Anonymous cowards

Over at Slashdot, they have a humorous tradition: If you want to submit an item without using your real name, you get to use the official alias, Anonymous Coward. It’s a good-humored way to acknowledge that you’ve chosen to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, so that no one can challenge your facts or your motives. You’re gutless, but at least you’re honest about it.

Too bad that tradition doesn’t apply elsewhere. Case in point: the comments section right here at this site. This afternoon, someone using the alias BobH posted this comment in response to my post about the Microsoft/AMD Vista marketing program:

Once you accept a gift like this (and if you don’t have to return it then it is most certainly a gift) you have officially defined yourself as a whore. Just like the bloggers who took money from politicians, or the ones who accepted free trips to Amsterdam. You’ve hung out a sign that says, “I’m for sale.”

That’s your choice. But pretty soon nobody can be sure if you’re espousing a point of view because you truly believe it or because somebody paid you to believe it. And if you think you can accept payola without it affecting your independence, you’re extremely naive.

Oh, and you forfeit all rights to speak credibly about the biases of the mainstream media. [emphasis added]

That’s the complete text of the comment. Now, call me old-fashioned, but I really hate being called a whore. Especially by someone posting from the internal network at the Seattle Times. So I called BobH on his bad manners and casual disregard for the facts. Here’s BobH’s hilarious reply:

Forgive me for not making it clear I was using the generic “you” when referring to bloggers who keep this booty. If you’re not keeping it, my post wasn’t aimed at you specifically.

Well, Bob, %!@# you. And of course, by “you” I mean the generic “you.” Which is to say, you.

Seriously, I cannot believe the number of people who are getting exercised about this completely trivial issue. Almost makes me forget that Steve Jobs and Apple’s management are being investigated for falsifying stock option grants worth about 61,300 Acer Ferrari 5000 notebooks. Hmmm.

18 thoughts on “Anonymous cowards

  1. can you just imagine the freaking uproar if you replaced Jobs with Gates and Apple with Microsoft but the Google and Apple are the proverbial goldren children who can do no wrong. Regardless of the fact that Apple still holds sway on a draconian DRM for iPod and itunes or that Google promotes censorship in china contrary to their “do no evil” ethos.

    it’s enough to make one gag

  2. My only reaction for this entire “controversy” – damn, I want a free laptop too! 😉

    Don’t worry – your readers are still here.

  3. Good Lord!

    Payola was wrong when it was DJ’s in the 60’s and it’s wrong now.

    If one were to accept a high price piece of equipment in exchange for a favourable review, then clearly, one should not be surprised if the impartiality of the reviewer should be called into question.

    Would the reviewer be quite so glowing in their praise if they had paid their own money for a licence to install the software on their own personally purchased software?

    It doesn’t matter which company uses these tactics. The company has the resources and is within their rights to offer “promotional merchandise”.

    It is up to the reveiwer to decide whether or not their reputation is worth the 30 pieces of silver. Just don’t be surprised if the audience votes with their feet when they find out the truth.

    I didn’t post the original comment, but my nick is pB and that’s who I post as, if you want to call me an anonymous coward then go right ahead, but NOBODY paid me, either in cash or in kind, to make this comment.

  4. OK, pB, it’s reading comprehension time. Go follow the links in this post and read what I wrote, then tell me where I have “accept[ed] a high price piece of equipment in exchange for a favourable review.”

    It’s called a review unit. When I’m done with the review, it goes back. What part of that concept is so hard to understand?

  5. Payola was going on well before the 60’s and there was nothing wrong with it then. Radio stations, and DJ’s are in the biz to make money and play music, they don’t necessarily have credibility to be concerned about like a journalist does.

  6. This is a very sad little thread here! While BobH’s wording of his initial comment is somewhat questionable (how would he like to be called a whore?) he has a couple of very valid points. And I can see why you, Ed, were upset about his comment but wouldn’t it have been your duty as a journalist to let the first wave of anger pass and then respond in a somewhat neutral, more detached way?

    Call it a “review unit”, call it a marketing ploy, how will you, Ed, be able to tell us what this thing is worth? Because for all you, Ed, know, it was free …

    Fortunately, this is still the Internet and there are “Unsubscribe” features in most news readers I know.

