Fake Steve Jobs (Forbes writer Daniel Lyons) has been giving the One Laptop Per Child project a hard time on his parody blog (which is actually one of the funniest commentaries on both Apple and the rest of the Silicon Valley crowd you can find). And so someone from OLPC's PR firm started commenting on blogs claiming to be Fake Steve. And got caught. Whoops. Aside from all the reasons that this is stupid and plain wrong, if you're going to do something bad, at least do it competently so you don't get caught.
Whether you think the criticism of OLPC is fair or not, they just look bad, bad, bad here. Though I do appreciate the trippiness of someone pretending to be someone who's pretending to be someone else. (In fairness, Fake Steve Jobs has always been clearly fake; there's a "fakesteve" in the blog's URL, and now we all know who's writing it.)
Then there's this "look, you don't have to buy an iPod!" "news" story, talking about how fab all the non-iPods out there are, with nice pictures of Zunes and appearing on... MSNBC, a news outlet co-owned by Microsoft. With no byline - not surprising, would a journalist want their name of this kind of corporate hummer piece? Just incredibly embarrassing. The piece gets a harsh dressing-down from tech journalist Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle on his blog today:
Considering that the Zune sounds like a decent product, even if it is a me-too entry to the digital music player market, and it's backed by a behemoth who can stay in that market for the long haul until they start eating away at Apple's market share - kind of inevitable, considering how insanely large that share is, there's nowhere to go but down, you have to wonder who thought it was smart to adopt the tactics of faltering also-rans.
And, as Fake Steve Jobs points out, there's no byline on it, just a vague "MSNBC staff and news service reports". Anyone who's been in the news business for any length of time knows what that kind of credit line usually means: This assignment came down from On High, and the writer is too embarrassed to put his or her own name on it, as well he or she should be.
Hey, as every reporter knows -- or will find out at some point in his or her career -- it happens.
The problem is, of course, that no one's fooled. If this story was indeed mandated by a Microsoft honcho, he or she should be smart enough to know that it's not going to sell more Zunes (or fewer iPods). Readers will see it for the infomercial it is and move on to more credible sources.
Instead of benefiting Microsoft, more damage is done to MSNBC's reputation as an independent purveyor of news -- at least where personal technology is concerned.
What's really sad about it is that they went to the trouble of doing it, and couldn't get anyone to give them a rationale for choosing something other than an iPod than the stunningly uncompelling "I appreciate obscurity." That has the makings of some strong positioning, doesn't it? (I have an iPod and love it and I could come up with better reasons not to buy one than that.)
News should be news. When you find yourself doing something to corrupt that, just stop. Aside from the bad karma, it's unlikely to work well, and when people figure it out, you're likely to wind up with egg on your face. Or, horrors, a Zune in your Christmas stocking.