This looked like another boring spammy e-mail asking me to link to a site full of crap or post someone’s ready-made advertorial in return for a kickback, but it turned out to be a lot more entertaining.
From: Strickman Ripps <email@example.com>
Subject: Hey Dan, what about this idea?
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 2009 16:32:40 -0400
Hi Dan. My name is Jeremiah Pietroniro and I am working with Strickman Research out of NYC. We are looking for people who have made suggestions about operating systems in forums over the course of the last few years. We think that your readers might be just the people we’re looking for. If you are interested in posting something to get their attention and get them to speak with us, we have a proposal for you.
I’ve included a form letter that explains in greater detail what and who I am talking about. Thanks for taking a moment to check it out.
Subject: Research Proposal
My name is Jeremiah Pietroniro and I am with Strickman Research in New York City. We have been hired by Microsoft to conduct a paid, international blog and forum research study, finding people who have commented on various versions of their Windows OS. You have probably already been contacted by Microsoft about this research study. We are looking for people who have previously made suggestions or expressed their wishes about certain features or functions they would like to see in future versions of Windows and/or features that they currently appreciate in the Windows 7 Beta.
We are wondering if we could pay you for your assistance in reaching out to your site users? We would like to find these people by announcing our search in a system-wide email to all your users. In order to preserve the integrity of our findings, we must withhold Microsoft’s name from this study. We kindly ask for your understanding and cooperation in this. It is imperative that Microsoft’s name not appear in any further written or verbal communication.
We are proposing a $500 US up-front payment to your website (via Paypal) for sending out our call for submissions by email to all your users. (Please see the text of our proposed email below.*) You would receive an additional $25 US per person for each person from your site that qualifies for and participates in our research video interview, for which they would be paid $100 US.
We realize that privacy is a concern and can assure you that any respondents who choose to participate will only be contacted in connection with this project and their personal information will not be stored or shared for any other purpose.
We thank you for your consideration and for providing such a great platform for the tech community.
Please let me know your thoughts about this proposal or any facet of our project. I look forward to hearing from you.
66 W. Broadway #602
New York, NY 10007
Proposed e-mail from Hosts to Members
Subject: your opinion + 20 minutes = $100
Strickman Research, a marketing research firm, has contacted us for assistance in reaching out to you with this invitation to participate in a paid research study. If you qualify for the study, they would ask for no more than 20 minutes of your time and would pay you $100 US:
What are we researching?
We are looking for people who have left comments on various blogs and forums about operating system software they’ve used. We are looking for people who have previously “published” their suggestions online and expressed their wishes for certain features or functions they would like to see in future versions of various PC operating systems. Such comments can run the gamut from very technical to very broad, for instance comments like: “I wish it would boot faster.” or “How can I share files between my home computers?” would suffice. The wishes and suggestions can be implied in a question where one is hoping to find a solution to a particular problem.
We are looking for comments published online between 1/2005 – 12/2008. More recent, positive assessments of newer operating systems published in 2009 may also be pertinent.
How do I participate?
If you left a written comment on a blog, forum or informational website which was, broadly speaking, a suggestion or wish for a certain feature or function you would like to see improved in your computer’s operating system, please find your specific comment or comments online and paste the address/es in an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. The link to your comment/s including the date when it/they was/were posted
2. Your username on that/those site/s
3. Full name
4. Email address
5. Phone number
6. Location (CityState/Country)
7. Best time to be reached
What should I expect?
Once we have received your email, and reviewed your comment/s, a representative from Strickman Research will contact you by phone to ask you a few qualifying questions. This call will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. If you qualify (95% of applicants should qualify) we will schedule you for a recorded internet video chat at your convenience that would take no more than 20 minutes of your time and for which you would be paid $100 US in the form of a VISA cash card.
What if I don’t qualify?
If you do not meet the criteria for our research study, we will most likely let you know in the first few minutes of our phone call. We will not trouble you any further and we will not store or share you contact information.
What if I have other questions?
Please email us. We look forward to hearing from you.
Many thanks for your consideration,
66 W. Broadway #602
New York, NY 10007
Insert movie times and more without leaving Hotmail®. See how.
