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April 24, 2008

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Stephen Foskett

I have to agree with your skepticism, Chuck. I, too, was concerned about the Dell money and how it would affect the submissions. So I decided to write what I believe (independent of what Dell wants to hear) and see what happens. I'm viewing it as an experiment and am not looking for Dell's money, if any is ever offered to me.

In a way, this is very similar to TechTarget's business model: vendor-supported but independent voices. There's always the concern that one could alienate a paying vendor but that's never stopped me at Storage Decisions or in Storage mag. I'd much rather do that than pretend to be independent and secretly shill for the one picking up the check.

Your skepticism is warranted, and they're not yet clear on where the content goes or how it is accepted or how/if the money is divided up. But as I said, in the end, I'm just dipping my toe in as an experiment. We shall see what happens!

the storage anarchist

As you can probably guess, I agree 100%: blog-for-hire without the transparency is foul play - blogketing taken to the (perhaps inevitable) extreme.

Truth in advertising guidelines require that Avertorials carry a clear "Paid Advertisment" disclaimer (advertorials are those advertisements cleverly constructed to match the look and feel of the publication in which they are placed, often formatted as an "unbiased editorial"). IMHO, pay-to-play blogs should be required to be handled similarly.

I think I read somewhere that other companies have used similar approaches to entice the positive support of bloggers - cash, product discounts, etc...and they may well still be doing so today, without anyone noticing.

Not good for anyone, IMHO.

Mike Masnick

Hi Chuck,

First off, thank you for your post and your questions and concerns. As the CEO and founder of Techdirt, I wanted to respond so you understand what's happening. First of all, this is not "pay for post" as you imply. Techdirt has run the Techdirt Insight Community for well over a year, having members of the community compete in contests to generate insight. We have always been fiercely loyal to the idea that these insights are entirely independent. That's why we have always recruited vocal, passionate experts who stand up for what we believe in (such as yourself). We tell all of our customers that if they are using the Insight Community, they need to be prepared to hear what they *need* to hear, not what they want to hear.

We have tried to be completely transparent in every step of this process, and I apologize if you felt that anything was not transparent. If you have suggestions on how we can be even more transparent, please let me know. As Stephen Foskett noted in his comment, the posts that go on the site are not chosen based on what Dell or anyone else wants to hear. They are chosen based on overall quality of the insight. I think if you look at the content of the site, you will agree that it is not all one-sided. If you contributed yourself (as you suggested you've thought about) that would be fantastic, and we'd love to have your insight included as well.

Dell has no input on the posts, other than giving us some idea for the discussion questions -- but the questions were designed to be vendor neutral and to merely encourage discussion. Techdirt staff is choosing which posts go on the site, not Dell, and we are merely looking for smart, intelligent posts on the topic that further the conversation.

So, no this is not about encouraging positive posts or pay for post or anything of that nature. This is about getting a conversation going by tapping into a bunch of smart, insightful folks and getting their honest insights.

If you have any additional questions, please let me know.

Thanks.
Mike Masnick
CEO, Techdirt

MarcFarley

Chuck, I'm a bit jealous that you were eligible! I was a bit confused too, but it's actually a terrific way to bring focus to a topic through social media - something Dell is working very hard at these days.

You should become an Insight Community Member yourself - I'm thinking about it but I don't know if there will ever be a topic for "angry dads"

Stephen Foskett

Aah, but is this a paid advertisement? It's a new frontier! Let's think if it's most analagous to:
1) an article in a publication or web site with paying vendor sponsors
2) a paid seminar appearance
3) an analyst's report or whitepaper paid for and distributed by a vendor on their web site
4) web content authored by a paid contractor
5) advertorial material by a paid contractor

There's a spectrum there, Barry... I'm hard pressed to figure out just what it is. I guess the difference is editorial control and money, right?

In the first case, the paying vendors can get mad and refuse to pay but only after the publication is out there. It's not that, since Dell (and Ars Technica) can decide not to publish any piece.

I think it's most similar to number two. Back to that in a sec...

I've written my share of whitepapers, and keeping the balance here is harder. The vendor gets some say before a word is written, can approve or disapprove of an outline, and can decide to can the whole thing if they don't like it. Dell doesn't have that kind of input here.

I suppose it could be number 4, but I bet the vendors would be much more careful in editing and choosing content in this case.

It's definitely not number 5 - this is not ad copy in any sense. Read a real advertorial and you will see the hand of the payer behind every sentence and sentiment.

I suppose it's somewhat similar to the nasty blog-for-hire stuff, but this is different since it clearly appears on a Dell-branded web site (and another independent and respected blog), not the author's own site. So it's not really like that either.

No, I think it's like a paid appearance. They asked you to come speak, have some idea of the topic, and can stop you from taking the stage, but you're free otherwise to say what you want. There is, of course, some threat relating to future work, but this is always present no matter what kind of work you're doing.

