There has been a flood of stories about blogger ethics thanks to Microsoft PR sending Bloggers Acer “Ferrari” Laptops loaded up with Vista and Office 2007. It’s clever marketing, perhaps, but brings up questions of ethics and disclosure;
Microsoft hands out Ferrari’s to bloggers - istartedsomething
Microsoft together with AMD gave out some timely Christmas presents (which are officially review PCs) to a bunch of bloggers this year…
The Acer Ferrari discussion - www.geekzone.co.nz
I am one of the bloggers receiving an Acer Ferrari 5000, pre loaded with Windows Vista, and as mentioned before, this is courtesy of AMD and Microsoft, to promote the new OS with extreme hardware and mobility features…
The recipients were originally told they could try the units, blog about them or not, keep, return or give them away as they wished. However while this post was in draft form the resulting “storm” had Microsoft’s PR re-stating the offer to suggest the bloggers should only return or give-away the machines. A post at Problogger has the original approach [note extracts only shown below] and a rather different followup statement issued following “the storm”….
At first: “This would be a review machine, so I’d love to hear your opinion on the machine and OS. Full disclosure, while I hope you will tell others about your experience with the PC, you don’t have to. Also, you are welcome to send the machine back to us after you are done playing with it, or you can give it away to your community, or you can keep it. Just let me know your opinion on Windows Vista and what you plan to do with it when the time comes”
Followed a later by: “As you write your review I just wanted to emphasize that this is a review PC. I strongly recommend you disclose that we sent you this machine for review, and I hope you give your honest opinions. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding of our intentions I’m going to ask that you either give the PC away or send it back when you no longer need it for product reviews.”
Many, including some professional journalists, have voiced their opinions;
That Microsoft-AMD-Acer laptop fiasco - www.geekzone.co.nz/juha
You can't have missed by now that the blogosphere is on fire over the initiative by Microsoft, AMD and Acer to send out laptops to bloggers...
Blogger ethics? Oh, please. | Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise |
“When I’m done testing this notebook, what happens to it? I haven’t decided yet. I’m not keeping it, of course...”
“….But that’s my personal decision, and it’s based on my personal code of ethics, which says I don’t accept gifts. So, do I think everyone who received one of these boxes should send it back? Don’t be ridiculous. The people who are whining about Microsoft “bribing” bloggers are misinformed.”
In a post at WorldCAD Access Ralph Grabowski discusses this along with Journalists “Loot”:
For Journalists, It's Christmas All Year Around - WorldCAD Access
"Loot" is the technical term journalists use for gifts received from corporations.
Towards the end of this post he poses the question:
“With non-CAD bloggers now reporting when they get loot, will CAD bloggers follow suit?”
So here goes:
I would like to disclose that I’m getting a Ferrari Laptop with Vista and Office 2007 but, sadly, there is no need. Should one turn up I’ll happily revise this statement.
It does raise the question of what other factors are involved in deciding what to blog about and what, if any, stance to take on various issues.
It’s just a blog, OK!
This blog is very much a hobby. It’s done at home usually late at night which explains only some of the typos! I don’t pretend to be a journalist so don’t expect that. I write about stuff I like and things I use. I don’t pretend to have tried every application in a particular field and I don’t have a staff and lab full of analysis gear for software/hardware testing. Heck, I don’t even have a laptop!
What I can share is what I’ve learnt as a user. It’s up to you to decide the value of that!
So what about “bloggers loot” and disclosure?
To date I’ve had some benefits from blogging, travel and software upgrades, but in each case have disclosed what was provided and how it happened in either the post body or a footnote. One change I have made while drafting this post is to go back and tag/index those posts under “disclosure” and will do this in the future.
I use the software I write about and, if it’s not free-ware, generally I buy my own licences. In terms of CAD I have my own Autodesk licences (ADT/Viz)and pay subscription fees like everyone else that chooses that path. However there have been, as noted at the time, a few exceptions:
- Mindjet supplied me a MindManager 5 to 6 upgrade (I purchased MindManager 5)
- GyroQ was given to beta testers including me.
