Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Playing by the Same Rules

The FTC's new blogger rules have been in effect for a couple of weeks, so I'd like to affirm that I'm abiding by them.

"Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service," the agency states. I found that quote through Google, the greatest Internet tool ever (full disclosure: Google owns Blogger, which publishes and hosts this blog for free).

OK, I stretched things to make a point: the new guidelines are open to wide interpretation.

For one thing, they apply only  to "bloggers or other "word of mouth" marketers." Talk about semantics! 

The difference between a blog, and let's say, an online newsletter is often in the eyes of the beholder. Indeed many online news sources can also be received in blog form. Take the many wonderful newsletters at MediaPost (very full disclosure: I have provided editorial services to MediaPost in the past, for which I have received compensation, and my wife currently works there, also in exchange for cash payments).

The point is that the average Internet user, having found something through search, often does not distinguish -- or care -- whether it's technically a blog post, a newsletter writeup or a newspaper review.  So why should the FTC make such distinctions?

After all, scores of smaller trade magazines and community newspapers (think restaurant reviews) have run editorial in exchange for advertising (or meals) for many decades (not-quite-disclosure: I've worked for a couple of the former, but this is definitely not an endorsement of such practices, so they shall remain nameless).  It's how such publications managed to survive, even when there was no recession underway.

Today, amidst the overall advertising downturn, these media outlets are moving online. You could argue that the FTC should be totally fair to other online journalists and force these print publication offshoots to also provide full disclosure. But why should they be forced to change their longstanding policies?

When I worked at such publications, I fought voraciously against providing special editorial favors for advertisers. But there's a difference between press ethics and freedom of the press.  The former is something  journalists and publishers should strive to achieve; the latter is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

So, rather than government regulators, let's depend on ethics: of individual bloggers to do the right thing, and on advertisers (and yes, PR folks like me) to make sure of it. For bloggers who instead violate the public trust, the Internet provides plenty of tools for people to spread the word about the violators.

In any case, I vow to continue abiding by full disclosure. So any advertiser who would like me  to endorse something, please send it along :)  Tis the season, after all!

"Oh, publishers are such interesting people;
It could be press-titution, I don't know.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, advertising.
Ting-a-ling-a-ling, circulation,
Get that payoff, keep those readers;
What a headache, what a mess.
Yes, publishers are such interesting people;
Let's give three cheers for freedom of the press."
- written by Vern  Partlow,  late 1940s

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Think, TWICE...

Yesterday, a half-hour after receiving a “Breaking News” email from TWICE magazine announcing it had been sold, I received another email with the subject line, this time all caps, declaring “TWICE CES DAILY CLOSING.”

The logical conclusion?  With the sale concluded, the new owners had decided to close down the magazine's daily editions at CES, January's giant consumer electronics show. But, lo and behold, the email was actually letting recipients know about an ad closing deadline!

I wanted to tweet that second email immediately as an example of how a poor subject line combined with poor timing can have unforeseen circumstances, but discovered I couldn’t do that. (If there’s an app for tweeting emails, I don’t have it.)

I wish I did, because a few hours later. at a launch party for a new virtual time travel world Next Island,  David Post, the game's founder and CEO, informed me he head seen news that TWICE was shutting down. Unlike me, he hadn't had the time to actually open the second email! After I explained what had transpired, David pointed out that neither of us should have been receiving that email to begin with, since we aren't potential advertisers.

Who knows how many other folks on TWICE's email list also think the publication has shut down, or at least that it won't be publishing at CES next month?  Perhaps whomever's in charge of crisis management at the magazine has been caught amidst the usual turmoil caused by an ownership change -- but it's now been about 28 hours and I'm still waiting for TWICE to send another email to its list that would clarify the matter.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Storing My Stuff...

(lyrics and audio of "Computer Chanty" by Dr. Seti can also be found here)

So-called Cyber Monday got me thinking not about online shopping but about the seemingly infinite capacity of cyberspace.

Urban dwellers with bulging closets, who once sought out physical storage centers for their precious belongings, are today apt to move as much stuff as possible into the digital universe instead.

At this point in time, this mainly means media memories -- stacks of records, tapes, snapshots, slides and the like. Personally, I'm on a painstaking, multi-year (perhaps multi-decade??) mission to digitize all my old media, starting with audiocassettes and photos, and then moving on to vinyl and finally video.

This requires lots and lots of digital storage space. So last year I added an external drive to my Mini Mac in order to store all the music and photos. But, after my Mac's hard drive died a few weeks ago, I began getting really worried about the external drive crashing, too. Especially after Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal wrote about external drives' prevalence to do just that.

Taking Walt's advice, I decided it was time to enlist an online service to back up my music and photo files. The industry calls this SaaS (Software as a Service), part of the cloud computing explosion where everything's done in cyberspace rather than on your own computer. So I headed off to the clouds.

First, I paid for Carbonite, downloaded the Mac version, and discovered it would not work with non-Intel-based Macs. I asked for a refund.

Then I went to Mozy, contacted customer support to make sure it would work on a Power PC-based Mac, downloaded the software, and then spent several days trying unsuccessfully to get it to upload my files. Again, I asked for a refund.

I bypassed Walt's third and final example -- SugarSync -- and decided to try Crashplan instead. It's still backing up my files after several days, so I don't know if it will actually work in the end. But Crashplan offers 30 days free, not even requiring a credit card upfront, so if it fails at least I won't need to ask for a refund!

That, by the way, is the best kind of cyber shopping!