(That’s right - Mr Pietroniro is sending his super-secret big-buck Microsoft marketing messages from a Hotmail account.)
My favourite part is definitely “…to preserve the integrity of our findings … It is imperative that Microsoft’s name not appear”.
I really don’t know what to make of this. It’s weird. I mean, even ignoring the DON’T TELL ANYBODY IT’S COMMISSIONED BY MICROSOFT OMG part for a moment, look at the bizarrely huge payouts they’re offering. You usually only see promised rewards of this magnitude in classic “Make Money By Filling Out Surveys!” scams.
“95% of applicants should qualify”, times the number of applicants even moderately popular sites like mine could drum up in response to a “$US100 for a 20 minute survey” offer, would start running into the millions of dollars in only a day or two. All you need to make it past the starting gate, after all, is a comment on a forum somewhere in which you express your wish that future operating systems will include one of those fascinating doughnut-making machines. Write your comment, e-mail the survey people, wait for your promised 95% chance of making $US100 in 20 minutes.
Perhaps Strickman Research only have enough people in their phone bank to handle a small number of surveys a day, which’d keep the total cost down. But then, of course, a more accurate description of the deal would be that “99% of applicants will never even get a call”.
(The payment, via “Visa cash card”, may be on the dodgy side too; those things are apparently often something of a rip-off all by themselves, and I’ve no idea how, or even if, the deal would work for people outside the USA.)
Keeping the identity of the sponsor a secret is not actually, by itself, an ethical problem. You need to disclose who sponsored a survey if and when you publicly release the results, but there’s no need to disclose the sponsor to the people being surveyed - actually, disclosing the sponsor can often prejudice the results. This especially applies in situations like political polling, where telling someone that the survey is being run by the party they hate, or indeed by the party they love, may plausibly cause them to say things they don’t really believe just to move the poll results one way or another. (This is kind of the opposite of a “push poll“; there’s a lengthy analysis of these issues here.)
This same argument definitely also applies to people’s computer-operating-system preferences. There are plenty of people who have a more distinct preference for a particular OS than they have for any political party.
But then again, people are perfectly happy to offer Microsoft advice on improving Windows for free, all the time, all over the place. This offer is only extended to people who’ve already expressed such an opinion, and I find it hard to believe that just being honest and saying “Microsoft is soliciting user feedback about features you’d like to see in future versions of Windows” wouldn’t be just as effective.
Do they really think they’ll gain access to some wellspring of OS-design inspiration by offering large amounts of money from a secret source?
Actually, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing turned out to be some kind of scam, that doesn’t actually have anything to do with Microsoft at all. While fishing around to see what the heck is going on, I found this blog post, from someone who just received an instant message from another “Strickman Ripps” person. That blogger has, I think not unreasonably, decided the message could be from a scam artist, based on this same weird promise of lots of money for no real effort, from someone with another darn Hotmail address.
Even if this really is a genuine offer from a rather unprofessional company whose services Microsoft have actually retained, offering someone a substantial lump of money in return for (a) publicity and (b) keeping something about the publicity deal secret… that just smells wrong, to me.
Accepting restrictions on journalistic freedom in return for “access” to news sources is bad enough. Accepting restrictions in return for a plain old pile of money is way over the line.
I’m not suggesting that some survey about computer operating systems is a major journalistic-ethics battleground. I think it’s actually only a couple of notches above the everyday situation where entertainment reporters can have their very own five-minute interview with Mister Big Movie Star, on condition that they don’t ask him anything about his bizarre religion.
But I’m generally in favour of letting cats out of bags. Especially if some PR agency with an advanced Web site demands that the cats remain within said bag.
That $500 would have been a nice contribution to my new-PC fund. But it now occurs to me that you readers can all pretend you read about the deal somewhere else and never saw the word “Microsoft” anywhere, then write an OS-feature-suggestion comment on your favourite scrapbooking or Twilight fanfic forum, then apply for your 95%-guaranteed hundred bucks, and after you get your money, kick back a little of it to me!
What could possibly go wrong?!