Crawford's book is non-factual work of policy fiction, so it's easy to understand why the open networks people would rather invent sideshows to stop discussion of its analytical shortcomings. This discussion is such a sideshow.
The astroturf fake review fantasy comes down to what the definitions of "astroturf" and "fake reviews" are.
In your little world, any comment that's favorable to open markets is telco astroturf, but any comment favorable to open networks is righteous, true, and genuine. As I see it, any review from an open network advocate recruited by Free Press, Karl Bode, or Tech Dirt-by-way-of-Reddit is also astroturf.
I also judge as fake any review that fails to convince me that the reviewer has actually read the book would be a fake review, regardless of how it's motivated.
Amazon book reviews on tribal subjects such as this one are full of partisanship and dishonesty, so there's no need to single out one of the tribes while giving the other tribe a free ride.
The fact remains that "Captive Audience" is a work of story-telling held up by references to blog posts and popular press articles. It is not based on serious research.
Don't hate for knowing technology and policy, Mike. It's good for you that someone like me is willing to dirty his hands in the sausage factory. You really don't want policy work to be left to law professors who can't be bothered to learn the difference between an Internet and a phone booth. The Crawfords and Wus of the world may be well-meaning, but that's not good enough.
The most likely explanation is grass-roots campaigning on both sides, but that's to straightforward for a link-baiter like Masnick to acknowledge. If you insist on Occam's Razor, that's where you have to go.
If the open market people are astroturfers, so are the open networks people, and vice versa.
Mike, Mike, Mike, why must you misrepresent my position so grossly? I understand you yearn for a career in standup comedy, but lying about other peoples' analyses is not the way to achieve it.
To boil it down to its simplest terms, I said nobody knows who wrote the obviously fake reviews of Crawford's book on Amazon. All we do know for certain is that 95% of the posted reviews where written by people who haven't read the book, and that goes for the 5 star reviews as well as the 1 star reviews. It makes no more sense to blame telco astroturfers for the fake reviews than to blame the Free Press astroturfers.
In reality, there are fairly compelling reasons to believe that both sides have manufactured fake reviews, and the overall balance of fakery is on the five star side. But I don't claim it's a certainty, just a likelihood.
Another plausible explanation that I've floated on this blog is that some intrepid PR entrepreneur produced the fake reviews in order to win some future business from one of the vested interests involved in the discussion. I don't know if that happened either, but things like that have happened before. It's widely known that Amazon reviews can be purchased.
I appreciate that your desire to attack me is a show of respect in some perverse sense, but surely there are better ways for you to raise your visibility than by dragging others down to your tabloid level.
I'll see you and your colleagues Tim Karr, Matt Wood, and Karl Bode on Twitter.
On the face of it, the theory that Free Press, Karl Bode, Reddit, Masnick, or some other professional telecom-hater would write 1 star reviews of a book that supports the viewpoint of their corporate paymasters is implausible, I'll agree with you on that. It only starts to make sense when we look at what Masnick is doing with this story, the predictable way that the story itself has affected the Amazon reviews, and Masnick's agenda.
But you can also look at it in terms of raw numbers. There are 128 of the 5 star reviews and 32 of the 1 star reviews, so the balance of preferences is quite one sided.
I don't know about others, but when I look at Amazon reviews, I read one page of 5 stars and one page of 1 stars and judge the product by the intelligence of those reviews. If the 5 stars seem to have been written by morons and the 1 stars by smart people, I conclude that the product sucks and vice versa.
If that's the general pattern, I would want to make sure that the first page of 1 star reviews is totally lame, as these faked reviews are. As long as the balance of reviews is strongly in favor of the 5 star tribe, I can do that without jeopardizing the overall impression formed by people who simply compare the counts of the reviews at different star levels.
Now I don't really know if that happened, any more than Masnick knows that telecom lobbyists wrote most of the 1 star reviews as his article claims. I'm saying that we can speculate about several sources and reasons for the bad reviews and all that anyone can do is speculate since whoever wrote them isn't going to admit it.
Masnick made no effort to disclose the fact that something like 95% of all the Captive Audience reviews - both the 5s and the 1s - were written by people who obviously hadn't read the book. Most were written by people who were urged to write reviews by some advocacy group. Why single out a few 1 star reviews that are obviously phony when there are four or five times as many 5 star reviews that are also phony?
Masnick is probably just doing what he thinks his corporate paymasters want him to do. He's a reasonably clever boy, so he's probably right that they'll pat him on the head and give him a cookie for bringing 400 angry Redditards into the supposed fray.
This is really all kind of sad, frankly. Crawford's book is crap, and the interests who like it have not been well served by it because her arguments are so lame and easily rebutted. That's probably a good thing overall, so I won't complain further.
There's no denying this: Whatever the origin of the fake reviews you so carefully analyzed in your spreadsheet may have been, your story itself has produced an order of magnitude more corruption to the sanctity of the Amazon review process.
There were maybe a couple dozen formulaic fake reviews a couple of weeks ago, but the Reddit onslaught has brought 400 angry visitors to Amazon who have altered the helpful/unhelpful ratings balance beyond recognition.
At this point, both the 5 star review with the highest rating - Loyd E. Eskildson's - and the 1 star with the highest rating are clearly fake. The non-real name, non-verified purchaser Eskildson produces four book reviews a day on most days, which suggests an account used by several PR agents to pump products, is the top rated 5 star review, and the top-rated 1 star is the parody review by you pal from Reddit.
Add that to the downvotes to Layton's and my reviews that were partly the result of Reddit and partly from a Free Press plea to members to vote them down and vote Karr's up (they do this sort of thing, you know) and you've got a totally corrupt process.
But none of this is news, this is the way tribalism works at Amazon and on the Internet as a whole.
