Something big is happening in the IT infrastructure blogging world: Previously-independent bloggers are being hired in droves by the major hardware and software vendors, particularly EMC and VMware. What does this mean for the community? This series of articles investigates the impact that this transition will have on the IT infrastructure community.
Why Do Vendor Bloggers Matter?
I suppose it’s best to get some definitions out of the way at the outset. Blogging and social media is a diverse and ill-defined region of the Internet, a world which itself in its infancy. What I write here is focused on my particular corner of the online world: Enterprise IT infrastructure, and enterprise storage in particular. I am sure that other areas, both inside and outside of IT infrastructure, have different norms and values.
In fact, this particular focus on who is a vendor and who is not will seem peculiar to many. Some areas are dominated by insiders blogging for their employer, other companies are entirely absent from the blogging sphere (Exhibit A: Apple), and still others don’t make much of a fuss over who someone works for. Yet concern about payola and bias runs deep even in the most liberal circles.
Can You Trust It?
It boils down to a simple question: How much can you trust what you read? Blogging and other social media activities (Twitter, conferences, forums, etc) have come to dominate discourse and drive search engine ranking. An outspoken social media maven can drive mind-space and thought leadership using these tools. Yet the democratic Internet is open to any and all.
This kind of influence can be very subtle. A connected employee can be expected to be part of the larger conversation about a product, service, or technology. Once also expects them to influence this discussion, and this will always be biased based on their experience and background within the company. Where outside critics see a profit-motivated monolith, an employee sees an all-too-human company trying its best to succeed. And since that success feeds their children, it’s hard to expect them to be too critical.
Certainly some content is inherently trustworthy, especially in technical areas like IT. I love Chad Sakac’s posts on EMC/VMware integration, for example. I also look forward to reading what the VMware and Microsoft employee bloggers write, since they’re so detailed and factual. And finding this kind of content of a personal blog, even without disclosure, wouldn’t raise my hackles. But even the most technical blogs sometimes get into “mine is better than yours” arguments between vendors.
The world of strategy and opinion is much less black and white. Consider just about anything on Chuck Hollis’ blog. He writes at EMC.com and his content is always on point for that company. But many others (from many companies) write similarly corporate-focused pieces with much less disclosure. This is an old PR trick, and the Internet makes it easier than ever both to get published and to disguise affiliation.
But even with the best of intentions, we are all biased in one way or another. Our experience, our employer, our friends, and indeed the entire world we live in influence our experience. It is not a simple thing to be independent of this, and we should expect everyone to be impacted to one extent or another. The trick is to detect overt bias and manipulation.
I’m not trying to throw stones here. In fact, I write a vendor blog myself for my employer, Nirvanix. I am very used to wearing multiple hats, and I pride myself on my ability to step into and out of the corporate shadow. But it’s a very difficult game to play, and I’ve failed on occasion.
Rather, I’m hoping that this series of articles will spark some discussion on the whole concept of vendor blogs. I’ll be posting about the spectrum of options that corporate bloggers have, non-blogging soapboxes they use, and best practices to keep everything straight.
If you enjoyed reading this, you’ll probably also like my Foskett Services blog!