» Archive for October, 2009

FTC to Bloggers: Disclose Payments for Reviews

Monday, October 5th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

The FTC issued rules for bloggers and celebrity endorsers.

The Federal Trade Commission announced plans to require bloggers and celebrity endorsers, an interesting mix if there ever was one, to disclose what the FTC refers to as “material connections” (which could be direct payments or some free products).  The revised FTC Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising specifically state that “the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement” therefore covered by this rule.  (Another revision requires companies to disclose whether the findings of a research organization that conducted sponsored research are mentioned in an advertisement, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the two entities but this is fodder for another day and another column.)

If bloggers want to be taken seriously, they can’t cross certain lines.  These lines include accepting fees or gifts in exchange for positive “ink.”  Part of my job as an industry analyst involves authoring reviews of various technologies and I also write product reviews from time to time for several print publications.  Most of the products I test come “on memo,” which means they go back after they are reviewed.  Occasionally, the manufacturer will offer the opportunity to purchase the item at a price that could best be described as low retail (no hidden discounts here).  And for very inexpensive items, some manufacturers don’t want to even pay the cost of shipping the item back so I get to keep a few things now and then.

On the other hand, I sometimes review items that I am paying full price for (Verizon FiOS is a recent example).

Regardless of the situation, behind-the-scenes financial arrangements are simply not acceptable if the writer (blogger) is representing himself to be unbiased.  A Wall Street Journal article from April of this year references “Blogger Jessica Gottlieb of Los Angeles” who writes that she “would only write about their products in return for cash” (as the article put it).  Gottlieb (quite inexplicably and implausibly) believes that her opinions are “unbiased” despite the crystal clear failure of the wall between editorial independence and advertising dollars (sometimes referred to as “church and state”).  Ironically, Gottlieb does get one thing right in her site’s disclaimer: “This blog… should not be considered factual.”

Blogger Colleen Padilla, covered in a July 2009 New York Times article, is doing her readers a disservice if she does not run “bad” reviews, as she told the reporter.  If she tests as many products as the article indicates, she would be in an excellent position to provide authoritative feedback on what doesn’t work and what does in fact need improvement.  Apparently, she does neither.  And that’s a real shame.

On the other hand, Melanie Notkin (mentioned in the same New York Times article), is deceiving herself and her readers.  “[Cable network] TNT never told me and will never tell me what to say,” Ms. Notkin stressed.  The fact is, however, that TNT is telling her to say “something” and that is significant enough in my view to create a clear conflict of interest.  While labeling her posts with “[sp]” may, in her mind, absolve her of this, I would wager that few people reading her posts equate “sp” with a sponsored message.

I do think that Katja Presnal, quoted in the same New York Times piece is on the right track, providing candid reviews and opinions to her readers.  Those who follow this path will be the ones whom readers can trust and seek out for more than just a puff piece.

Finally, keep this in mind: bloggers aren’t in this by themselves.  Companies are (apparently) paying them for reviews.  As far as I am concerned, companies that do this should rethink why they believe they need to pay cash for good reviews in the first place and perhaps use that money to improve their products.

For further details, consult the FTC News Release.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Change Afoot in the Content Management Space

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by David Goldes

Content management systems are taking on increasing importance in organizations of all sizes.

The content management market is seeing dramatic change thanks to new open source and commercial open source entries that are making significant inroads with customers. In addition, just to make things a bit more complex, companies need to prepare to manage multiple forms of content including wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, podcasts, and video.

This in turn has significantly changed the process of selecting a content management solution, a process that was never exactly straightforward as it requires both an in-depth understanding of both the organization’s needs and what the market has to offer.

Consider that companies that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for content management systems might do equally well with platforms that cost one-tenth that amount.

Content management is no longer a nice-to-have tool; given the critical role of content (in all of its forms) in the enterprise, CM platforms have now been accorded the status of essential IT infrastructure.  That’s why one sees names such as EMC, IBM, and Oracle in the space.