Anytime you and Bode and Karr want to stop attacking me on Twitter would be fine.
If you count the upvotes and downvotes, you'll see that the reviews by Roslyn Layton and I both got an unusually large number of "unhelpful" votes; over 900 in my case, and almost 1300 for her. None of the other 1 star reviews got more than 500 votes of any kind, and many of the obviously fake 1 star reviews got exactly "4 of 412 people found the following review helpful".
That's a very, very odd coincidence.
The rather unremarkable review by Tim Karr got "411 of 422 people found the following review helpful" so we can reasonably connect Karr's 411 fans with ... gee, you tell me, Mr. Comment Analyzer.
Sorry, Mike, but that's not what I'm saying at all, but I can understand your hurt feelings at realizing you've been played. Crawford discussed her upcoming book on the Comcast/NBCU merger on a panel she and I were on a couple of years ago, and it naturally piqued my interest. I was among the first to read and review Crawford's book, and I've seen the whole ebb and flow of the reviews on Amazon since January, not just the little snapshot Karl Bode lead you to. From the beginning, there have been a number of short, poorly spelled, and generally illiterate five star reviews that show the same level of insight as the FCC comments Free Press solicits. There has also been a pattern of down-voting the one star reviews. This is an unusual book in the sense that nearly all the reviews are either one star or five star.
Some of the one star reviews are very thoughtful, well researched pieces written by experts who highlight Crawford's analytical and factual shortcomings. These one star reviews are now nearly impossible to find because they're buried under the bogus one star reviews in the time sort as well as in the "helpfulness" sort.
There are many more five star reviews that one star reviews, and I'd be willing to bet that more than one advocacy group has asked members to go to Amazon and place five star reviews. With the ratio firmly in favor of Crawford, why wouldn't they then add just enough one star phony reviews to keep the thoughtful reviews from being read?
You underestimate the deviousness of the players in this debate, but I've seen their tricks up close.
Now I don't know who wrote the fake reviews any more than you do - neither of us has evidence of their authorship. But Occam's Razor isn't proof.
It's funny how this story just fell into your lap, isn't it?
Me thinks Tim Karr doth protest too much. While Free Press is funded primarily by foundations, there's no denying that it coordinates its campaigns with commercial interests. Free Press owned the "Save the Internet" campaign funded by commercial interests seeking favorable Internet regulations under the "net neutrality" umbrella.
Unlike Tim Karr, I'm not a professional public relations hack. I'm the technologist who co-invented Ethernet switching and Wi-Fi and I only work on policy issues I approve of for technical reasons.
Really, Mike, you can't be serious. Yes, it's obvious that there are a number of fake 1 star reviews of Crawford's book and you and Karl Bode have ferreted them out, quite innocently I'm sure.
It's also the case that these reviews are SO FAKE and SO FORMULAIC that no one would ever have taken them seriously in the first place. You don't have to get past the first word of the fake reviews to see that: They all start with "I" or "As".
Somebody on the pro-Crawford side has been writing a fake one-star review every two or three days since March in order to push the legit one star reviews down to the last page of reviews by helpfulness. Look at how they've voted my review: 20 of 950 called it helpful. As if.
Most of the five star reviews were written by people who haven't read the book, and a surprising number of them complain about astroturfing; that's probably not a coincidence. Why leave a review of a book the reviewer admits to not having read? Many of the five star reviews do just this. This is sort of thing that happens around any issue in which Free Press is involved; their members flood the FCC with junk one-paragraph comments on every inquiry related to net neutrality. Just saying.
The questions that people should have asked about Crawford's book relate to accuracy and research, but this fake-fake-grassroots complaint will prevent any rational discussion.
Good job, Mike: you've been had by a double-reverse, fake/fake grassroots campaign to raise the credibility of a poorly researched and poorly reasoned analysis.
They also probably didn't poll as many white males, the group most sympathetic to Snowden. While opinion is split on the NSA's programs, there's a clear majority in favor of the position that Snowden shouldn't be leaking NSA's data all over the world.
I find if a bit contradictory to hail the openness of the Internet on the one hand while expressing shock at the implications of openness on the other. If you wanted to create the ideal communications infrastructure for a surveillance state, your design wouldn't be significantly different from the TCP/IP Internet. It's like walking around naked and being outraged by the gawkers.
Is it really the case that "public opinion continues to side with Snowden?" The only poll I've seen says most people want him returned to the US for prosecution, and the general sentiment in the "hero or villain?" debate is turning stronly toward the villain side.
He seems like a bit of a fool who was probably groomed and flipped by Julian Assange, much like poor Bradley Manning was before him. Assange has a pretty good racket going where the suckers pay the price for his fame and fortune while he's immunized by an army of naive and well-meaning followers.
You said "the telecoms have clearly been grossly exaggerating the issue" yet the facts say that there's a general tendency for wireless technologies to consume more spectrum, most dramatically in the unlicensed sphere but in licensed as well.
How does that work with your conspiracy theory about telco exaggeration?
Actually, no, they're not exaggerating and neither is the FCC, who declared a looming spectrum crunch in the National Broadband Plan.
To get to the higher data rates supported by LTE and LTE Advanced, the carriers need more spectrum. Instead of 5 and 10 MHz channels, they need 20 MHz or better. This isn't carrier fiction, the same dynamic exists in Wi-Fi: To get to 802.11n's maximum speeds, it needs to use 40 Mhz channels instead of old school 20 MHz channels, and to get to 802.11ac's peak rates it needs an 80 MHz channel.
Do you see a pattern here?
Whining about carrier behavior is sometimes warranted, but the ability to bring the snark isn't a substitute for real technical knowledge or for exceptional policy wisdom, it's simply lame link-whoring.