  7. Heiko, I’m not keeping it. Period. I never even considered doing so, as I explained before. I will use it for testing purposes, describe my experience, and then get rid of it. That is the way review units work. I don’t use them for personal purposes, I use them for testing. Now, how is that unethical?

    I gain nothing from this loaner unit except knowledge that I can pass on to readers of this site. I actually incur significant costs in time and energy as well as the monetary cost of shipping it back, which I have to pay for. So if you think that’s unethical, well you better unsubscribe from every site that does hardware reviews, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Engadget, CNET, PC World, and on and on and on… because that’s the way the world works. As Dwight Silverman has noted, no one can afford to buy all this hardware for review purposes. Manufacturers send it with the expectation that it will be used for purposes of reviewing and not for personal gain. That’s what I’m doing.

    Sorry if you find that ethically challenged. I have no trouble looking at myself in the mirror, and if BobH had been here in person and had said what he said to my face, I would have punched him in the nose.

  8. Gee Whiz…. I’ve posted on this in the original thread and have been watching with interest all the flamers that have no idea how the world works in regards to reviewing hardware and software.

    Second, before anyone comments on Ed watching his commenters IP addresses, be aware that servers and server software have been doing that for years. Also, Sitemeter, which I subscribe to gives me all that info and more. My wordpress blog actually lets me moderate the comments giving me their email & gives me their IP address, and URL if one is available. It’s nothing new…….

    I also have noticed that most of the flamers, BobH & Heiko in particular didn’t include a web URL. Now Heiko may not have a web site, but as we know from Ed’s post is from the Seattle Times & is hiding his real identity. I have a problem with that when they are saying things as BobH is and calling himself a mainstream media person.

    Mainstream media outlets all have political motives and more, look at all papers for example. They all support one political party or another. The NY Times for example is so left of center, they should rename the paper The NY Democratic Times. So Bob, deal with your own media and call yourself or others in the mainstream media a W*&^%.

    Ed, if you need someone to watch you back, I’m there…with a lot of your faithful readers.

  9. Well Ed, your exception taken to Bob, was that he prefaced his comments with a generic “you” that you took personally (Disclaimer: I don’t know Bob).

    I see Bob has plastered his same original comment on other blogs too. Perhaps you should go back to reading comprehension class and note that I used the clearly generic “one”, in a hypothetical sense.

    The fact that you (specific, not generic) are so obviously pained by these comments suggests that perhaps you do have niggling doubt in the back of your mind somewhere about accepting/keeping/giving away/smashing etc the review unit.

    If you truly seek to comprehend what I wrote in my previous comment, then you may notice that I did not mention ethics, but rather reputation and credibility.

    Surely it is ethical to disclose that goods or services have been provided free of charge for the purposes of the review. The question for your readers then becomes one of whether or not there is bias in the review.

    Would you donate the laptop to a charity anonymously, and not post mention of it in your blog? I doubt it. Somehow the posession of that laptop no matter how brief is likely to be used in way that elevates your social status.

    On the question of ethics, would you consider it ethical to accept an unsolicited laptop, even to donate it to a worthy charity and NOT do a review about it, either good or bad?

  10. Ed, we trust you, but not necessarily Microsoft. While the intention was good, what is their rush? Less than 35% of the market will be using Vista by January 2008, as it will take time for the ordinary person to save the money to buy the new OS (and the hardware it will consume). I’ll keep my very fine and fast 32-bit machine until 64-bit apps create a tipping point that lure me to upgrade. Until then, it’s the applications, not the OS that determine my upgrade cycle.

    Yes payola is subtle and real in tech because it is seen as commercial bribery — and potential fraud — against other consumers. By that I mean, bloggers may not be using their best judgment when writing about Vista, but rather their paid judgment. The ‘decider’ at Microsoft should have seen this backlash, despite their intentions to get as many positive reviews and good words about Vista in print by Jan. 30th.

    I empathize with your feeling such efforts aren’t worth the time. As you know, I run a tiny little “great software list” site (which is one in 10,000 of the same), but you’d be astounded at all the free software I get tossed my way by companies and shareware vendors around the globe. I’ll use the license to unlock the full version of the program if I evaluate it, but more often than not, if they have to push the product so hard, it means that users haven’t discovered its value for good reason; meaning, it’s not worth my time and trouble. I wish the same would happen to Vista — let us uncover its value rather than the push by Microsoft.

