Microsoft giveth (for review), and the blogosphere taketh away.

On the first day, Microsoft giveth . . .

“No good deed goes unpunished” is how my latest e-mail from Aaron Coldiron started. It seems that the reaction in the blogosphere to some bloggers being treated to a new Ferrari laptop pre-loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 has caused Microsoft to rethink what they want the future of the laptops to be. Marshall got the same e-mail that I did from Aaron.

To be honest I kinda feel for the marketing folks at Microsoft. They have this product that they have worked on for over four years, and then sit down and decide out they want to market it. Of course they have all the usual channels like TV advertisements, technical events and launch parties but since Windows XP and Windows Vista something magical has occured – the citizen media was born where individuals like you and I get to publish our own opinions. They sat down and thought lets get some fully baked kit out for them to review – in fact, lets work with one of our hardware partners (AMD) to see if we can give away the machines.

So – they set their plan in motion and they go out and find bloggers to seed the kit with, some people are likely to give positive reviews, whilst others not so positive, they are bloggers, their individual reactions are difficult to predict as is (as we have seen) the reaction of their readers.

Bloggers being bloggers blog about this new kit arriving on their door step, in fact most even disclose where it is from (even though they don’t have to – they aren’t journalists, disclosure is a good idea, even for bloggers). As far as I can tell, after that some folks started pointing figures at the bloggers suggesting that they had been compromised. The news explodes all over the blogosphere and suddenly the marketing folks at Microsoft are thinking “what just happened”. As far as I can tell, a few things seem to be going on:

  • People are ascribing journalist ethics to bloggers (Dan Warne).
  • People are thinking that getting a laptop is going to move the dial.

To be honest, I am beyond caring. I’m going to do the review at two levels, from a user level which I am hoping that my wife will help me with and also from a software developer level. After that (probably end of January/beginning of February) I will take the laptop away from my wife and give it away on my blog somehow – Microsoft has requested those that received a laptop to do this to help avoid any more unpleasantness.

To be honest its not what I wanted to to, I was excited to be able to give my wife a new laptop that I would envy (which I would also happen to be able to test 64-bit builds of my software out on).

. . . on the second day the blogosphere taketh away.

Anyway, I think CrunchGear said it best when:

The real problem here is that there are hundreds — even thousands — of BLOLGGGERS who feel they they, too, should receive free laptops. Back when it was just PC World and PC Mag fighting over red hot back-up software at PC Expo, the PR world was a simpler place. Now, when Marshall gets a laptop, wants one as well and will get all pissy and ethical when they don’t get the access they so richly deserve.

And with that, this is my last post on the topic (the digg bubble seems to be curving over now anyway). In the coming weeks I’ll be posting the reviews from the software end.


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31 thoughts on “Microsoft giveth (for review), and the blogosphere taketh away.

  1. Dan Warne

    Interesting that you would think that journalistic ethics don’t necessarily apply to bloggers.

    I’ve always believed that while blogging gives a freer workflow and faster response time, bloggers would still pretty much universally see the benefits of upholding some ethical standards. (Unless, of course, they’re blogging FOR a company, and that’s openly disclosed.)

    The head of Apple Public Relations once used argued to me on the phone that bloggers don’t deserve the protections under law that journalists get because they don’t subscribe to the same professional ethics as journalists. (This was when Jobs was suing bloggers). I spent an hour arguing black and blue to her that the ‘blogger’ tag is irrelevant — that bloggers can be just as ethical as journalists and the fact that they are not a part of a major publisher shouldn’t make a difference.

    Was I wrong?

  2. Mitch Denny Post author


    I think the big difference is that bloggers are really blogging about how things effect them personally, they are less about how things effect their readership.

    Journalists are PAID to write stories that are relevant to their audience and since ultimately the consumer pays journalists they should expect that the news they are getting is impartial.

    I pay to write my own blog, therefore I get to choose what I put on it. If others find it useful – goody for them.

