Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What’s wrong with BoycottNovell? An example of selective quoting and misinformation

People often ask what’s wrong with BoycottNovell (recently rebranded as “TechRights” to seem less negative, if that makes any sense). Often in sites like Reddit, Slashdot, Digg or Mixx, a link will be posted to the blog and invariably most people will react negatively. This isn’t surprising since the editor (for lack of a better term) and his collaborators are known to have gamed these websites extensively, so there’s always a latent perception of spamming and shilling coming from there. People will post comments like “oh no, it’s boycott novell again”, “who the hell voted|modded this up” and so on. Some people though will sometimes ask what’s wrong with BoycottNovell, and that’s hard to express in a single comment, especially without some supporting evidence.

So I will use an article published very recently to exemplify one of the myriad problems this blog has. This is fair, as the editor, Roy Schestowitz, (it’s actually Doctor Roy now, apparently) continually complains that people point to his past mistakes to “daemonise” him unfairly; one assumes that he has a determination to make his considerable output better over time, rather than worse. While there are hundreds of examples like this one available for topics like the XBox, Kinect, Windows 7, the Gates Foundation, Novell, etc, I refrained from using any that are too old (as in more than six months or so). In the name of fairness. Another common complaint is that, paraphrasing, people “can’t refute/rebut the facts so they shoot the messenger”. Fair enough, we’ll take the facts on here as well.awesome_truthy

The article in question is a comparison between the sales of the competing console controllers Sony Playstation Move and Microsoft Kinect. It was published on January 12, 2011 and is titled Sony Beats KINect Despite Massive Marketing Campaign From Microsoft. It can be found here. Note the clever SEO play of the URL: “kinect-vs-move-and-truth”. Truth. Since it’s relatively short, I’ll go through it by paragraph.

As we advance through the article and my comments, please keep in mind that the author here is absolutely serious about what he’s writing. This isn’t a throwaway post; it was dented, tweeted, posted to newsgroups and Free Software Daily (and perhaps other places, incessantly) it will be added to his “Reality log” anthology and referred to as supporting material in the future, just as he has done for the past four years. Once these posts are examined closely and disassembled they tend to look rather ridiculous and banal, so please bear with me.

We begin with the title: Kinect is camel-cased as KINect to make the case that the console controller is somehow related to the failed line of mobile phones pulled from the market last year by Microsoft. When reading BoycottNovell you’ll find that they have their own strange creative spelling arcana that is often difficult to understand. For example, Dr. Roy calls Windows 7 “Vista 7”, presumably to tie the Vista OS, which didn’t do too well, to its successor, which did. He prophesied the absolute failure of Windows 7 long before it was released, and the use of the “Vista 7” thing was part of that campaign. Other examples of creative spelling include things like “MoonLie” for Moonlight, “SilverLie” for Silverlight, “AttachMSFT” for AttachMate (presumably because Dr. Roy had predicted that Microsoft would acquire Novell, which ended up not being the case). Then there’s “Vista 7 Phony” for Windows 7 Phone, “iHype” for the iPad and “iPhony” for the iPhone. Among many others. These childish monikers are not jokes; they are used solemnly and consistently throughout the blog.

The article body opens with the usual clever image, a sort of LCD snapshot that spells the word “End”. A practitioner of PR techniques, Dr. Roy uses that as a sort of statement to reinforce his message that whatever it is he’s talking about, it’s coming to an end. Marshall McLuhan, eat your heart out.

Next up is the summary:

Not even a massive marketing campaign and fake shortages could help Microsoft against its competition

We’ll come back to this in a minute. Next (note the original links in the quotes are preserved):

On Friday the third of December (2010), Sony announced that it had sold 4.1 million Move controllers. That is not bad for a product that has only been out in the market for two months and with hardly any marketing at all.

First, note the “not bad…” part – this is sufficient cause for Dr. Roy to label anyone a “booster” if it was being said about a Microsoft product.

Moving on, a quick Google search of “kinect devices sold” reveals some rather amazing sales figures. Microsoft claimed back in November that they sold 1 million Kinects in 10 days after release. Most of the articles I found reference Reuters, who are a bit more careful and clearly attribute the numbers to Microsoft. And then more recently we find articles that quote Ballmer at CES on January 6 saying he’s pushed 8 million units since its introduction in November.

