Change and Credibility in Blogging

There aren’t many people who blog regularly about FCoE, and even fewer of those who don’t get paid to do it specifically. Last week there was a burst of activity in the Twitterverse about credibility about bloggers and corporate sponsorship, which of course got me thinking, especially given my own announcement I was understandably concerned about what my perceived credibility might be moving forward.

It’s a Small, Small World

The latest Infosmack Podcast tackled this head-on, especially in light of some difficulty one blogger, Steve Chambers, had with respect to linking to one of my articles. (By the way, guys, thanks for the kudos! It’s a bit bizarre to hear a podcast and have your name mentioned – oh, one quick correction, my name is J, not Michael – Michel (pronounced like the French) is my middle name 🙂 )

The long and the short of it (I reiterate it here only because it is the McGuffin that brings us to the more serious question of credibility) is that Gartner published a report back in March about FCoE. By all accounts (I still haven’t managed to get ahold of a copy of it) the report itself was quite balanced, but the PR surrounding the post was nothing less than incendiary.

Since the Press Release contained quotes from the report, I felt justified in using those quotes in my own minor rebuttal for some of the arguments, knowing full well that most people wouldn’t shell out $200 for a 20-page report when the gist was pretty clear: “FCoE is all sizzle, no steak.”

Now, I do FCoE. We all have our little peccadillos and strange, bizarre interests, and FCoE is one of mine.

I find it fascinating that you can take massive Systems (and I mean it with a capital “S,” meaning interconnected processes that have their own ecosystems and self-emergent patterns) and combine them using one technology.

I find it absolutely brilliant that you can get more power out of fewer parts.

I find it stunning that you can potentially save thousands of dollars per year just by reducing overall power consumption.

I find it amazing that you have the potential to do all of this, make it faster than what you currently have, run it for cheaper, and not obsolete the tech you currently have.

This doesn’t come for free, it comes at a cost. In this case, the first cost comes in the form of education and understanding.

The Cost of Understanding

There is no question – even Gartner admitted this in their Press Release – that there is promise for this technology. But, like every other aspect of modern life our desire for instant gratification not only means that we want it now! Right Now! but also that we (as consumers) reserve the right to criticize and blame when it’s not perfect yet.

I know I can’t be the only one who’s observed this paradox:

  • We complain when technology is thrust upon us without warning, and we have to learn everything all at once in a hurry, and/or
  • We complain when technology is released gradually, iteratively, but “not fully baked.”

One of the things that I’ve always felt was promising was that, for once, vendors have taken FCoE as an interesting approach, unlike some previous attempts in the past. That is, the first FCoE-capable switch, the Nexus 5020, was released a couple months ahead of the first, 1st-Gen CNA from QLogic.

Customers were told (I know, because I told them!) that these cards ran too hot for production environments. You wouldn’t get any power savings from a full-height, full-length CNA that ran 22w (Q) or 28w (Emulex). Not gonna happen. Sorry, you don’t even get a copy of our home game.

But what it could do was give customers a feel for the technology. It was the ability to ramp-up not only your expectations but also your understanding. You could get in on the ground floor of self-education, learning the pieces of the puzzle as they emerged into the marketplace rather than having to take a huge FCoE horse-pill at once.

Gartner should have known this, but instead they took a position in which FCoE as a technology was thrust upon an unwilling consumer market (treating it as if the technology and standards were matured and cast in stone), and yet complained that it was still in development.

I remember reading through the press release, and seeing people on Twitter bouncing the link to the PR back and forth and commenting, and thinking “this debate is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the damn thing works.”

The Risk of Misunderstanding

One of the things that came up in the Infosmack podcast was that, as bloggers, you want to be careful about the unintended effect of branding yourself as an antagonist.

My intention on writing a rebuttal to Gartner was, first of all, to re-form the debate back into a more coherent technological discussion. It seems to me that if I wanted to find a position in which I was continuing to work with FCoE, Gartner was – even indirectly – making my life more difficult.

After all, who wants to talk to someone about what they do only to hear: “Oh? FCoE? Gartner said that was complete crap. Why are you wasting your time with it?”

The second intention was to be snarky enough to be entertaining to read.

Snark. Snark.

Fortunately, it was – at least enough to have a couple of other bloggers include a link on their blogs, including Steve and Scott Lowe. I remember waking up one morning to find that my blog readership had increased by an order of magnitude.

