Friday, December 29, 2006

Gifts or bribes?

Here's one more reason why Joel Spolsky has the kind of credibility -- and fan following -- that others can only dream of:

These gifts reduce the public trust in blogs. Recently I wrote a nice article, for example, about Sonos. I bought the system with my own money, liked it, thought it had some great UI that programmers should pay attention to. Most people understood the article to be what it was: a positive review about a good product, influenced only by the fact that the product was good. But some people thought it was just a paid advertisement.

This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I'm upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. ...

Joel then goes on to announce his new policy on product reviews:

I've decided that from this point forward I'm not accepting anything, full stop. Even if my moral logic is faulty, and there's nothing wrong with accepting gifts, I personally feel that it's not worth the reduced credibility. Who are the most trusted reviewers out there? Consumer Reports, probably. They don't take anything from vendors. They even buy everything they review at retail, which is what I'm going to do.

While I understand fully his reasoning, I still feel that this is a harsh, unrealistic standard. I would set myself a somewhat lower -- and I believe, adequate -- standard, which would demand the following:

  • the company doesn't demand that the blogger review the product, and
  • the blogger discloses conflicts of interest -- including potential ones ("Company X sent it to me -- free!", or "my wife works in Company X")

I believe the world of book reviews in newspapers uses this standard; the culture of "review copy" is so common in this world that most book reviews don't even mention the fact that the reviewer/newspaper didn't pay for the books.

As I look back, I find that I have done two book reviews so far: I bought this book, while the other was published to be distributed free of cost. From this point on, I think it's a good idea for me to mention if I paid for the book/product/service under review.

As for Joel's new policy, all I can say is "Good for him!". And admire him -- and Consumer Reports, too! -- from afar.