Even Goldman Sachs upgraded MSFT based partly on the Kinect numbers (and their overall performance over the holidays), although they maintained the neutral rating, which makes sense. Of course Dr. Roy only informs people when Microsoft gets downgraded by someone.

I do not know if these figures are true or not. I don’t know if Microsoft refers to units shipped or actually sold, not all of the sources are clear about that. More to the point, perhaps it’s not wise to trust Microsoft to tell us how many of X and Y they’ve sold, but there you go.

But here’s the thing. A cursory look at the source being quoted by Dr. Roy reveals that it merely repeats Sony’s own sales figures. It is also dated December 3rd of last year. Now, it’s only fair that if we are supposed to trust Sony to tell us how many controllers they’ve sold since release, then we should also trust Microsoft when they say how many controllers they’ve sold as well. No? Conspicuously absent from this and all the other articles I could find about the Kinect on BoycottNovell are any direct references to Kinect unit sales. This is also fair -- no one expects Dr. Roy or anyone else to blindly repeat Microsoft’s own sales figures. But since Dr. Roy is a model of consistency and honesty, it’s rather strange to see he is using sales figures from other corporations to support the idea that Kinect is selling less gadgets than them. Well, actually not even that since he never actually quotes any figures for the Kinect therein, he merely notes that the advertising campaign has been “expensive” and that the Kinect supply was hit by what he calls “fake shortages”:

Microsoft’s marketing campaign for Kinect on the other is said to have cost half a billion dollars*, only to lead to fake KINect shortages.

Saying that Microsoft spending money advertising Kinect leads to nothing more than shortages (fake or otherwise) is rather strange. In any case, Sony apparently launched a £2M campaign for its controller, and that’s just in the UK. Dr. Roy simplistically believes his source and agrees with the conclusion that Microsoft will spend half a billion dollars promoting the Kinect, which is just further proof that he doesn’t understand how any of this works. If anyone has any doubts about that, please read his various analysis on Microsoft financial reports. They’re hilarious.But let’s think about this for a second. In this previous article, Dr. Roy repeats the $500M idiocy (what else does one call it?):

On we move to KINect. Those who believe the $500,000,000 (estimate) marketing campaign may actually have fallen for the illusion of KINect 'success'.

BoycottNovell math: Take Microsoft’s total advertising budget for a given fiscal year, which is reported in aggregate but obviously spread across all their business units and products. Pretend they have only two products: Kinect and WP7. Finally, divide by two. Genius! This is PhD stuff right here.

Aside from being simply dishonest, since I can’t believe he is so daft as to not notice the obvious lack of logic in the argument yet uses it liberally, the whole advertising budget thing is a fallacy of relevance, a form of special pleading. Declare the product a failure, then make a big deal at the fact that the company spent $X advertising it. Double whammy and golf claps all around.

Moving on. I’ll skip the next paragraph, which merely repeats the shortage thing again, framing it in obviously biased opinion (despite that fact that, again, this article will be used as a supporting fact-based reference later). But we finally get to the reason for mentioning the shortages:

Claiming a product has or is on the brink of selling out is often a last-ditch strategic move to establish the false perception of high demand.

Ah. Obviously since we all know that the Kinect (and the Xbox itself) are failures as Dr. Roy has consistently claimed, then it’s clear that the shortages are nothing more than a clever cover-up attempt by Microsoft.


Despite Microsoft’s expensive manufactured hype […] “Playstation Move is Outselling Kinect”, according to this report

I suppose most hype is manufactured, but Microsoft is hardly alone in that area anyway. The linked report has the same problem as the first one: It also quotes Sony’s numbers, and is dated November 30th of last year. Again, we’re supposed to trust Sony, and merely assume that Microsoft has sold less units by now, despite the fact that no Microsoft sales figures are provided by Dr. Roy in the article. Which in any case would be dismissed as fake. Unlike Sony’s, eh?

It’s also hard to overstate the hypocrisy of using that particular source, since Dr. Roy and his friends are known to dismiss other websites and blogs based on the least minutiae,such as the fact that they use ASP.NET, for example. I’m not kidding. Do we expect PS3 Informer then to be particularly trustworthy when informing us about the fortunes of a product that competes directly with the Kinect? If previous behavior at BoycottNovell is any indication, if it had been related to Microsoft in any way it would have been dismissed offhand as nothing more than “shills” or “boosters”.

