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Objectivity Matters

By Mike Rothman

I owe a tremendous amount to social media. I wasn’t early to either blogging or Twitter (as my friends remind me), but once I got there a whole new world of opportunities opened. I created a boutique business (Security Incite) on the back of a blog and email newsletter. I met so many great people – many of whom became close friends – and even found a business partner or two.

But the edge of social media cuts both ways. ‘News’ organizations have emerged with, uh, distinctly unjournalistic methods of handling conflicts of interest. You need to read Hit men, click whores, and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Cesspool by Dan Lyons, about the unholy alliance between some very high-profile tech bloggers and what they publish about companies they invest in. You sort of knew that stuff was going on, but to see it laid bare was eye-opening.

To be fair, none of these guys hide their investments in the companies they write about. Or that they leverage their audience to build brand and buzz for the chosen few who take their investment. Or that they strong-arm those that won’t or don’t. If you look hard enough you certainly can find the truth, but they certainly don’t publicize it.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m idealistic. Maybe I don’t understand how the world works. But that just seems wrong on so many levels. I guess I’m one of those guys that believes objectivity matters. Listen – we all have biases. I’m no Pollyanna, thinking anyone can truly be unbiased. But we at Securosis are pretty up front about our biases. And none of those biases are economic in nature. None.

One of the things that really attracted me to the business model Rich built was the Totally Transparent Research method. We do the work. We write what needs to be written. When we are done, and only then, do we license content for sponsorship. We do line up sponsors ahead of time, but we only offer a right of first refusal, and either party can walk away at any time. We have. And sponsors have. We cannot afford to be beholden to someone, to write what they want, because we already took a down payment on our integrity.

By the way, this model sucks for cash flow. We do all the work. We take all the risk. Then we hope the sponsors still have the budget and inclination to license the content. I can’t pay my mortgage with a right of first refusal. But objectivity matters to us, and we don’t see any other way to write credible research.

Many folks who blog and tweet a lot about security will be out at the RSA Conference this week. You’ll likely be hearing about all sorts of shiny new objects. This one shinier than the next. But take every blog post and tweet with a grain of salt – even ours! The Internet can provide a wealth of information to help organizations make critical decisions, but it contains a tremendous amount of disinformation.

Buyer beware – always. Understand who is writing what. Understand their biases and keep their point of view in mind. Most important: use all this information to get smarter and to zero in on the right questions to ask the right people. If you make buying decisions based on a blog post or a magic chart or anything other than your own research, then you (with all due respect) are an idiot.

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