  3. Dan Warne

    Fair enough Mitch — I accept that. It doesn’t mean, however, that Microsoft doesn’t want to manipulate bloggers. (Like I said over at I think this was more of an error of judgement by Microsoft than any of the bloggers involved.)

  4. Callie

    Mitch, it’s ironic that half the time we hear bloggers demanding that they be treated the same as journalists from the “mainstream media” — for instance, if they are denied a media badge and access to the press room at an event like CES, MacWorld/Expo or E3, or when it comes to protecting sources such as the famous Apple case Dan Warne cited above — but then, along comes something like this and you’re among the bloggers who are bleating that that they’re _different_ from journalists, so rules such as ethics and disclosure don’t apply (although it’s laughable to think that ethics are at any time ‘optional’).

    Claims that Microsoft was forced into a corner by the envious cries of bloggers who were not among the favored ‘free Ferrari’ crowd, or the usual anti-MS set, are simply wrong.

    It was more the reaction of better-informed voices, and the blog readers who provide the oxygen of the blogosphere, to this blatant attempt to woo bloggers, many of whom are so green that they were more excited by the thought of a *free* laptop than to stop and think about what lay behind it. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all!

    Microsoft’s PR team screwed up this one, and badly… but the actions of some bloggers who pretended the notebook was not a gift from Microsoft, and who then came up with a litany of excuses and justifications as to why they ‘deserved’ to keep it, certainly added fuel to the fire.

  5. Daniel Moth

    Dude… well done on receiving it… if I didn’t work here and had received one, I would be honoured and would have kept it… ignore the jealous people bursting with envy…

    My £0.001

  6. Pingback: arghyle » Blog Archive » Microsoft Giving Bloggers Free Vista-Equipped Notebooks Part II

  7. Pingback: Gratis Ferrari’s | Information Engineer in het Wild

  8. Michael Wales

    I saw on another blog the email asking recipient bloggers to either return it or give it away and I had to come see what you said about that.

    I say give it to your wife – that’s giving it away, right?

  9. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Dan,

    It is easier to attribute blame to “the evil empire” than to accept that all those people that clamed moral outrage might have stepped over the line.

  10. Mitch Denny Post author

    Callie, I’ve been blogging for over three years now so I am hardly a babe in the woods.

    The stipulation that the marketing (not PR, there is a difference) has to do their job without actually influencing people is just stupid. The job of the marketing department IS TO INFLUENCE PEOPLE.

    There are some ethical guidelines around how they approach media _professionals_ (like journalists) but ultimately it up to the receiver to decide what they do.

    Bloggers, for the most part are not media professionals and do not really pretend to be impartial (after all, they aren’t getting paid to be impartial are they). As such the same sets of ethical standards do not apply.

    That said – I would encourage you to unsubscribe from my blog if you feel that I am ethicaly deficient in any way.

  11. lb

    it’s weird, but when i received a free snack-cake as a payment for blogging about Jason Looney (and disclosed it, see link), there was no up-roar amongst the blogging world.
    this ‘ethics are never optional’ grand-standing makes me wince. disclosure is enough.

  12. Juha

    Hmm, it’s a tricky one. Bloggers can be journalists like *cough* me *cough* and Dan and therefore would naturally enough subscribe to the ethics that we’ve come to find Just Work in our profession – and expect others to follow them as well.

    However, there’s no mandate that says bloggers have to be independent media voices. Some, as Mitch says, simply use blogs to express personal thoughts and opinions without being journalists as such. Others are either corporate bloggers or unabashedly pro something or the other.

    Blogging or self-publishing on the Internet in various formats is new still and hasn’t gone through the centuries of development and testing through courts of law and public opinion that traditional media have. It’s not the same…

  13. M Freitas

    I don’t think Long has to self-punish… I think the whole thing started when Scoble compared this with “payperpost”. Then people went crazy. After that he retracted with a subsequent post “it’s a GREAT idea”, but by then it was too late.

    Ethics is something for people in the whole spectrum. You must be responsible if you know you can influence people, either with your review, or with your words, like Scoble did.

    He should have thought twice before posting something he would have to retract later.

