CyberTech Rambler

October 21, 2005

Astroturfing by Microsoft on ODF?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:22 pm

When the news first broke that Massachusetts is adopting OpenDocumentFormat, there was a buzz in the media around it. Everyone jumped in including Microsoft Brian Jones. Normally one can expect to move on to the next topic in a week or so. At worst, the whole affair will stretch to two weeks. However, in this case, it lasted for at least 4 weeks, and still counting.

Just as I thought the story will go away, we have people trying to keep this story in the headline. First we have a Fox News article from a group which Microsoft supports, then Microsoft’s Yate talking to David Berlind. After which another Microsoft employee, John Caroll joins in. It sounds like there is a concerted effort to keep this story fresh. The fact that I mentioned two Microsoft employees and a Microsoft affiliation is no coincident and no accident.

May be I am simply paranoid. But I think Microsoft, or its allies, do not want this issue to die. The latest run is from John Caroll, a self confessed Microsoft supporter and now Microsoft employee. It may be possible that John Caroll may simply feels that there is a need for robust reply to Berlind’s comments on Microsoft. However, he is simply rehashing what is already said and added virtually nothing to the discussion. In fact, in his latest installment to date, all his questions were already answered, if he bother to do his research, such as reading his fellow Microsoft employees’ (Brian Jone’s) blog. If I want to be harsh, I would say he simply parroted existing Microsoft opinions on the case.

Are we seeing an astroturfing campaign? May be. Writing an article takes time. Parrotting what is already said is a waste of an author’s time, as an author’s real value is to present new insights/opinion to the topic. However, from a business point of view, having more people parroting an opinion helps to create an impression that that opinion is the majority view, casting doubts on opposing opinions. Parroting is a type of “astroturfing”, just as using affiliates to voice similar views is.

Is this a campaign to bias top results returned by Google using the search term “Massachusetts OpenDocument” towards negative opinion? At present, Google return a balanced results. David Wheeler once said something on the line that the best way to fight FUD is to write articles to refute it. The logic, I believe, is to overwhelmingly pointing out the fallacy of the FUD. If this is the case, then one of the main battleground will be search engines’ results. The flip side of the coin is that the more people refute the FUD, the more the article is perceived to be valuable from a business point of view (e.g. brownie points in selling advert on a website). It is a catch-22 situation at best. I have not decided what the best course of action is.

What is interesting is that it used to be the Open Source people who trash talk corporate/government decision to adopt proprietary software. Now we are seeing the opposite. In this case, Microsoft-phile trash talk the decision. All we can draw from this is that the loser, whoever they are, generally feels that they need to get their message across. What surprise me is that the length of time some corporate entities will go to propound their point of view. Or may be it is the other way round, open source have too short an attention span.

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