Human-powered search site Mahalo, created by notable entrepreneur, investor and blogger Jason Calacanis, may soon be involved in a class-action lawsuit, the result of a change to its Terms and Conditions that may have affected the pay of its contractors and employees.

Meanwhile, as Mahalo's legal troubles begin, CEO Calacanis is preparing to launch a new project, itself called "Launch," which aims to be a direct challenger to TechCrunch.

The Mahalo Class-Action

According to news posted on Accentuate in mid-September, and more recently on blog sites Pulse2 and The Next Web, the potential Mahalo lawsuit involves disputes surrounding a change to the site's terms, which now give the company ownership of the content published on Mahalo.com. Prior to the change, the writers also owned the content. This change angered some of the site's users, who are now attempting to sue the company.

The law firm of Green Welling, LLP is currently gathering information from affected writers and attempting to get a class-certified suit underway.

Mahalo employees and contractors interested in participating in the suit are being asked for any "information, documentation, screen captures, emails, other communications or experiences with Mahalo.com," notes Accentuate Services, a blog dedicated to freelancing and fiction writing. The site is maintained by Michelle L. Devon, one of the injured parties, and now the plaintiff in the suit. Those joining her can remain anonymous through attorney-client privilege, she says.

The details of the case itself are not currently being discussed, but it involves revenue sharing disputes and intellectual property law from our understanding of the matter. Devon was previously seen commenting on this thread on Mahalo Answers, the Q&A sub-section of the search site. Additional discussion is also available online in dedicated forum sites both here and here.

Note: Mahalo has not yet responded to our request for comment regarding the suit. We will update this post if we hear back.Update: Mahalo's official comment: "We're not going to speculate on rumors of lawsuits. However, our terms of service have been and continue to be clear. We've always operated under Creative Commons. Under the prior terms of service, the writers owned the content and provided Mahalo with a license to use it. Now that we compensate writers with bi-weekly cash payments, we amended the terms so that we own the content and provide the writers a creative commons license to use elsewhere if they choose. Bottom line is that Mahalo is pro-writer, as evidenced by our substantial and ever-growing investment in quality content. Our Mahalo Guides and Gurus are talented, passionate, creative contributors who are the lifeblood of the site. Writers interested in sharing their passions with a huge audience of readers should not hesitate to apply."

Calacanis Working on TechCrunch Competitor Called "Launch"

As the different parties investigate a potential suit against Mahalo, it seems Calacanis has a new project. According to an article in today's Guardian, the entrepreneur is now investing in an editorial startup called Launch.

Launch will take on TechCrunch, says Calacanis, but with more of a focus on "quality and insight," he says. "When I started with [Engadget founder, and Joystiq, Gizmodo and Hackaday co-founder] Peter Rojas, blogging was a new format that was faster but still had quality and insight," he said. "Now it's even faster but it has lost that quality and insight. You have a bunch of people writing short stuff with no research and knowledge base. They have no credibility."

Launch won't offer news via blog posts, as TechCrunch does, though. It will be provided as an email newsletter - the same format where Calacanis's own deeper insights disappeared to back in 2008.

"If you get people to commit to an email relationship, it's the deepest, most intimate relationship you can have online. Much deeper than Facebook and certainly more intimate than a blog," he told the Guardian.

Do Bloggers Lack Credibility?

As bloggers ourselves, it's hard to not be stung by words like his. Bloggers lack credibility? Ouch.

But blogging, let's remember, is just a format for publishing content. Anyone can blog, from mainstream journalists to uninformed amateurs. That's the power and the beauty of the platform, in fact. Who exactly is Calacanis speaking about when he makes comments like these?

Besides, today's blog readers are now savvier than ever, often interacting with writers through comment forms and on the social networks Twitter and Facebook, which he summarily dismissed. Commenters add their thoughts to posted stories, expressing their support or agreement, pointing out mistakes or offering different opinions or opposing points of views.

While an email newsletter will arguably have a highly engaged audience, as Calacanis says, it's hardly positioned as a direct competitor to TechCrunch, or any other top-tier news site, blog or otherwise.

But that's just my opinion, as a lowly blogger.

In the comments (or elsewhere), you can share yours. That's how this works, folks. And we like it.

Photo by Joi Ito.