So, despite the dramatic article title, snide summary and biased opinions, at this point we have nothing more than two 2-month old articles that merely repeat Sony’s sales figures, invalid assertions about the cost of advertising, references to shortages, and a claim that said shortages are merely a way for Microsoft to mask disappointing sales, whose volume is never even actually mentioned.


It’s important to point out the modus operandi at BoycottNovell. Dr. Roy canvasses Google News and god knows how many blogs and website feeds every day of every week, selects the most appropriately negative samples, and uses them for his daily posting grind. Since he gets notifications when someone at Microsoft sells their house (yep, you read that right), it’s difficult to imagine that he somehow missed the news of Ballmer’s alleged sales numbers from PC Magazine or any other tech rag. So it’s likely that this article was (rather badly) crafted specifically in response to that.

The next paragraph goes into the shortage angle again, because it was mentioned by the previous Sony-friendly reference:

This persisted whilst [sic] illusion of limited supply for high demand was pushed by some blogs around Black Friday, but Michael Pachter, an expert in this area, insists that it must be fake.

Amusingly, Dr. Roy reproduces a quote from the linked article, which notes that the Sony Move has also been affected by “fake shortages”. So he uses the shortages argument against Microsoft, despite the fact that Sony seems to be guilty of the same thing. You can’t make this stuff up. Remember, in lieu of quoting Microsoft sales numbers, Dr. Roy merely tells us that they can’t be any good to begin with, if Sony Corporation says theirs are better and they were preceded by fake shortages and lots of advertising.

Then we have some faux indignation filler:

Microsoft was hiring celebrities to perform at stores so that many articles littered with famous names were generated as a result.

Corporations advertise their products. Hiring celebrities. And then that makes it on to the internets. What is the world coming to?

It is increasingly becoming apparent that Microsoft can only provide expensive and gimmickry [sic] marketing campaigns rather than substantial products.

Well, again, if we believe Sony’s own sales figures then we must believe Microsoft’s sales figures as well, which certainly don’t look like they are the weak results of a gimmicky campaign, but rather of something that seems to be selling. No?

The article finally closes with this:

It would be interesting what kind of marketing Microsoft would create for software patent lawsuits.


To summarize:

  • Sony has sold more controller gadgets than Microsoft. The source of this fact is none other than Sony themselves.
  • Both Sony and Microsoft allegedly had product shortages, but this is relevant only in the sense that they are a smokescreen for Microsoft, who are obviously not selling as many gadgets as Sony. Or rather, as many as Sony says they’re selling.
  • Hype over a Microsoft product is manufactured, while hype over Sony is absolutely not.
  • Microsoft’s Kinect advertising is expensive, Sony’s apparently not, or at least it’s not a negative in Sony’s case. Because their gadget is a resounding success, whereas Microsoft’s is a failure.
  • Corporations advertise products. Sometimes they use celebrities for this. When Microsoft do that, it’s a gimmick.
  • People who praise Microsoft are “boosters”, people who praise Sony are not.
  • Sony Corporation should be trusted implicitly.
  • There is no such thing as fake numbers or months-old information when one has to fill the daily post quota.

Facts? That’s for the peasants. Let them eat links.

For completeness, I went back to see what BoycottNovell had been publishing about the Kinect. As promised, no more than 6 months or so in the past. Some of the older articles about the XBox 360 are just hilarious in the stern seriousness of their apocalyptic predictions and hyperbolic claims. But here’s a sampling of the most recent ones that reference this Kinect thingy:
Microsoft's KINect is the next KIN-Like Disaster (and Why Kinect Patents Are All That's Left)

“It is an overpriced (and over-marketed) piece of of junk which is disliked by many in the media before it’s even launched.”
”Truth be told, the mangers of such projects have left the company. They named "Kinect" (or "Natal") as something that might actually succeed, but it doesn't look like it”
Failure of Microsoft’s KINect Could Kill Xbox 360

“Last week we showed that "KINect" may end up in Microsoft’s pile of dead products, just like KIN. “KINect” (formerly known as “Natal” but rebranded tactlessly) has been receiving bad reviews and it’s the only thing capable of saving the Xbox brand”
”As argued by Goblin from OpenBytes”

Note the “last week we showed” bit. Opinions magically become facts. As well as references to his friends’ blogs, which enjoy even less credibility, if that is at all possible.
Microsoft is Already Down-Speccing KINect, Loses an Exclusive

”Based on recent coverage [1, 2], Microsoft’s KINect is likely to become somewhat of a failure, maybe as much of a failure as KIN although that's hard to beat.”