  11. pB, have you read a single thing I’ve written? Seriously, follow the links and try reading. I’ve changed the formatting in the original post so all you have to do is read the stuff in red and boldface.

    When you go back and follow all the original links, you’ll see my personal philosophy laid out as succinctly as possible. I never accept gifts, period. I normally don’t solicit review units and I prefer not to accept them because it’s a pain in the ass to ship them back, and I don’t have a shipping department or a lab crew. I made an exception in this case because I don’t have the option to purchase a high-end system with Windows Vista preloaded until after January 30.

    And if that doesn’t convince you, go back and read what I wrote on March 23, 2005, under the heading Should bloggers accept free equipment? If you’re not interested in clicking, I’ll repeat it for you here:

    For what it’s worth, no one at TiVo offered me any special deals. I wouldn’t accept a discount on a piece of hardware for my personal use, although I would gladly accept a loaner unit that I could use for review purposes. It’s unreasonable to expect a blogger to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for evaluation equipment. If I did, of course, it would be fully disclosed here.

    These are basic journalistic standards. You shouldn’t get a special deal that isn’t available to the public. If you get an accommodation from a company to facilitate a story, disclose it, and don’t accept anything that would create even an appearance of a conflict of interest.

    I disclosed the receipt of this machine withion four hours of receiving it, including the unequivocal statement that it is for review purposes and I will not keep it. That’s not good enough for you?

    As for the rest of your questions, I am not interested in taking a frickin ethics quiz from you. My record speaks for itself and if you don’t believe that there’s nothing I can say that would satisfy you.

    Fortunately, there are a lot of people who’ve been around this site for a long time who know that I value my reputation and credibility and would never do anything to damage either one. If you’re not willing to believe that, fine. To quote the title of your own blog, yeah, whatever, ok.

  12. “While the intention was good, what is their rush?”

    In my own experience, I’ve never known Microsoft to sit and wait for people to come to them. They’ve always tried to be proactive to get their products into people’s hands — especially the early adopters, who will then go and inform the people who count on them for advice. I remember a similar discussion about the Zune…

  13. I’ve been reading so much about this whole thing, and I’m still not getting why this is such a big deal, but there’s no question that for a lot of people it IS. That’s what I’d like to understand, because I just don’t share that point of view. We rely on professional reviews all the time–for so many things (movies, books, digital cameras, etc.) and while many of these bloggers (unlike Ed) could not be called “professional reviewers”, some are. And I want to hear what they have to say about their experience with Vista in the context of these machines, and I want to hear it sooner rather than later — something this giveaway enabled.

    If the ability for Ed to both do the review–by having early access–and donate it to charity somehow “raise his social standing”, so what? I think that it’s the disclosure that matters here, and assuming a blogger dicscloses the way in which he came into this thing he’s reviewing, isn’t it up to readers to decide how much credibility the person has?

    Maybe I give blog readers a lot more credit than some other folks do. I’m less worried about Ed’s ethics than I am at the implication that blog readers are somehow too stupid to take into account the nature of a blogger’s review (again, assuming the blogger disclosed it, which I agree would be unethical if they did not). If I’d gotten one for free and then hated it, I DO think I’d be more reluctant to discuss it as harshly as if I’d paid for it out of my own pocket, but I also assume that readers would recognize this as well and don’t need to be protected by the Blog Ethics Police.

    Again, if the blogger didn’t disclose it then there’s a serious problem, but if they do… we’re all reasonably intelligent adults and can decide for ourselves whether we trust the reviewer, and to what extent we believe they were subconsciously or consciously biased because of the “gift”.

    I’ll be looking forward to your review, Ed.

