I posted an article in Classics Rock questioning whether ThinkPad's quality had declined since Lenovo took over. Suspicious activity occurred in the discussion that led to my declaring Shenanigans on Lenovo. Finally, someone officially from Lenovo turned up in the forum.
I didn't quite expect the reaction that occurred when I made an entry in Classics Rock questioning the quality of the ThinkPad since Lenovo purchased IBM's PC business. While I had expected the "friendly" give-and-take that normally takes place in discussion between TR members, a funny thing happened. Lots and lots of new members turned up. And they ALL loved the ThinkPad.
As I pointed out in the discussion, clearly there was something nearly conspiratorial going on. I didn't think it was anything officially sanctioned by Lenovo, but clearly there were Lenovo employees carpet bombing the discussion and padding the poll. Inside of 24 hours the poll moved from 58% Yes, 34% No to 47% No, 41% Yes. Even John McCain couldn't hope for that kind of a poll shift.
None of the new users identified themselves as Lenovo employees with the exception of two. One of them is Ray Gorman, Executive Director for External Communications at Lenovo.
Mr. Gorman posted a message in the forums taking me to task for calling out what was going on among the new minted TR members:
Your story has recently been brought to my attention, and nowhere does it say that Lenovo employees may not vote. I mean, where's the love for Lenovo employees?
I believe ThinkPads are just as good as ever and voted accordingly. Although I suspect there are other Lenovo employees who have voted in this forum, I would wager that you have also attracted voters who are employees of our competitors. While in either case, it's fairly predictable how each would vote, the interesting fact is that there are really only two notebook PC brands that have their own fan forums and passionate enthusiasts. I'm pretty confident declaring that ThinkPad is one of those two.
Without saying as much, Mr. Gorman is clearly referring to Apple. But more to the point, Mr. Gorman seems to think that there's nothing wrong with Lenovo employees participating in the forums and in the polls, which I have to agree with — up to a point.
The issue at hand
Naturally the problem isn't that there were Lenovo employees posting and voting. The problem is transparency and the way that it comes across. Officially sanctioned or not, a mass influx like that doesn't help the discussion and, in my opinion, doesn't reflect well on the company.
TechRepublic is almost entirely a community of working IT professionals. Even though, as Mr. Gorman points out, there are most likely Lenovo competitors voting, nowhere has anything ever stood out like this. We regularly take pot shots at Apple, for example, and you don't see a flurry of responses out of Cupertino.
It's nice to see the reactions of employees who clearly identify themselves for who they are. Here we had a mass influx of participants in a forum who (A) joined within a day or two of the post, (B) were from a concentrated region, and (C) all shared the exact same love, including often the exact same wording, for ThinkPads.
Our voting and forums are indeed open to all, but in an arena that's almost exclusively IT professionals, for a group to come in from an organization, pretend to be part of the community, participate, and fail to self-identify conflicts of interest, well...
Beyond the comments from Mr. Gorman, I received some e-mail from support techs inside of Lenovo who agreed with some of the assertions in the post and discussion about the apparent decline in quality. I'll save those for another post, but it was still interesting to see.
Additionally, here in Decision Central, you can see the results of a new poll we put up asking people what they like to see in a laptop and who their favorite vendor is. The poll, now closed to keep it from suddenly skewing after this mention, shows (surprisingly) Dell on top and Lenovo a distant third:
Based on my comments about purchasing an HP, there seems to be an assumption that I'm anti-Lenovo or anti-China. There's no personal bias. I've been a ThinkPad advocate for years. We used to use them at both of the places where I worked as a network administrator. I wouldn't have made the post if I wasn't concerned about where the product seems to be heading. We've had ThinkPads here on extended trial in the past. One of my favorites was an X41 Tablet, which I've talked about before.
I've discussed with Mr. Gorman the possibility of obtaining additional units for extended testing, to provide a complete in-the-field review and coverage and to prove me wrong. I've also invited Mr. Gorman, and maybe someone from Lenovo engineering, to come on a podcast interview discussing these and other issues.
I'm still unconvinced, but it's nice to have an open, up-front debate about the issue.