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12/28/2006
11:22 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
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Why Bloggers Will Never Replace Reporters

What do you get when you fly in 14 celebrity bloggers to interview Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (and give them a free Zune as a party favor)? Pretty much a group kiss-up, apparently.

What do you get when you fly in 14 celebrity bloggers to interview Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (and give them a free Zune as a party favor)? Pretty much a group kiss-up, apparently.Before Christmas Microsoft threw a party for a group of the glitterati of the blogosphere, flying them into Seattle, putting them up, feeding them, and giving them all an hour with Bill Gates. While the event did prove that bloggers can be bought for about the same price as journalists, it did little to prove any other equivalencies. Mostly what it produced, beyond the conflicts of interest, was a lot of gush on the order of, "Hey, guess what I did yesterday, I got to meet with Bill Gates!"

There were notable exceptions. Michael Arrington and Niall Kennedy managed to use their face time with Chairman Gates to engage in some thoughtful dialog, and then use the bully pulpits of their blogs to offer some perspectives.

Arrington's topic was digital rights management:

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which "causes too much pain for legitmate buyers" while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are "huge problems" with DRM, he says, and "we need more flexible models, such as the ability to "buy an artist out for life" (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

His short term advice: "People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then."

Kennedy writes that he chose to ask Bill about Microsoft's intellectual property stance against Linux and its open source developers, from the SCO Group's litigation against IBM to Steve Ballmer's recent claim Linux infringes on Microsoft patents after signing a patent indemnity with Novell. The response from Gates:

Bill Gates claimed he had never heard of BayStar Capital, an investor in SCO Group and their litigation against large corporate supporters of Linux. According to recent court documents BayStar founder and managing member Larry Goldfarb claims Microsoft wished to promote SCO Group through independent investors such as Baystar, backing a $50 million investment with supposed guarantees from Microsoft.

He also asked Gates about the new interest in patent swaps with open source operating systems: "Gates claimed patent cross-licensing is common practice in the software industry, protecting companies who indemnify their users from software risks. . . . While I didn't get a rundown of each piece of the Linux kernal Microsoft finds infringing, it does seem like Microsoft is just getting started with its intellectual property swaps and settlements with Linux corporations."

Trying to do the conceptual archeology to reconstruct the meeting from the detritus of 14 bloggers is an exercise that has its "Rashomon"-like qualities -- Bill Gates refracted through a 14-faceted crystal.

For the record, here's the attendee list, with links to blog entries where I could find them:

Several of the attendees posted a group picture in their blogs, but, just to underscore the idea that reporters they're not, made no attempt to ID the photo. A (slightly) more journalistic blog, ValleyWag, has the photo caption.

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