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It’s A Jungle Out There

The world of computer hardware is not particularly known for truth and integrity. Manufacturers stretch the truth to a degree that would make Gumby snap.

It’s an area where the average person is so ill-equipped to determine what is good and what is bad, what is true and what is false, that he or she makes Little Red Riding Hood look as prepared as the Terminator in comparison.

What people need to get out of this jungle alive are places where they can get away from the hype and the truth-stretching and get some honest, impartial opinions about the things they want to buy.

And this is, on the whole, not what they are getting.

I open up my email every morning and get requests for links. I look at what are called “reviews.” The majority of what I see in at least tone seem to be adjuncts to the marketing division of whoever made the product; the worst are “cut and paste” jobs from marketing material. On the whole, they aren’t reviewing the product, they are selling it.

For this particular product, we got this Asetek press release. One paragraph jumped out:

“Reviews of the new VapoChill ® are currently being organized with Tom’s Hardware Guide, HardOCP, and OcShoot. Evaluations and substantiated test results will be available in the weeks to come.”

“…organized with…”? Remember the “Duck Test”: If it smells like a marketing campaign, if it looks like a marketing campaign…

Is this the kind of independent review you want?

Not that the manufacturers are all the Virgin Mary, either. We’ve published on these pages one place upset that we didn’t give them prior approval over one of our reviews, like everybody else. We’ve been told by others our reviews weren’t “enthusiastic” enough. By not playing the game, we have to buy a lot of what we review. So we know there’s considerable pressure out there to produce a certain result.

This Is Journalism

What do we do? We report on news and events. Products are events. People look to the hardware sites for advice on what to buy. They put trust in what you say about a product, and with that trust comes a responsibility to the person trusting you.

This means your allegiance is to your audience, the potential buyers of the product, not the sellers. Too many places have it the other way around, or at least put out material or place themselves in a position that seems to point that way.

What We Have With Vapochill

We have a product that is scheduled to be out today. Not a couple months from now, today. Normally speaking, if a company is ready to release a product and wish it to be reviewed, they send out samples of the product to be reviewed. This company didn’t do this, even though their own website have had their own “benchmarks” since late September.

A few places put up glowing, uncritical articles about the untested product. They didn’t print a press release and say “This is a press release.” After 10 pages about the Vapochill, one reviewer stated in the last paragraph “Before I jump to any conclusions, I will have to get my hands on one of these babies, to see if Andre’s claims are actually realizable.”

Instead, we get editorial judgments like “I must say there is NO DOUBT that the VapoChill has gotten even better.” How would you know if you haven’t tested it?

Well, we have some questions about this product performing better, simply because its task has become so much harder. The goalposts have been moved; we are now looking at TBirds cranking out up to 75 watts of heat rather than a PIII’s 35 watts or so.

We also have some strong indications extreme cooling doesn’t help AMD products as much as Intel products; they’re just hardier beasts.

We don’t question the basic technology; we had no complaint against Asetek’s cooling power of the unit in our review when used with a PIII; we just didn’t like other aspects of the system, which other users confirmed.

What we do question is just how well the unit will function given these new challenges, and how much improvement you’ll get for your $650 compared to much cheaper alternatives.

We’re not saying the product can’t deliver, we just want to see the product tested independently to see if it does deliver. If it does, great, but let’s see that first before saying how wonderful it is.

Nobody did that. Nobody even mentioned these questions. No one questioned why the product wasn’t available for testing just before its public release. Why?

We got precious little critical judgment about what the product is likely to do. Instead, we essentially got ads for the product, and Vapochill treated them as endorsements on their front page.

What Did Vapochill Get?

I can’t measure intention, but the effect of Vapochill’s actions has been to get something they could construe as endorsements before independent testing of their product prior to its release. This is pretty unusual, and it’s pretty reasonable to ask yourself, “Why?”

You should also ask yourself why some websites would put themselves in that position. There could be legitimate reasons for this, but we would like to hear them. So should you.

Why We Did What We Did

We brought up the questions left unanswered and questioned why certain sites (namely HardOCP, Overclockers Shootout and Tom’s Hardware) would put up such uncritical editorial material. Well, now we know why – they were being “organized.”

We at Overclockers.com have had a long-running debate on the extent to which we should speak out when we see this sort of dubious journalism. So we decided to ask our audience about it. We decided to use the Asetek piece as an example, not at all because it was particularly bad, but precisely because it was typical of a lot of what see out there.

Geek Gangs, Defend Your Turf!!

We saw from the get-go that this was a good chance to kill two birds with one stone. I had written a piece a couple weeks ago about geek gangs, and figured it was extremely likely this particular one would be called into action.

When you know a stampede’s coming, it’s better to trap them in a dead-end than to try to stop them. So we provided a convenient non sequitur answer that would only appeal to geek gang members trying to defend their turf, an answer that could easily be disposed of in any analysis.

So folks, not only did we get our data, you got to see a geek gang in action.

The Issue Is Credibility

Those editorial pieces written about Vapochill were at the least questionable, for the reasons we’ve stated above. Being questionable, we questioned them. Please note, questioned. We didn’t make any conclusions. We simply asked some questions any reasonable person would ask, and asked for some answers.

There could well be good legitimate answers to these questions. If there are, great. That’s why we asked. Let’s hear them. Not for our sake, but for the audience’s.

But beware those who think they are beyond answering them. You come into the public arena and make public statements, you open yourself to public scrutiny. Period.

You can play ostrich and pretend it isn’t there. You can shuck and jive. You can try to drown it out with your own forces. It doesn’t go away.

The problem is with what you did, not with somebody noticing it. Do you know what? You can’t stop the judgment, and that judgment only gets compounded by the ducking.

The issue is not what one particular website did. On this very issue, others did the same or worse. More importantly, this happens so often in so many places that it threatens to strangle the credibility of all websites.

How much is your opinion worth if nobody believes you? Whether it’s true or not, if people have the perception that your opinion isn’t yours, that you’ve been compromised, that you’re part of a marketing campaign, that you won’t represent their interests, then your credibility as an objective reporter is in question.

And if your audience stops paying attention to your judgments, how soon thereafter will those who are counting on your influence spit you out like a lemon with all the juice sucked out?

Email Ed


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