“Recent coverage” == the stuff he said last week.
Microsoft's Director of Game Platform Strategy Quits, Could Further Pollute Amazon

”Xbox 360 is a lost cause and this departure helps support this claim. Given the shoddy hardware (now downgraded) and bad demos of Kinect, there is no imminent turnaround.”
Microsoft KINect Has Problems and It’s Behind the Competition (Buttonless)

“Microsoft says it expects Kinect sales to top 3 million units by the end of the year, but that's just nonsense because they usually end up missing their optimistic targets/projections, which are intended to be self-fulfilling prophecies.”

“Sony takes jab at Microsoft, says 360 is reliant’ on shooters,”argues one gamers’ site amongst others. Unlike One Of Our Competitors, We Don't Rely On Shooters is another angle. A New Sony Website Jabs At Microsoft's Kinect”

Of special note here is the quoting of Playstation- and Sony-friendly blogs… imagine if someone did the same with Microsoft-friendly sources.
KINect’s Fate Could be Similar to KIN's

More convenient quotes from his friends and clever "questions" as to whether the thing will even be released, and will Microsoft make any money on it? Stay tuned!
Microsoft's Hardware Ventures an Embarrassment

“On we move to KINect. Those who believe the $500,000,000 (estimate) marketing campaign may actually have fallen for the illusion of KINect 'success'.”

This is the same article referenced above in regard to the advertising budget thing. Here, Dr. Roy actually quotes a Sony employee badmouthing the Kinect. When Microsoft does that, it’s “libel” and “smears”. And a quote by collaborator “Goblin” of course. A well-known expert in the gaming industry.

It’s hard for me to understand how someone can spend so much time and energy raging over a $150 gadget for a gaming console that they’ve never or will ever use. It’s just mind boggling. Even scarier is the tone of solemn, absolute certainty used in most of these articles.

And hey, just to pour a bit of salt on the wound, let’s see what Dr. Roy has published in the past about Sony, just in case someone thinks he’s always been a big fan and it’s fine to quote their employees and “boosters” when they talk smack about the competition:
Quick Mention: Sony is AstroTurfing, Just Like Microsoft
”Makers of exploding batteries and deadly CD-ROM DRM are still up to no good.”
Symantec, Warner and Sony Music Are AstroTurfing in Blogs, Just Like Novell and Microsoft
Links 29/3/2010: Sony’s Bait and Switch
Sony Battled by Patent, Battles Against Standards

At BoycottNovell, they report and you decide.

Dr. Roy is quite adept at manufacturing innovative angles to use against the targets of his sophomoric rage, and these are invariably presented as well-researched, fact-filled and supposedly balanced articles. The reality is obviously quite different, once a little attention is paid. Which is rather amusing because he’s always reminding us to beware of nasty people and organizations that publish articles which omit information (like sales figures from the other side?), present a too-rosy picture of the situation (“not bad for a product…”) or don’t actually analyze the sources they’re quoting (Sony claims they sold lotsa gadgets and fan sites repeated that, news at 11).

One can take this level of analysis and apply it to almost everything published in BoycottNovell, and 9 times out of 10 Dr. Roy will come out on the wrong side of reality. I have no doubt whatsoever of that. Of course, good luck getting much done, the blog has a rather high grind rate. By the time you’re done analyzing an article published on Tuesday and push it on Wednesday, Dr. Roy has already slogged through 20 more. Of course, he doesn’t need to check facts, that would be too ghetto. Or for that matter, face up to the fact that the vast majority of what he writes is nothing more than badly researched and heavily editorialized opinion. Usually sourced from the same 4 different sites run by his friends.

Where are you getting your information and opinion from? I hope it’s not BoycottNovell. Perhaps it’s time to reassess the validity of some of the other things they say there, especially the systematic attacks on people and projects in the FOSS community that fail to meet their ideological standards.

(Disclaimers: I don’t own an XBox, a Kinect, a Playstation or a Move controller. In fact I don’t play anything more complex than FreeCell. I don’t have a long or short position on MSFT or SNE, not even on my 401K. I do like to dance in the rain, pet small rabbits and eat cheezy puffs)


As a scientist...

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