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So much for CNET...


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#1 Walter Graff

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 10:29 PM

I used to respect CNET and thought it rather unbiased. I guess money tallks. As for Apple, they are known to do whatever it takes so I am not surprised.

I found myself a bit bored yesterday so was reading various web pages. My home page is Apples start page. One of the links is to a CNET "review" of an Apple photographic software product vs an Adobe equivalent product.

http://www.news.com/...amp;tag=nl.e703

Titled "Which is better: Aperture or Lightroom?" it states:

"That’s what Stephen Shankland (c|net news) wants to know, and he’d like your help. “With the new Aperture 2 now available and Lightroom just celebrating its first birthday, I thought it opportune to survey readers. What would you buy? What would you advise somebody else?” The polls are open."

So I clicked it and read the review. And noticed the poll. I'm not a user of either software. I noticed that Apple was ahead 64.3% to Adobe's 35.7% with some 2000 plus votes cast. I was feeling mischievous and voted for Adobe, then looked at the results. I also realized that I could vote over and over. So I did. Some 350 times. And all for Adobe. But the strange thing was that while I saw the vote count rise slowly, the percentages of Apple and Adobe remained the same. And I kept refreshing the poll results to see a trend in how the number of votes increased. It was always in a defined time frame. I checked later on that night and noticed that with over 4000 votes there was only 1/10th of a percent difference in the results than earlier in the day. Now it was 64.4% to 35.6%.

I found myself sitting here this afternoon (a day later) and looked at the link again. And strangely enough, today with over 6000 plus votes (three times as many as yesterday), the percentages of Apple to Adobe are exactly the same as they were yesterday give or take one tenth of a percent again. Now 64.2% to 35.8%. Statistically that is an amazing coincidence. And I also noticed that no matter how you vote, the count mysteriously increases by one vote every 10 to 20 seconds, yet the percentages are amazingly similar in over 24 hours of viewing. Now at 7:30pm a day later, it's 64.4% to 35.6%. Statistically it's impossible for that number to remain less than a percent different, let alone less than a few tenths of a percent than it was over 24 hours ago. And now tonight at 10:25pm it's still a mere few tenths of a percent different at 64.5% vs 35.5%. You'd win the lottery twice before finding odds of a poll staying so close after over 7000 votes. In the marketing industry this is called Astroturfing. Astroturfing is advertising that seeks to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass AstroTurf. Basically, this is an ad disguised as a legit poll. Hint: the HTML for the web page reveals a lot. The poll results are simply HTML and not part of any JAVA or equation with specifications for results which means the software gets updated automatically to say what they want it to.

I have heard in the past that Apple often pads user comments on their sites for products, but this one takes the cake. Sad, because now I can not trust CNET for unbiased reviews. I noticed a decline in hard hitting results of their 'reviews' as of late, more like editorialized reviews I often see in trade mags that never put anyone down too much, but just enough to make it look like it's not perfect.
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#2 Jason Sikorski

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 06:17 AM

Well, I believe there's an important lesson to be learned from all of this, and that is to never allow a single online product review (or poll) to carry too much weight, because there is simply no guarantee that what we're seeing or reading is genuine.

Should we fault CNET and/or Apple for engaging in this form of purposely-deceptive advertising? I don't believe so, as this would appear to be just another chapter in the never-ending book of cat and mouse games between advertisers and consumers. Advertisers always seem to find their way into whatever consumers are currently focusing their attention on, and consumers always seem to direct that attention elsewhere once they realize that someone is trying to sell them something.

I'm unsure about the "legality" of what they're doing, or shill marketing in general (i.e., how it is viewed by the FTC), although I did come across the following disclaimer in the CNET.com Terms of Use:

We do not guarantee the accuracy, the integrity, or the quality of the content on our sites, and you may not rely on any of this content.

Regardless, look on the bright side - without their technical ineptitude, you would most likely continue accepting CNET reviews at face value (or however you previously considered them), instead of treating them like giant pop-up ads. :)
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