Agonizing over Vista

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Rather than immediately jumping into the controversy over the rightness or wrongness of Microsoft’s offer of a free Vista-loaded laptop to dozens of bloggers, I decided to watch from the sidelines for awhile to gather my thoughts. (Disclosure: I’m one of those bloggers who was given a Ferrari laptop by Microsoft. My employer, b5media, plans to give it away as part of a contest).
The Vista issue is fascinating on a number of different levels. One, it puts the spotlight on whether bloggers need to be editorially “pure” like journalists so the content they produce is seen as objective. It’s an interesting concept as blogging evolves into a mainstream medium read by people looking for information and insight. As Joel (on Software) Spolsky argues, trust is a key consideration for many bloggers who wants their posts to be seen as credible and authentic.
Perhaps what the Vista issue does is continue the fragmentation of the blogosphere. There will be bloggers who will write and behave like journalists – and expect to be treated as such by companies, PR firms, conference organizers, etc. There will be bloggers who have little interest in being treated as a journalist because it’s not a job, and they get paid little or nothing to write their blogs so how’s a freebie here and there really going to matter. Then, there’s the Pay-Per-Post crowd.
Truth be told, no one is really, really pure – not even journalists, particularly high-tech reporters who operate in a PR-happy world of product trials, demos and evaluations (and this comes from a decade as a high-tech newspaper reporter). I would hazard to guess, for example, the majority of Microsoft XP CDs sent to journalists in 2001 were never returned to Microsoft even though we’re talking about $350 to $500 product. In general, I would strongly suggest the majority of hardware/software sent to reporters is never returned, and everyone carries on their merry, objective way.
And what about when a source takes a reporter out for an expensive lunch, or a PR firm invites a group of journalists to a concert or sports event, or a company takes a reporter(s) on a junket/conference and picks up the flight and accommodation expenses? Where do you draw the line on accepting freebies? It’s a very tricky game.
That said, Microsoft’s offer – albeit generous – strikes me as over the top given we’re talking about a $2200 product. It’s awful tempting to keep something so shiny and new but to me it doesn’t seem quite right (maybe this comes from nearly 20 years as a journalist). If I were Microsoft, I would have asked for the laptops back and donated them to charity, or asked the bloggers to donate them to the charity of their choice after three months.
For more thoughts, check out Internet News, Deep Jive Interests, ex-Microsoft employee Robert Scoble, who thinks Microsoft is doing something awesome, Web Worker Daily, and BL Ochman, who provides a snapshot of the controversy.

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  • Jason

    I spoke about this same thing on the Microsoft Weblog site yesterday. I really don’t see the problem with what Microsoft is doing. I understand that things are still up in the air as to how to handle the specifics in the realm of the blogosphere now, but to me it’s no different than any other type of testimonial or claim presented on TV advertisements. Should celebrity spokespersons not be paid for their time and effort in producing the spot? Do I distrust Paul Harvey in more because I’m sure he’s got a Bose Wave Radio on his desk and promotes them on almost every radio spot he does?

  • Mark Evans

    It’s a whole new world with a lot of experimenting so I’m not surprised to see people become upset along the way. It does seem interesting that Edelman has found itself in the middle of several controveries. Maybe this suggests it’s on the bleeding edge, which makes it vulnerable to critcism.

  • Andrew

    In a world where big telco’s, gaming and oil companies effectively lobby (at incredible cost) to enact legislation to protect themselves, and their bottom line; sending a few laptops to a couple of bloggers pails in comparison. Microsoft wants to hawk their software, big deal – it might actually be good, and I would like to hear impartial reviews of it, from non traditional media. Move on folks nothing to see here.

    PS – that Acer is a sweet rig, what is the contest I wanna’ play. :)

  • Mark Evans

    Follow this space for more details on the contest. We’ve got some pretty ambitious plans. :)
    The Ferarri has a beautiful screen but it’s a big rig so more of a home PC replacement than a device to take on the road.

  • ralphg

    There is one catch in this Ferrari -Vista gambit: the 90 bloggers were not able to install (and keep) Vista on their own computers.

  • Dominic Jones

    It really just comes down the value of the gift. The more expensive it is, the greater the likelihood it could be perceived as influencing your judgment. Give- aways are a legitimate marketing tool, but usually we’re talking about something worth a few bucks.

    This is over the top, as you say. There’s a very high likelihood that people will perceive it as a bribe or an attempt to influence bloggers, which explains the controversy and perhaps why it was conceived of in the first place. If nothing else, this has opened many people’s eyes to how vulnerable blogs are…

  • May C

    I think it really is up to the person himself. No one can tell you what to do or not do. If it doesn’t bother you, then keep it. I believe the Microsoft did that on purpose since this is hardly a drop in the bucket for them, and if they can get a few good reviews, that alone will make it all up.

    I think disclosure is quite important and what you decide is only your business.

    This only shows me how much Microsoft will go…

  • Ian

    I’d say it’s one of the best marketing tools that Microsoft have come up with. Blog’s didnt begin that long ago so I don’t see why they should tap into the Niché that is blog marketing :)


  • Omar

    Hello Mark,

    Really generous of you to give away your notebook. Good luck to those entering in the giveaway.

    Would appreciate it if you could support my blog below:

    Thanks and have a Happy New Year!

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