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« Building the capacity for empathy | Main | Odds and Ends - midsummer 2008 »

The Blue Skunk Seal of Approval

seal-face.jpgThis year at NECC I was directly approached by lots o' product vendors who wanted my involvement with their product - to try it, to serve in an advisory capacity, to promote it in my talks or writing. I am flattered, more than a little surprised since I am small fish in the ed tech pond, and a little uncertain about how to handle such requests.

To the credit of at least a couple vendors, they took the time to attend my session on "Policies for the Social Web" and scout out my online offerings to make sure we were philosophically aligned. This saves time since I am not impressed by limiting technologies - overly ambitious filters, monitoring software, integrated learning systems, etc.

But I am excited about some social networking tools that operate in a "walled garden" environment. These products offer many of the same benefits and experiences of common Web2.0 tools, but security through limited access and monitoring is a part of the design. I believe Gaggle.Net is the prototype for this approach to offering students a "safe" means of communicating online.

What I am trying to do is figure out what my personal guidelines ought to be concerning endorsing or even mentioning commercial products on the blog or in my talks. These are what I've followed so far:

  • I will not endorse or mention a product (at least without a heavy-duty disclaimer) which I don't have experience using in our district. This is important. While the product itself might look very cool, it's only through experience that one learns about little things like support, compatibility, bug fixes, situational customizations, and unintended consequences of use. (Yes, we use and like Gaggle.Net.)
  • I will not accept any form of remuneration for reviewing or writing about a product. (Exception listed below.) This includes trips, gifts, cash, cars, call girls or dictatorships of small countries. Not that any of these things have actually been offered to me.
  •  I don't take paid advertising on my blog or website.
  • I don't wear t-shirts, baseball caps, or underwear with corporate logos. (I do have a hip flask with the ALA logo on it, however.)
  • I do write "blurbs" for books and/or products that I've actually read or used and liked.
  • I try to keep my recommendations my personal recommendations  - not the school district's.

I suppose there are other guidelines I should set for myself. That readers trust my objectivity is important to me.

Now there is one big caveat to all of this. If the price were right, I would probably say just about anything. I am thinking $100K would pay off the mortgage, allow me to fill up both family motor vehicles at the same time, and get the LWW that new garbage disposal she's been pining for. Cool.

There is an old joke about a man who approaches a woman in a bar and offers her a staggering amount of money if she will sleep with him. She accepts. Then the man offers her five dollars if she will sleep with him. The woman responds, "Just what kind of a woman do you think I am?" The man responds, "I think we both know that. We're just negotiating the price."

 I suspect it's good for my professional reputation I work in education where the profit margin is so small that the temptations just aren't that tempting...

What needs to be added to my endorsement guidelines?

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Reader Comments (8)

My expectation would be that if something you endorse falls apart upon further use or examination you would let us know. For example, if your infinite love of the Kindle becomes dulled by it's inferior design compared to the original format :)
- Ernie

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErnie Cox

Interesting post, Doug. I wrestled with that one myself the other day when I blogged about a new Gale database, and basically decided based on most of your criteria. (althouh I wear LOTS of corporate logos--I think I got $100 of t-shirts at NECC, which helps my wardrobe immensely! No logos on my underwear, though...)

I think I would add to the list (though it may be a Duh! kind of thing) there needs to be sound pedagogical or educational reasoning behind an endorsement--even more so for the more heavy-duty corporate-type products.

I'm going to copy these and post them somewhere. Thanks for, as always, concisely articulating what the rest of us see only through a haze!

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJeri Hurd

I never even set foot in the exhibit hall at NECC this year, and did not miss it at all. My husband and son did however, and my husband had it out with a vendor. He walked by this particular one, and the vendor said something to which he ignored, and then just after he went by, the vendor smarted off within his earshot, saying "I guess you do not care about student achievement." My husband went back and laid into him--said he caused quite a scene. He demanded to see the person in charge of the booth--and reported the smart-a$$ed man to his higher up. He felt like the vendor was way out of line. I did not go into the exhibit hall for several reasons, one of which I did not want to fill my already heavy bag (i toted my laptop around) with junk I would throw away, and two, I did not want to feel like a marketing billboard, wearing all sorts of silly t's and hats and buttons and the like. There are names for people who advertise wares on the streets, and its not necessarily polite or even politically correct to mention here. I refuse to prostitute their wares. Thankfully in my district, vendors are not allowed to call us, and if the secretary sends them through unknowingly, we get to politely and GLEEFULLY tell them it is against our district policy to talk to vendors, and they must go through procedures at the district office to be considered as a vendor anyone is allowed to talk to. Oh and then I get to say "You must talk to our media coordinator--CLICK." It is with intense seriousness and sarcasm that I tell them this. Isn't it sickening that I do this with fervor and enthusiasm?

July 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

I think you went too far by eliminating baseball caps and T-shirts as endorsement potential.

Those excellent Blue Skunk images combined with your witty and intelligent tone of your site could be used to promote worthwhile educational opportunities for challenged students.

Let me be first in line to buy a T-shirt.

July 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul C.

The "what kind of a woman do you think I am?" story is not a joke- it's supposedly a real scene that played out between a woman at a dinner party and none other than Winston Churchill.

I think endorsing a product should be subject to some pretty stringent guidelines; mentioning something you saw at a conference and thought was pretty neat - I'm not so sure. Cheers.

July 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike

@ Ernie,

Yes, I am due for an update on the Kindle. I was going to wait a full month before commenting. It certainly has its plusses and minuses!

I don't think I've ever been shy of admitting to a mistake - either time.

All the best and thanks for the reminder,


@ Jeri,

I am in absolutely no position to judge the fashion values of others. I think if it looked good in the '70s, it looks just as good today.

You are absolutely right about the sound pedagogy behind products for schools. Or at least make it clear if the recommendation is for school or personal use.

Thanks and all the best,


@ Cathy,

Why does everyone seem to have had a more exciting NECC than I did? Fights in the vendor area? I'd have liked to have seen that. I usually just drool at the booth babes, but they seemed in short supply this year - or maybe I was moving too fast.

I like your policy about directing sales calls to the library director. I'd like it even more if I WASN'T the library director for my district. I am not sure if direct dealings with telephone marketers is a sickness - maybe just human nature.

All the best,


@ Hi Paul,

Be careful what you ask for. One of my son's drawings (not a skunk) was already made into a t-shirt for a library conference.

I am thinking a cap with earflaps with the Blue Skunk might be more in keeping with the spirit of the blog.

All the best,


@ Hi Mike,

It's certainly possible that this is a Churchill witticism. I remember the one about the difference between being ugly and drunk the morning after!

Yup, everything looks good during the sales demo! I want some real hands-on experience with real kids and staff before recommending a product to others.

Good reminder. Thanks.

All the best,


July 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Very cool seal. That reminds me, I've got a sea lion closeup from the Oregon Zoo in June. Still in the serious vein (actually I'm multitasking with my technology here while wading, boots on, in the Blue Skunk Preserve.

July 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJane in NC

Hi Jane,

Wade a way. Hope the boots are high tops because it gets pretty deep!


July 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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