This is definitely not blog-for-hire or advertorial content, in my opinion.

Chuck Hollis

Hi Mike -- thanks for setting the record straight -- I appreciate it.

I guess, then, my issue is less with TechDirt, and more around how Dell is presenting your "mini-site".

I, for one, was a bit surprised to learn of the business model, and it caused me to look at the material differently.

I also felt a bit mislead. Others may feel the same as well.

My recommendation? Perhaps have the folks at Dell be a bit more transparent as to what's going on regarding the site.

Thanks for writing!

the storage anarchist

Steve - methinks it well understood that an analyst is routinely compensated for writing a white paper or making a seminar appearance.

(And as I'm sure you know, you sometimes don't get paid if the white paper you write doesn't align with the vendor's intentions.)

On the other hand, I doubt that it is well recognized that Techdirt is approving "smart and intelligent" posts, and rewarding successful submitters with cash or prizes.

Maybe both DELL and Techdirt should include a simple statement to that effect on every page and every compensated post - even in small print at the bottom of each post.

Chuck Hollis

Actually, that would go a long way to making many of us feel more comfortable about this new practice -- a bit of simple transparency is all that's required.

I don't want to judge whether what's going on here is good or bad -- that's not my call -- but I'd like the ground rules visible to everyone.

Hope they take the feedback!

MarcFarley

Yes and thanks for the feedback. My most recent post on Inside IT at Dell tells a little bit more of the story.

http://direct2dell.com/insideit/archive/2008/04/24/the-brave-new-world-of-open-expertise.aspx

BTW, Anarchist, Techdirt has been pretty up front about their pay for Insights program for a long time, but that doesn't mean you and I were aware of it. :) We'll improve things and thanks for the feedback here.

Taylor Allis

I had the same experience as Chuck - loved the idea, ready to contribute, but couldn't tell whether TechDirt was independent or Dell and had to dig.

Love the idea, great way to bring experts together - but it needs more transparency, Chuck's fine print is a fine idea. (pun intended)

Thomas

Chuck,
Are you saying that EMC doesn't sponsor white papers or other "research" provided by the traditional vendors (Gartner, IDC, et al.)? In fact, EMC probably has much more control/influence over those research/discussion avenues than it appears that Dell has over theirs. And, last I checked, there aren't many blaring disclaimers promoting the fact that many of these pieces amount to little more than works for hire.

Adam Hicks

Reading this article makes me think... what internet content really is honest, free, non-biased information anymore? How is this pay-for-input (as long as it matches Dell's strategy) any different than Google's AdWords program that allows you to pay money to ensure you are the highest (or as high as you can afford!) on the search results pane? After running a business myself and paying Google for just this privilege I have lost my faith in search engines as a non-biased form of internet research.

When you visit most sites on the web you are seeing what that site wants you to see in order to make $, be it search results, ads, tracking cookies or 19,000 install applications wanting to load the Google toolbar.

So while this may or may not be considered truth in blogging, I would expect most intelligent readers will be able to understand the factors that go into it. It's not like The Storage Anarchist is read by people and expected to be completely vendor neutral :)

Keep up the great work Chuck and Barry.

Chuck Hollis

Occasionally vendors do "paid research". I'd like to think that EMC wouldn't do that, but -- occasionally -- one product group or another with think this is a great idea, despite corporate protestations.

But -- and this is a big but -- it's always disclosed (or should be) how the content was paid for.

When I looked at Dell's (TechDirt's?) bloggers' site, it took some extensive digging to realize that there was cash compensation potentially associated with each post, bloggers were competing for a prize, and so on.

Now, if that's disclosed on Dell's web site, I have much less of a problem, as would most people, right?

Gartner, IDC and several others don't do that sort of work for hire, or -- in some cases -- don't do it that well. In this industry, if you really want a professional hatchet job, you use LionBridge, VeriTest or one of the no-name consultants looking to make a living. As an example, go check out NetApp's stuff -- very well done in that sense.

Chuck Hollis

I don't think bias can be reasonably eliminated, nor do I think that's the goal here.

What I do think is reasonable is full disclosure as to what the biases might be, e.g. the search results you're seeing are being brought to you by Preparation H, this bloggers community is sponsored and funded by Dell, this guy Chuck Hollis works for EMC, and so on.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Chuck Hollis


  • Chuck Hollis
    Chief Strategist, VMware Storage and Availability Business Unit
    @chuckhollis

    Chuck works for VMware, and is deeply embroiled in all things software-defined storage these days.

    Previously, he was with EMC for 18 years, most of them great.

    He enjoys speaking to customer and industry audiences about a variety of technology topics, and -- of course -- enjoys blogging.

    Chuck lives in Holliston, MA with his wife, three kids and four dogs when he's not traveling. In his spare time, Chuck is working on his second career as an aging rock musician.

    Warning: do not buy him a drink when there is a piano nearby.
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