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Summary:

In this slow news week, a ripple is being felt in the blogosphere over Microsoft sending certain bloggers $2,000 Acer Ferrari laptops fully decked out with a copy of Windows Vista and Office 2007. Companies sending out review software/hardware in order to get some space in […]

In this slow news week, a ripple is being felt in the blogosphere over Microsoft sending certain bloggers $2,000 Acer Ferrari laptops fully decked out with a copy of Windows Vista and Office 2007. Companies sending out review software/hardware in order to get some space in a popular column is nothing new. The bruhaha is over whether these power laptops are being lent out for review or as a free-and-clear gift. And if it’s a gift, is it ethical for the bloggers to accept them and how will it impact their Microsoft coverage in the future?

This isn’t only about bloggers and people who review and talk about technology. Is there something deeper at play that will force web workers to take a more critical look at their own ethics should they find themselves in a similar situation?

Ed Bott isn’t keeping his Acer Ferrari, but he doesn’t have a problem with those that will. Brandon LeBlanc is taking some heat on his blog because he talked about the computer a few days before mentioning that he got it as a gift from Microsoft. Most recipients aren’t complaining, but does this mean that everytime they blog, “Gee, this computer is fast” they should disclose that they got it as a gift from Microsoft? Will they feel a twinge if they’re critical of Microsoft products?

WebProfessionals.org will be addressing the issue of ethics and transparency in 2007.

Who are you? Are you someone different online than in real life? Do you fib or tell little white lies to your boss or clients so they think you’re busy, or under paid or maybe more knowledgeable than you really are?

It’s not always black and white. Have you charged clients for time that you were working with a manual open in front of you? Have you ever taken a job simply for the money but convinced the client that you were doing it because you really believed in what they were doing? Have you purchased software for professional use with a personal license?

At what point do you tell yourself that you’re not too far over the line, and who sets that line? When you’ve earned a negative reputation online, it’s more difficult to gain back respect. When you meet someone face-to-face, you are in the moment. You are what you say, what you look like, your body language and what happens in the next 5 minutes. When you’re building your professional stake online, you carry your history around with you wherever you go. If you’re going to be yourself, there’s nowhere to hide.

We are still using yesterday’s “rules” to predict tomorrow’s reactions. I’m sure the folks at Microsoft’s PR firm didn’t anticipate that their marketing gesture would produce a negative backlash as it did. It will be interesting to see if this experience is just a blip in a slow holiday week, or will it help set a course for how traditional corporate deals with an online community it wants to embrace but can’t control. Just ask Sony.

  1. These are all definitely interesting issues. One thing you mentioned really made me think: “Have you charged clients for time that you were working with a manual open in front of you?”

    Are you insinuating that some people would find that unacceptable? Is it wrong to teach yourself how to do something for a client’s project? That’s what lawyers do all the time. Sure, it would be wrong to bill a client for learning how to type. But is it wrong to bill a client for studying a manual to do something technical that they’re requesting for their project?

    I do love the post!

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  2. I think it (the promo) smells of something done on the fly – not well planned, not well thought out. It does though make a nice discussion across the blogsphere for the week before New Year’s!

    Rex

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  3. Andrew, I mentioned it because yes, I had a problem a few years back with a client who didn’t want to pay me for any time I spent studying the technology that I was implementing for their project. The attitude was basically “go to school on your own time,” which shocked me because until that moment it hadn’t even dawned on me that it could be considered a problem…and I was charging them less than my standard hourly rate to boot because I was honest up front about the fact that I didn’t have experience in that particular technology!

    What’s “right”? What’s “wrong”? I have no idea. Does anyone? That’s the whole point. :-)

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  4. For the ethical side, I think we just need to believe and respect those bloggers consciences. :-)

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  5. Bah. Accept the laptop and use it to QA what you can’t see on your trusty Mac, which we should *all* be switching to in the post-Vista landscape.

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  6. My swag policy: Give it all to a close colleague or business partner, and they give all theirs to me, sans names/origin.

    This way, you get all the benefit of free stuff that PR are just dying to give away, and no ethical ramifications: You don’t even know where the stuff came from, so it’s just like having Santa deliver you presents!

    In this manner I’ve scored this year:

    An end-of-life Palm (Which I sold on Ebay after 3 months, realising my Ipaq, for all its’ flaws, was a more versatile device)
    A bottle of Penfolds Bin #357
    A bottle of “Scrumpy Jacks” Apple Cider
    A $100 BP Fuel Voucher
    A free dinner at an upmarket Sydney Restaurant
    A Hamper of edible things

    I have no idea where any of this stuff came from, so to the Tech. companies in Australia who gave this all away, Thankyou!

    I’ve given away:
    Lots of free software (If it says ****Soft on the box, is it still anonymous?)
    A Harbour Cruise
    2 Tickets to a Concert

    So there’s one way to solve the problem: I encourage all bloggers to give me their Acer Ferrari notebooks… I promise I’ll forget who sent them

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  7. I totally agree we all need to monitor our own ethics. There are potentials for breaches at every turn. The one bit that surprised me is your asking if you charge a client for time working with a manual open.

    I learned a long time ago that I can’t know everything. Without enumerating all my tasks, I’ll just say my web development work is only 50 to 70 percent of my work. When you have to know 3 scripting languages, multiple server technologies, 3 and a half flavors of html, workarounds for multiple browsers, 2 or more operating systems, and multiple image manipulation applications and their tricks, I’m not going to apologize if I have to check some references while I work.

    Now, if I’m learning something entirely new, the client is going to pay only what they would have if I’d already been up on the technology. (and usually less, depending on my degree of self-doubt.) Yours is a good reminder, though, to be sure and do what is fair.

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  8. ывапро

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  9. I’m certainly not one of the privileged that received a laptop or anything other than a pen or brochure for free from Microsoft. What is the big deal, other than it’s a nice perk?

    As far as ethics go, if the laptop was sent with the hope of a review, then do the right thing and review Vista and/or Office 2007 honestly. If it was sent as a gift, send a thank you note to Microsoft and I you feel moved to comment about it do so. Microsoft can certainly afford this gift.

    I try to treat my clients honestly and certainly ethically. I may have more face time with people than many reading this blog as I build information systems, requiring me to be onsite. I genuinely like many of the people I work with and suspect the feeling is mutual. They are treated fairly when it comes to my billings and most see my work as valuable.

    I learned those values from my father who had a men’s shop in a small West Virginia town. For the almost 20 years I’ve had a technology consulting practice, I’ve been able to feed my family and be quite profitable working this way.

    There is no reason in the world to do otherwise.

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  10. [...] Rather than jump into the controversy over whether Microsoft’s offer of a free Vista-loaded laptop to 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 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, that 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 imagine 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 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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