Disclosure Is Everything

Today I received an email from an editor of a UK publication which read as follows:

Hi there. My name is Richard and I am the editor of www.xtremecomputing.co.uk, a UK based global news and review online publication. The reason I am writing to you is I am about to undergo a modding project on a computer case called level 10 by Thermaltake. This case is the most expensive case on the market and Thermaltake, AMD, Patriot have sponsored this project by supplying free parts in exchange for banner and thanks in Mod log when it is posted. So this brings me to the point. I need a STEP plugin for Google SketchUp. If you are willing to supply me with a license I will of course thank you and link to you in my mod log. Let me know.

And this was my reply:

Sure. Please download STEP Import for SketchUp from http://www.sycode.com/installers/step_import_su.exe. Install it and request a permanent key. Please enter “Review” for order information and mention this conversation in the Remarks section. We will send you a key. Just so that you know, one of the conditions of issuing a review license is that you need to specifically disclose in your article that you were given a free license by us. I see that you mentioned that you will be providing a link to our site. But I just wanted to be clear on that issue.

To be honest I was not like this. Earlier whenever someone asked for a review license, I used to check the credentials, issue a Not For Resale key and be done with it. This changed when a certain law was passed in the US requiring full disclosure by people reviewing products. Although US laws don’t apply to me, I began thinking about the reasons why that law came into being. I know it varies from individual to individual, but some reviewers may feel obligated to highlight only the good aspects of a product and downplay the undesirable parts. Things can get complicated when advertising money comes into play.

Casual readers glancing through a product review may not be aware of the history or reputation of the reviewer. For example, if I search the internet for a review on a game, I will come across a number of articles and reviews on the subject. As someone who doesn’t know what exactly goes on in the gaming industry, I’ll probably read the first few reviews and I make my opinion based on them. But if the reviewers offered full disclosure of their relationship with the developer of the game and what exactly transpired between them, I would be better informed.

So now whenever I give a review license to someone I insist that they disclose the fact that they got it for free. That does not imply that a disclosure somehow makes their review more worthy than a review without a disclosure. But it definitely helps to put things into perspective for the reader, which I believe was the point of enacting that particular US law. I am hoping all CAD vendors have started doing this as well. At least the ones in the US are legally required to do so. Because if they are not then either they are doing or helping someone else do something illegal.

While on this topic I’d like to highlight something I noticed the other day about a magazine called DEVELOP3D belonging to my good friend Al Dean. I suppose you could consider the “my good friend” as a disclosure of sorts ;-). While browsing the DEVELOP3D web site I noticed a “Supplements” section on the download page. Apparently since June this year they started publishing supplements to the magazine. These supplements are labeled “A DEVELOP3D Special Report” and are marked as sponsored by the company whose products are being featured in the supplement. I asked Al for the reason of having those supplements. He told me that there was no way he could put content that was paid for in the main body of the magazine. He said, “If we do a supplement, it’s clearly labeled as such. We retain editorial control, no competitive claims and ensure it’s engaging for the reader. That’s our job. And we want to do it the right way.

Recently there was a research paper published by Ray Kurland of Technicom that basically suggested that Inventor was better than SolidWorks. There was a lot of noise about that white paper and I offered by two cents as well. Somehow I got the feeling in all that noise some people started confusing two separate issues: (1) Autodesk paid Technicom for the white paper; and (2) Autodesk and/or Technicom selectively highlighted only those functional areas where Inventor beat SolidWorks. The former is a good thing, whereas the latter, in my opinion, reduced the worth of that white paper to nothing.

The point I’m trying to make here is even though Technicom could have written that white paper in a manner that was fair to SolidWorks and Inventor, the fact that they disclosed who paid for it help put things into perspective for the readers. When you read one of those DEVELOP3D supplements and see who it is sponsored by you know where the authors are coming from. When you read my coverage of an event on this blog and then I tell you who has paid to fly me half way round the world to cover it, it helps you get a clearer picture. What you do with that information is your business. But it’s fair that you have that information.

Bottom line, disclosure is everything.