In Joel Spolsky’s most recent post, Bribing Bloggers, he states that even if a blogger discloses that they have received the item they are blogging about as a gift, that:
“the only conclusion I can come to is that this is ethically indistinguishable from bribery. Even if no quid-pro-quo is formally required, the gift creates a social obligation of reciprocity.”
He then goes on to reference Dr. Cialdini’s Influence. while I agree with most of the post, disclosure along with objectivity is exactly what makes the difference. Within the same summary Joel references, Dr Cialdini states that â€œThe best defense against manipulation by the use of the Rule of Reciprocity to gain compliance is not the total rejection of initial offers by others. But rather, accepting initial favors or concessions in good faith, while also remaining prepared to see through them as tricks–should they later be proven so. Once they are seen in this way, there is no longer a need to feel the necessity to respond with a favor or concession.â€
In the end, when writing, if need be, insert a disclosure. Either way, the reader should be cognizant of the context, and responsible enough to look for more than one opinion. Joel doesnt give the Vista a favorable review. Free laptop or not, would he have responded differently? I doubt it.