  14. Dear Mr Bott:

    As a long-time reader of almost all things PC, I’ve enjoyed reading many of your experiences, tips, columns (you used to write for magazines, remember?) AWA occasionally reading your blog-thing.
    Thru it all, I’ve come to feel almost as tho I know you. (I said “almost.”) One thing I want to say now, since so many have decided to find fault where there is none, is that I think you’re a real stand-up kinda guy, & that all these sniveling weasels, w/ their ‘holier that thou’ attitudes need to suck it up.
    They don’t need to look far when they’ve got problems or need info about their computers or software, because you (& others like you) have done all the hard word & research to find out what to do & how to do it. That means you (et al) have spent who knows how much time & effort to FIND OUT what we all wanted, no, NEEDED to know!
    That means yes, you are a ‘professional’ & you get PAID to do it! That’s your job, & I think that you do it PDG!
    Now, some will say that getting paid is the difference between a girlfriend & a prostitute. I just want them to tell their doctors, lawyers, chefs, waitpersons, carpenters, plumbers, preachers, & politicians, so on, ad nauseam, that because they accept money for their services that they’re “whores.”
    I don’t believe those two-bit, self-sanctified SELL-OUTS, who also get ‘paid’ to deliver the goods have got any business criticizing anybody else. Most especially anyone associated w/ ‘the press” (most corrupt ‘journalism’ on earth, bar none). That’s what I hate the most about those Democrats; they think their morals are above reproach, then turn around & SLANDER somebody else like its nothing at all.
    Well FWIW, I sell furniture for a living. I don’t have to tell lies to do it, I just provide the facts & let the customers make up their own minds. AFAIC, I think thats what you do too. & ANYBODY that criticizes you for that is just plain wrong.
    Bottom line is; if they don’t ‘trust’ you, they should go on down the road. & forget about trying to score some ‘points’ picking on you, or anyone else, FTM.

  15. Sure Ed, Whatever

    I have read your posts, and think I understand your policy on review units. It’s a great policy BTW.

    When I said

    Surely it is ethical to disclose that goods or services have been provided free of charge for the purposes of the review. The question for your readers then becomes one of whether or not there is bias in the review.

    I was actually agreeing with you, but I can see how it may have been easy to miss that – perhaps I should have emphasised the “is” in the 1st sentence.

    Again, I was joining in on the side of bias, not ethics, and as Kathy Sierra points out, people can usually make their own minds up – given the all the facts.

    In the context of blogging reviews I think that this whole thing is a worrying trend, and eventually some bloggers will have found that they have indeed eroded their credibility by taking freebies. I’m sure this won’t happen to you though Ed, because you are a stand-up guy.

    As I said earlier, I wasn’t trying to comment on your ethics, but everybody seems to want to make this discussion all about that, so I asked a question that I am curious about. It isn’t meant to be an ethics quiz, maybe someone else might like to comment.

    If an unsolicited ‘review unit’ arrived with truly “no strings attached”, would it be ethical to donate it to a worthy cause without reviewing it?

    Finally, I would like to point out that I have no connection to BobH, I never called you a whore, nor did I question your (specific not generic) ethics. I can see how my statement may have lead many to think that I did, and while I tried to make myself clearer I only dug myself a bigger hole. I’ll get over it. I’m not sure whether you want to punch me in the nose or not, but obviously this whole issue stirs up strong responses.

    Good luck with the review ;o)

  16. pB, I said I’d let you have the last word, so the only thing I will add is thanks for stating that so clearly. And if we ever show up in the same place I’ll be happy to buy you a drink and I promise not to punch you in the nose. 😉

  17. On the other question:

    If an unsolicited ‘review unit’ arrived with truly “no strings attached”, would it be ethical to donate it to a worthy cause without reviewing it?

    Personally, if a company sends me a review unit, I try to send it back to them. I’ve actually sent things back over the insistence of a company before. If they don’t want it back and it’s of value, yes, I would donate it to charity. And with any review unit, there’s no obligation to actually publish the review, although most people (including me) would do so because the reason you get the unit in the first place is because it’s newsworthy.

    For what it’s worth, the Houston Chronicle has a similar policy, as Dwight Silverman documented here:

    For the record, I’ll be sending the Microsoft-provided notebook back after Vista’s consumer launch. If Microsoft didn’t want it back, it would go to the Chronicle’s Goodfellows charity, where I donate all retail software and non-returnable hardware. Goodfellows sells it — along with books from the book editor — in twice-yearly sales in the Chronicle’s lobby, and the proceeds go to buy toys for disadvantaged children at Christmas. Goodfellows is run by retired Chronicle employees and volunteers, so there’s virtually no overhead.

    And note that he’s talking about a review unit sent months ago by Microsoft that was clearly labeled as a Microsoft asset. It’s not a part of this current fiasco.

  18. Ed, I hope you’ll share these responses with Microsoft for putting you and others in this unnecessarily defensive position. You should not have to waste your valuabel time on this entire distraction, or at least another minute of it.

    As for your integrity, you’ve got nothing to prove to anyone there; your career and writings speak for themselves.

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