Basex estimates that the U.S. market for content management was $4.1 billion in 2008 and will reach $10 billion by 2014.  Open source content management is gaining traction in some circles and the overall open source software market is growing rapidly.

The increase in our reliance on content and the amount of content that is being created in the enterprise makes it even more critical that companies manage content effectively in order to avoid the problem of Information Overload.

To help companies navigate the space, Basex just released The Definitive Guide to Today’s Content Management Systems and Vendors, a 150-page report series.  The report series looks at 32 key content management vendors and 43 platforms and provides in-depth analysis — including market trends, drivers, and barriers — to guide decision makers in the selection process.

The good news is that companies today can find a wide range of content management systems at varying price points.  The bad news is that selecting the RIGHT platform is more critical than ever to a company’s future and most companies don’t have the resources to thoroughly investigate their options.  Managers have to understand the total cost of ownership, support options and functionality when making that decision.

The report series is being published on a subscription basis and includes an in-depth industry survey, Content Management Systems: The New Math for Selecting Your Platform, and 16 Vendor Profiles of key content management providers and their offerings.

The vendor profiles provide a comprehensive analysis of content management offerings from Autonomy, Acquia, Alfresco, Bluenog, Day Software, EMC, EpiServer CMS, FatWire, Hippo, IBM, Microsoft, MindTouch, Nuxeo, Oracle, Open Text and Xerox.

You can purchase the report at a special introductory price from the Basex Web site.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the Briefing Room: eDev inteGreat

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

Many people think of software development as lone programmers working in isolation, perhaps reminded of Douglas Coupland’s 1995 classic Microserfs, where programmers slide flat foods, such as “Kraft singles, Premium Plus Crackers, Pop-Tarts, grape leathers, and Freeze Pops” under the door of a fellow coder after they hadn’t seen him in days.  In reality, the process of software development is a collaboration-intensive activity that would benefit greatly from improved knowledge management technology and thinking, much in the way knowledge sharing and collaboration happen between workers in far less technical occupations.  Unfortunately, many managers fail to realize the necessity of actively managing knowledge and facilitating collaboration in this area.

Companies typically spend vast amounts of time and money to document their requirements and it is far from easy to keep such documentation up to date.  At the same time, they struggle to find ways to interrelate information, given that such information comes from diversified sources.  In other words, how does one create a document that leverages information that is anywhere and everywhere and still be able to make sense out of it?

One company that provides a tool in this area is eDev Technologies via the company’s inteGreat offering.  The product is a requirements management solution that allows for the creation and reuse of requirements through the development of a central body of knowledge, which the company refers to as iBoK (Integrated Body of Knowledge).  This knowledge base is a collection of reusable requirements.  InteGreat allows developers to create requirements using a drag-and-drop interface and then relate them to one another to aid in reuse.

Requirements are then visually mapped out as process flows using MS Visio, and are saved either as inteGreat files or exported as Visio files.  Users also have the ability to create mockups using an included simulation tool.  Once a process is created, generated documents are exported via MS Word, Excel, or Visio, or saved within inteGreat.

As in any form of knowledge work, the recreation of content, in this case requirements, is a huge and costly problem, and is essentially a problem of finding things and avoiding recreating that which already exists.  If the knowledge worker can not find information, be it a document or a requirement, they will have to recreate it, increasing project costs, squandering limited resources, and impacting an organization’s bottom line.  The end result of enabling the reuse of requirements is that, for future projects, there will be a reduction in the time and cost of gathering requirements, as well as lessening the burden of maintaining software.

In inteGreat, the ability to reuse requirements once they are developed adds a much needed knowledge management aspect to the development of requirements, affording software developers the same KM capabilities that other knowledge workers now take for granted.  In turn, as more companies adopt similar solutions, they will see increases in efficiency and a reduction in the time spent recreating requirements.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.