And then, as H.S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Steve’s post – which effectively bullet-pointed my outline and merely pointed to my article – became the bullseye to Gartner’s target practice. Gartner contacted Cisco, who then, in turn, contacted Steve. According to Steve, Cisco has been completely above-board on what has become “GartnerGate,” as he ultimately pulled his post down from his blogging website. He holds his employer in high esteem and is using the opportunity to solidify the blog’s brand.

In contrast, Gartner has never contacted me about my article.

So, here’s the kicker: I wrote the article, Steve got in trouble for it. If only I could have had that kind of power growing up with my bratty younger brothers!

Challenge to Credibility

Understandably, the question has come up regarding credibility of bloggers who work for companies. Vested interests, conflicts of interests, being a shill – that is the bane of a blogger’s self-branding experience.

Is Steve compromised because he works for Cisco? Now that I will be joining Cisco, am I compromised?

It’s a valid question. After all, if I don’t have credibility left, the best I could possibly hope for is writing blog articles about specifications, protocol revisions, and/or how-to tips and tricks. While those are important contributions I didn’t start blogging in order to be a technical manual writer. I started blogging because I wanted to share my own experience and understanding about some very cool things that are happening that fascinate me and have ignited a thirst for knowledge in me.

Ultimately, I don’t believe so. While there will always be people who will look at the moniker on the business card in order to make their initial impressions, I’m hopeful that people will look at the track record already established before jumping to that conclusion.

For instance, I believe that contrary to hurting his credibility, Steve’s own stock has risen. He’s gotten incredible support from those who have reposted his blog (which of course circled back to my original). This cachet is a good thing because it means that moving forward he can continue blogging and build on this reputation as someone who is balancing a necessary trade-off between working as a representative of his employer and retaining an independent voice.

As for me, I have always believed that as soon as clients and vendors began thinking that I wasn’t 1) focused on facts and the truth, or 2) writing in their best interest, they would find some other avenue for obtaining information, education, and snarkiness.

So, it’s in my best interest to be as up-front as possible about my own caveats and perspective. I happen to be of the opinion that the only real way to address disinformation is more information… to a point. In the end, it will be the consumer of that information who is the final arbiter of their own due diligence.

As I move forward in my own career, I’m excited about the prospect of being close to the beating heart of FCoE development. I understand that as I enter a world that is greater (e.g., more connected) than my own, I must adopt certain responsibilities and accountability. But, then again, this happens whenever you speak for more than just yourself, doesn’t it?

Blogger’s Pledge

Nevertheless, I can commit to this promise: I will always, always promote open debate and open information. The difference between information and propaganda is that information continues the conversation, while propaganda shuts it down. Information prompts for questions, propaganda eliminates them.

I will always side with information over propaganda.

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You can subscribe to this blog to get notifications of future articles in the column on the right. You can also follow me on Twitter: @jmichelmetz

4 Comments

  • Andy Bryant May 25, 2010 at 10:40

    Credibility of independent bloggers vs bloggers from companies is certainly a good debate to have – and there are more and more indie bloggers being hired by big companies – (e.g. Simon of TechHead http://www.techhead.co.uk/ just started at EMC) – but it isn’t a black and white situation. As long as we’re all careful to transparently declare who we work for (or what benefits we’re getting from a sponsor), then I think it’s up to the reader to determine if we’re credible or not. They can decide if we’re each bringing relevant insights and information to the table.

    In the Gartner case – all companies that work with Gartner are subject to some pretty strict licensing rules. We can’t quote ANYTHING from Gartner (even if it’s in the public domain already) without first getting specific approval from them on how it’s going to be used. I suspect this might be why Steve had to take his post down.

    Andy (from HP – but speaking on behalf of myself, not my employer).

    Reply
    • J Michel Metz May 25, 2010 at 10:53

      A very good point. I hadn’t known about the limitations of working with Gartner before, so that’s very good to know. It also helps explain what happened with Steve’s post, or at the very least places some perspective on it.

      By and large I find most of the bloggers are more-or-less independent, even among those who work for corporate entities. The trade-off comes from having someone understand their own company’s products and services better than non-employees vs. the natural bias that it gives them emotionally. I think that these bloggers actually do believe that they are being fair and detached. The responsibility on their part is their willingness to accept and adjust to constructive criticism in order to maintain credibility with their readership.

      Having said that, there are of course those people who blatantly drink their own Kool-Aid, but I think they self-deselect themselves from the category of “bloggers” and into “corporate shills.”

      There is a difference between blogging and propaganda. To me, that difference is pretty simple:

      Blogging opens up debate and conversation;
      Propaganda closes it off.

      Any blogger who focuses on being the “definitive word” about their company’s products or services falls into the latter category, methinks. It’s just a revised press release at that point…

      Reply
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