    The problem is that everyone pointed fingers when read his first post, but everyone forgot to retract when he did so.

  14. Kevin Daly

    Hey Mitch,
    I agree with Michael. Giving it to your wife is giving it away.

    This business has been another fine testament to…
    The Web: Giving a Voice to Insane People and Stalkers Since 1994 (-ish).

  15. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Juha,

    After this whole experience I’d love to investigate the ethical issues surrounding blogging. While a lot of people will get on a high horse about ethics it is a lot harder to live up to them – especially when someone else is imposing them on you.

  16. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Mauricio

    I think that Robert’s original post was a bit tongue in cheek, but I guess like e-mail it doesn’t necessarily translate well to the blog medium.

    Naturally people misunderstood it, so like you said by the time Robert posted his follow up (with his actual thoughts), the damage was done.

  17. Pingback: More Wally - Wallace B. McClure : More on this "free laptop" issue

  18. la_bruin

    Mitch –

    I’ll say this much: For all the hoopla that’s gone on over Microsoft’s laptop giveaway, it’s done a couple really interesting things.

    For one, it’s led me to your site. This is the first time I’ve read your blog and it’s quite well-reasoned and though provoking. (adding to OPML file)

    Secondly, it’s pointed out to a marginal degree who Microsoft considers to be movers & shakers in the blogging world. Basically, you’re either in or you’re out and it’s very black & white. This has also helped me investigate interesting blogs to potentially add to my OPML file.

    Thirdly, it’s caused a great deal of controversy over Microsoft, hardware requirements, Windows Vista, and Acer’s Ferrari’s. It’s being written about in every blog, online magazine, even the local papers here. It’s being debated, discussed, and otherwise consuming bits.

    I ask, would these topics be top of mind had Microsoft not distributed said laptops? One might argue that you can’t buy this kind of publicity and discussion. Just ask Paris Hilton.

    BTW: Nice blog.

  19. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi la_bruin,

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It has certainly helped me think about a lot of the implications and also what the status of the blogosphere is.

    I think one of the things that put me in the running to receive a laptop was this post by Paul Montgomery:

    If someone from Microsoft trusts Paul’s opinion then folks like me get a nice surprise in the mail and get to spend some time reviewing some kit – which I don’t mind doing – I am a complete gadget freak.

  20. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Jeff,

    That would be Cathy from Microsoft – the poor lass is working over the holidays. Hopefully not just because of this marketing program . . .

  21. Sean

    The thing about Dan Warne’s position, that in my opinion is wrong, is that in his zeal to “protect the rights” of bloggers or get them the same rights to protect sources and things as journalists, he seems to forget that not everyone who blogs wants those rights and the associated responsibilities that go with it. Like Mitch pointed out, journalists get paid to do their jobs, the vast majority of bloggers don’t earn a cent of any kind and pay for their own costs.

    And Microsoft is totally copping a bad rap out of this over nothing. If they want to fill Vista packages with hundred dollar notes and give those to bloggers (who don’t work for Microsoft) in an effort to get favourable reviews from bloggers, then so be it. Its not like the editors of the magazines don’t consider advertising dollars when they oversee final copy of reviews.

    Mitch, give the laptop to your wife mate, alot of people read your blog, get free info off it and some entertainment value. If Microsoft deemed you influencial enough to shout you a Laptop, then let their shareholders ask the question at the next AGM, it has nothing to do with you. You’ve done nothing wrong.

  22. Michael Specht

    Mitch good on you for getting the picked to receive the laptop and Vista regardless of the resulting noise.

    Personally given your background with Microsoft and their technologies (as you clearly point out and is obvious to anyone who has read your blog for awhile) I would expect you to be fairly positive over Vista regardless of the laptop, and that is not a bad thing, it just is as it is. So the idea that a laptop will sway the content of your posts is crap.

    I say keep the laptop, give it to your wife, sell it, donate it (which would be a great idea) who cares your call.

    But please do have your wife blog about her experiences as that I think would be a fantastic way for us the readers of your blog to get a “newbie” view on things. Oh and it would be good to get your views as well :-).

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