Who’s the Troll Here — This Dude or Me?

Honestly, I sometimes try too hard to engage commenters, when I really should know better. So I adopt a new rule today: Respond to those people who are identified — meaning I know or can know who they are. That’s one reason most of my comment engagement takes place at Google+. But recently, after abandoning BetaNews story comments for years, I changed tacts. Problem: Trolls, or people who sure seem like them to me.

The critics largely write alike, for example accusing of linkbaiting or demeaning me while rarely responding to the story’s substance. Those people defending Apple are the most alike and their tone is similar to that I wrote about earlier this month: “Apple Apologists are Dinosaurs” and “Apple Apologists Sometimes Mean Well, But…” 

Earlier this week, I posted to BetaNews: “Product rumors are Apple’s best friend“. I responded to one commenter’s request for “proof” on two claims because another — who constantly criticizes — snarked: “You will never get proof. Joe is not a fact based blogger. He just stirs the shite….especially when it come to Apple”. That’s another new rule: Don’t bother to respond to crap I know is false.

I find the exchange with the commenter to be enlightening. He essentially accuses me of being an Apple news troll (never using that word), when I see him in similar role. I share our discourse — his comments in red and mine in blue.

‘If market share really mattered to Apple’. It doesn’t.

‘It’s also a myth. Granted, the company has a strict no-comment policy about future products, which isn’t so much about keeping information from seeping out but controlling who disseminates it’. Proof?

“…and others wanting to join the Apple fan club and to be the cool kid on the block, too—style and feeling part of something important matter much’. Proof? I really really want to see the proof on this ‘matter much’ claim.

‘But the core philosophy of selling to loyal customers, even while trying to grow their numbers, remains the same’. As opposed to every other business that has ever existed in the world. Ever.

‘You can be sure, and I’d like to see some consumer analyst conduct surveys to see, that millions of potential Android switchers stuck with smaller iPhones because of rumors’. Yet, you can be sure. Just as soon as those surveys come back.

To the first ‘proof’ request, 9-to-5Mac’s excellent investigative report, which parallels my experience reporting about Apple for 15 years.

To the second ‘proof’ request, take some time to read these to get a sense of the demographic:

NPD study.

UK study.

Google search shows ‘Apple Faithful’ part of the news reporting lexicon.

My own interviews of Apple customers, like the original iPhone launch.

Apple Fanboy behavior.

More Apple Fanboy behavior.

(The last two links really set him off. My bad.)

Proof? There’s what, 60 million iPhones out there? You link to a study of 2,000 people that does not compare those 2,000 to 2,000 Windows people or Android people. You’re claiming that Apple people are more loyal than Windows people based on that article? Or is it that you don’t care if Android and Windows people are just as loyal, you only care if it’s Apple?

You link to an article where the author conducted ‘over a dozen interviews’, and a whole lot of speculation. And even then, you people make it out like it’s a bad thing. Even if half of it were true, what company wouldn’t love to have that kind of PR savvy? Why is this so annoying to you?

You link to articles that reference people who take the time to comment in articles. What’s that number? How many people post in comments? What is she talking about here? Dozens? Hundreds? What’s the actual number of posters here? And they’re representative somehow? What’s the number of Apple fanboys ranting and raving on forums compared to Android users? Windows users? I want to see that study. Show me where the Apple fan is worse.

You link to an article, as proof, where she uses the words of a passerby—”weird cult” in the headline. Yeah, I’m sold.

And this proof that these people are buying this stuff to ‘feeling part of something important matter much?’ I want proof. I want 60 million people to tell you that yes, you’re absolutely right. They didn’t buy it because they like it or because they’re adults and buy what they want when they want it and for any other reason adults buy stuff. But because they want to be a part of something bigger. Something cool. Show me that study.

And the real question is why in the hail do you concern yourself with this nonsense? What could you possibly care why somebody buys anything? What about them doing that gets you people so out of shape that you start calling them names? Does it bother you that countless millions of people went to see some stupid comic-book movie instead of some film? That people spend so much of their time rooting for a sports team and it’s players? That Harley-Davidson owners are loyal to that brand? That people will always buy Coke and never Pepsi? That keep you up at night?

iPhone sales topped 500 million in March. I had no idea only 60 million were still in use—10 million of them from iPhone 6 or 6 Plus first-weekend sales, presumably. Do you have a citation for that number? I’m simply shocked! 😉

Of course, I didn’t refer to studies about Android or Windows users. My story wasn’t about them. I offered a few representative links in response to your comment. The story is about Apple and its focus on existing, loyal customers. Why are you so offended by that? Or see something negative in reporting about that?

Let’s skip the studies that so offend you and focus on Apple, since the company is the story’s focus. During nearly every earnings conference call, the CEO and CFO rave about the unusually loyal customers.