- TechSmith gave me current versions of Camtasia/Snag-it. I was already a Camtasia user via a work owned licence.
I’m not sure what extent blogging influenced receiving the Autodesk funded trips to Seoul and Autodesk University but it certainly was a factor. In both cases there was no demand to blog and I chose what, if anything, to publish. With the Seoul posts I sought permission for the use of client content (quotes & images seen in my photos) but the posts and images were all my work and published as written.
I do get approached to blog about software, events, promotions or other web sites. If I think they are worthwhile and I can add some value by posting I will, otherwise I don’t. I have not had any “incentives” beyond the offer of limited life review licences for software.
I run Google Ads here but have no control what appears in them and Google requires me not to disclose what I earn, except to the Tax Dept. Sadly, it’s not a fortune but does help offset TypePad hosting costs. The Amazon commissions earned from product links, again minimal, have been donated to charity, last was a payment to their Tsunami appeal, or sit in the Amazon account waiting to be claimed.
Blogging, Journalism, Ethics?
While blogging is publishing it’s certainly not “Journalism” yet I think the ethical considerations are similar. All forms of publication require some degree of self censorship, perhaps even non-disclosure. Journalists and bloggers don't publish everything, as you must consider the impact on yourself, others involved and innocent parties.
As an example although I sometimes I use content from work, with permission, to illustrate posts and occasionally talk about how I use applications in my work I don’t post about work. Occasionally I’ll link to other public content – e.g. news content – but I don’t blog about specific work events, projects or colleagues. Some do but it can be perilous and it’s one complication I choose to avoid. Likewise there are industry debates that I choose not to comment about. Some involve the companies whose products I use but I don’t think I have anything to add to the debate. The idealist might consider this a sell-out but the reality is I have to make a call. A journalist may have editors, lawyers, even publishers to influence and back them with this but for the blogger there is just you!
The basic rule I apply is: If there is something that will influence the readers perception if they are not aware of it then declare it.
What about the “AutoCAD 2006 blog preview thing”…
In some ways the “Vista Laptop Thing” could be Microsoft’s version of the Autodesk “AutoCAD 2006 Blog release”. It raised the matter of blog/media relations in the CAD industry back in 2005. For those that weren’t there at the time the issue was beta bloggers, with zero lead time publishing, being let loose while embargo still applied to others, including the mainstream media. It was early days in the world of CAD blogging and I suspect something was learned on all sides as a result;
For some background see…
I’d say since then it’s been demonstrated that Professional Media, PR and Bloggers all have a role and there is little conflict or overlap. If anything the emergence of blogging has been more of a challenge for Corporate PR/Marketing teams as they have to consider far more than the traditional channels and relationships. It appears some are still learning how to handle this brave new world…
Has blogging impacted my relationship with “the industry”?
I can’t deny that it has. Before the blog I was a user, in some cases a beta tester, maybe a name on a discussion group. The benefit of blogging has been to meet a huge number of people across all manner of professions, and countries, that I otherwise would never have known. Not only from the CAD world but also many other fields. I’ve been fortunate to travel, mostly self funded, and meet many of them in person and it’s opened a world that otherwise wouldn’t exist for me. To have someone in Seoul, Las Vegas, Orlando or even Auckland walk up shake your hand and say they read your blog is still both surprising and cool! That’s the true return from blogging and you can’t measure it.
There has been one other area where blogging has been played a factor in “industry relationships” for a few applications I use. In my work role I have been approached to provide formal corporate “Customer Stories” for several companies. After much consideration I decided not to participate, on one occasion embarrassingly late in the process, partially to retain a degree of independence as a blogger.
I blog about those applications, I still use them, but here I write in my domain and it’s live. I might try something today and praise it but later find a flaw. At least with the blog I can write about that as it happens and I’m the only editor. As has long been stated on the About page:
“Everything here is personal opinion. My thoughts and opinions often change, and as a weblog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot you should not consider out of date posts to reflect my current thoughts and opinions.”