The increasingly tight limits of propriety for bloggers


There’s currently a massive discussion going on in the blogosphere about a series of Microsoft ads in which they asked prominent bloggers such as Michael Arrington, Om Malik, Fred Wilson, and Richard MacManus (the links are to their comments on the brouhaha) to say what they thought the term “people-ready” meant. These were compiled in a site sponsored by Microsoft, which does not mention any products or services, but simply promotes the concept of people-ready.

The controversy was sparked by a brief article on rabble-rousing blog site Valleywag, which starts its piece saying:

“The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn’t trade on their public trust to endorse products.”

…and goes on to attack the people-ready campaign. I don’t get this. These bloggers are not endorsing products in any conceivable form. They are giving thoughts on a concept. How this could be seen to affect their credibliity is beyond me.

Among other business activities, I am a professional speaker and writer. I’ve written white papers, done webcasts, and given keynote speeches for payment, for among many others Microsoft, SAP, and IBM. At no point in these activities do I ever endorse a product or company. I share my views and expertise, and my clients pay to be associated with these ideas, and to attract an audience who want to get an unbiased perspective on business trends and strategies. The fact that I’m being paid to share my opinions on business and technology issues does not impact my credibility.

The bloggers in this campaign have not done anything that would affect how any reasonable person would perceive their integrity. They have not endorsed anyone. They’ve shared their thoughts on a topic. The fact that some of these bloggers have now shied away or even apologized shows that their sensitivity to potential perceptions is extreme. The degree of propriety expected of bloggers now goes far beyond that expected for mainstream media. That there is transparency and debate on the limits of propriety is good. However it is crazy to say that sharing opinions and ideas is wrong, when these could apply to any company, any product, and any service, and are not linked to any of these.