not they will be afforded the time necessary to accomplish it. Just like those dwindling numbers on top of many a surfbar, the clock is