technical: Can You Trust What You Read?
Last year I did a webinar with CPT Global that was hosted by Compuware. In this webinar I talked about how Longpela Expertise and CPT Global had used Compuware's Strobe product to find CPU savings at client sites. This is typical of such webinars in our industry, and are a valuable resource for learning about IBM mainframes and the products that run on them.
But I was paid by CPT Global to do this webinar. And Compuware weren't hosting this as a community service - they wanted more exposure for their Strobe product, and how it can save money. This raises an interesting question about vendor sponsored content: can you really trust it?
Vendor Content in the Industry
If you want to find out technical information, you start with the product manuals and documentation. These come with any product, and should always be the first port of call. However often this documentation isn't enough: it may be difficult to understand, or not cover some areas or issues. It also won't include user experiences, and other independent comment about the product, how it works, and how it can be used best.
So we all look for supporting content. IBM produces Redbooks. Conferences such as Share and CMG imPACT produce proceedings of presentation made by vendors and other technical staff. And of course there are whitepapers, articles and webinars. Finally, independent blogs, lists such as IBM-MAIN, and groups such as the LinkedIn Mainframe Professionals group provide another option for those looking for answers. We talk more about supporting contents in our partner article.
Who Is Producing The Content?
Perhaps the first question to ask when looking at technical contents is "who is producing it?" Anyone can write something in a blog or article. So the author of the content is important - are they a technical expert? Unfortunately, there's no independent certification that you can use to check an author's credentials.
If I find content sponsored by a vendor or on a vendor's official website, then I'm comfortable trusting that the content will be accurate - at least as far as the vendor's products are concerned. So I regularly use IBMs Redbooks and vendor's Share presentations.
You'd also expect companies providing services to have quality content on their website - providing those companies themselves are good at what they do. For example, content on sites such as Watson and Walker, Enterprise Performance Strategies, or RSH Consulting look excellent to me.
Looking to see what else the author has published is a good indicator. For example, I've written articles that are easily found, the book "What on Earth is a Mainframe", and have presented recently at Share. There's a track record.
Is It Independent?
In 1999 the Australian radio commentator John Laws was caught accepting payments for favourable comments about products on his radio show. This doesn't seem too bad, however Laws presented these comments as independent editorial comments - he made no mention that he was being paid. So how do you know that the content you're reading is truly independent, and not paid for?
The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) is an organisation made up of consumer protection authorities from 60 countries worldwide. In June of last year they published a "Guideline for Digital Influencers". The guidelines for providers of content are in many cases common sense, but can be easily forgotten in the excitement of producing technical comment.
So let's look at my Webinar with Compuware and CPT Global again. The ICPEN guidelines state that comment should clearly state any payments received or commercial relationships that affect the content. As I was presenting with Compuware and representing CPT Global, this is clear. It also states that genuine views should be given. During this webinar, the information I gave was genuine, and based on my or CPT Global's experiences.
However you can be sure that such vendor-sponsored content won't be totally impartial. During my webinar, the information I presented was up-to-date and accurate. I included content that I think was great, helping people use Strobe better and more effectively. However I didn't mention competing products like IBM APA or Macro4 FreezeFrame. I also painted Compuware and CPT Global in the most favourable light. So although I adhered to the ICPEN guidelines, it's still clear that vendor-sponsored content may not be 100% impartial. They're sponsoring the content for a reason.
The reality is that there are few totally independent sources of mainframe technical content. Almost all is produced or sponsored by vendors. That doesn't mean that this content isn't useful. However as Google has become one of the primary tools in searching for technical information, it's wise to consider the source before trusting technical content you find.