it’s funny because it’s true

Another Dilbert, which is funny as usual:

So, why the headline? Well, because, it is true. The Daily Background broke a story a couple of weeks ago about precisely this type of behaviour. In brief, they discovered that an employee of Belkin (one Mike Bayard) was paying for fake positive reviews through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. To wit:

That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”

Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave. There are dozens of these requests from this Mike Bayard guy on Mechanical Turk.

They shouldn’t get away with this. Bayard has also been paying people to post fake reviews on and Newegg. Faking reviews is not only against’s Terms of Service, it’s also highly unethical and misleading. Amazon should reset its ratings for this product, and Belkin should discipline or fire this Mr Bayard, ASAP. This is one of the more scummy, totally awful advertising schemes I’ve seen. Tell Amazon and Belkin to read this blog entry and act accordingly.

Needless to say, story was rapidly picked up and spread through the intertubes, courtesy of Gizmodo, Slashdot, Techcrunch, etc. etc. The story broke a couple of weeks before the Dilbert strip came out. I don’t know whether Mr. Adams actually got the idea from the incident. If not it would be even funnier.

To Belkin’s credit, they owned up to the incident and issued an apology letter.

The lesson: Quite simple – don’t do it, and make sure all of your employees know not to do it. If and when any of your employees make any representations regarding your products in public, make sure they clearly identify themselves as your employees, particularly in less formal arenas such as user-created forums and sites (like Amazon) posting reviews and commentaries on product. In fact, having an “official” presence in user forums will often do much for a company’s reputation, particularly where the company employee participating monitors comments and criticisms and actually gets them addressed.

web 2.0 principles

Interesting news (by way of an alert from Winston & Strawn) on a series of principles agreed upon by various internet and media companies (though it seems primarily the latter). To wit:

Several of the world’s leading Internet and media companies today announced their joint support for a set of collaborative principles that enable the continued growth and development of user-generated
content online and respect the intellectual property of content owners.

The principles self stated goals are “(1) the elimination of infringing content on UGC Services, (2) the encouragement of uploads of wholly original and authorized user-generated audio and video content, (3) the accommodation of fair use of copyrighted content on UGC Services, and (4) the protection of legitimate interests of user privacy”, though the emphasis would appear primarily to be obligations on operators of services oriented toward user generated content to prevent the misuse of copyrighted materials.

As noted by the Winston article, the principles “…are not a legally binding agreement, and compliance with these principles by a user-generated content service provider does not preclude a copyright owner from filing a complaint for copyright infringement.”

It will be interesting to see the extent to which they’ll be adopted by the marketplace. I have a feeling it may not be all that popular due, in part, to the noteable absence of some of the more prominent user-generated content sites, such the 900 lb video sharing gorilla now under the auspices of the googleplex.

web 2.0 & the law

Another story from  The Register communicating a warning from the EFF about the inherent legal risks of Web 2.0 stuff. The nub:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has given Web 2.0 media sharing start-ups some non-technical advice: run your ideas past a lawyer first to stay on the right side of copyright law.

Can’t argue with that. Continuing on:

“One of the big mistakes I see in this space is failure to engage legal counsel soon enough. Often these involve business issues – like how do you want users and employees to interact on the site,” staff attorney Fred von Lohman said.

The choice of whether to offer buzzy features like mash-ups or to profit from other people’s content on the server may also have a bearing on a company’s legal exposure. “Techies will tell you it [server-side computing] is about efficiencies, the reality is lawyers will tell you to think hard about it,” von Lohman said.

While you might think executives running sites that suck in other people’s content have most at risk, von Lohman pointed out that investors are also in the firing line. He cited EMI and Universal’s decision to drag Bertelsmann through the US courts over its $100m investment in the old Napster, which they claimed helped the P2P site infringe on their works.

So there you have it. Straight from the EFF.

enterprise 2.0

One of the very interesting events that will be part of Toronto Tech Week is Enterprise 2.0. In the words of Thomas Purves, one of the organizers of the event:

The plan is to bring together the worlds of the leading minds from the technology and consulting side of Enterprise2.0 with business leaders (CxO’s, executives and IT/HR professionals) to bring a practical and real-world perspective to these ideas.

Sounds very interesting indeed. From what I can see in Wikipedia, the term Enterprise 2.0 was coined by someone from Harvard Business School and refers to the use of social networking stuff in the enterprise – i.e. Web 2.0 as applied to business – just to be clear, not as a business, but applied to business.

I was chatting with Mark Kuznicki who mentioned a great example of this described in Wikinomics – Goldcorp and how it took social networking and open-source type tactics to develop a very interesting approach (and very rewarding and profitable solution) to difficulties it had faced. I can’t do the topic justice here – check out the book or have a chat with Mark – its quite an interesting tale.

Similarly compelling tales can be found in a recent article in Wired on crowdsourcing, which I found very, very compelling. Take a look at Eli Lilly’s InnoCentive program or Marketocracy, both of which are mentioned in the Wired article – pretty tough to argue with the results.

So, if you’re a business person, this event would be well worth your time. So go. Then please try to convince the powers that be at my firm to adopt some of this stuff!

Just noted one quote from Wired that I thought captured one of the principles quite nicely:

4. The crowd produces mostly crap

Networks like InnoCentive, Mechanical Turk, and iStockphoto don’t increase the amount of talent – they make it possible to find and leverage that talent. Any open call for submissions – whether for scientific solutions, new product designs, or funny home videos – will elicit mostly junk. Smart companies install cheap, effective filters to separate the wheat from the chaff.