In January, the retiring CFO called Apple customers ‘highly engaged’, later praising them: ‘We are thrilled to have the most satisfied, loyal, and engaged customers in our industry, and we are confidently working to make the user experience even better for them’.

In April, the CEO: ‘Customers who have a great experience with their first Apple products, often become loyal and happy owners of the multiple Apple products overtime…I’d like to thank our hundreds of millions of customers for their loyalty and enthusiasm and for continually inspiring us to surprise and delight them’.

In July, the new CFO: ‘Apple’s large, loyal and very engaged customer base’.

Very few companies talk about customer loyalty and enthusiasm the way Apple does. Apple caters to these customers first. Listen to a decade of earnings calls, as I have, or report on the company for 15 years, as I have, and the patterns are obvious—about the leadership team’s focus and customer attitudes, particularly loyalists who attack any journalist who doesn’t write as enthusiastically about Apple as they feel.

Ah, isn’t that nice. You tried for a joke! Shocked you are at 60 million! Did you see the question mark? That means I don’t know, but good one any way. Really. No. Really.

Let’s not skip the studies you use for proof that 500 million people buy a product to be a part of something bigger, which is my focus. You post those links about cults and crazy fans and then want to drop it and talk about Apple yet you go right back to their fans in your last sentence.

So, again, how many? How many unique commenters? What’s the magic number to get a ‘journalist’ so scarred? I’ve read some outrageous stuff from Android and Windows users but it’s just so odd that ‘journalists’ never mention them.

So what’s the number? Dozens? Hundreds? Certainly not thousands. Oh, there may be thousands of posts but not posters on any given article. So what’s that number that moves a group from annoying ass-holes to actually scarring someone to the point where they write that 500 million people are in a cult and long to be part of something bigger?

The only thing I can think of is that those commenters must be posting some real zingers. There’s a global group of ‘journalists’ who can’t seem to write about Apple without including ‘cult’ or ‘religion’ or bringing up their fans. These zingers must really have gotten to them. What was the most you ever had? In 15 years you must have had at least one article where, what, 150, 200 commenters must have posted? Yeah, that’ll thin your skin right there. Knowing that there are morons on the interwebs and they’re going to say moronic things is proof enough that it’s a cult with 500 million members.

I’ve owned motorcycles since I was 17, for 48 years. In all the magazines I’ve subscribed to and visit on the web I’ve never read one article where the author attacked users of a certain brand. And believe me, motorcycle owners can be a loyal lot. Sure, the letters and comments get heated and the author gets attacked but never do they respond. And they certainly don’t get scarred.

Even sports writers, they may write about fans misbehaving, but they aren’t anywhere near as ridiculous as you ‘Apple fans are cultists’ people. The scars must run deep.

In a way your passionate, somewhat inflamed response here gives some answer to your question. Not mine, and not one made by the story—just your comments and my response to them.

I encourage you to Google Guy Kawasaki, whom Apple hired in the 1990s as evangelist. He organized loyal fans to attack journalists writing anything perceived negative about Apple at a time when the company struggled mightily against the Intel-Microsoft duopoly.

I have experienced those attack tactics, like so many other journalists, for my entire carereer. That’s the difference.

As for other fanboys, I am on record repeatedly observing that Google+ is no longer a social network but a gathering of Google fans, who are increasing intolerant of criticism. They’re particularly testy this week because of the new iPhones.

This isn’t about me. So know that any attempts at making it about me will fail.
This is about you making a ridiculous statement.

And yeah, I’m passionate, about professionalism. I expect a certain level of competency by paid professionals. Unless of course it’s yellow journalism. Then you get what you would expect.

I don’t care what happened in the 90’s. It’s not relevant to today. What’s relevant is how so many ‘journalists’ are so scarred by Internet posters. Look at you. Your entire career you’ve had to put up with fans. Poor you. No sports writer ever has. No political writer ever has. Just you poor tech writers and those rabid Apple fans, at least the ones that post on the internet. Dozens and dozens of them. Maybe even hundreds. And now you’ll lump anyone who owns an Apple product in with them. ‘Cult’. ‘Religion’. The lot of them, all longing to belong.

Don’t you realize how stupid that is? How unprofessional? Just stop it.

If this isn’t about you, I wasted my time, because my responses are directed at your comments not the substance of the analysis. You veered from that rather quickly.

I have interviewed enough marketers (and studied enough about marketing) to know this: Many companies want to build a brand around which a core group identifies—that are fervent, even religious in their loyalty. My understanding about fundamental concepts like this is competence. Many companies covet fanaticism as a good thing.

You should care about the 1990s, because computing technology is a continuum of development, with many parts interconnected. Related: How the news media treats Apple today reminds very much of Microsoft 20 years ago. The past is hugely relevant for lots of reasons, such as the dynamics around platform development and application adoption which for iOS in the 2010s is similar to Windows in the 1990s.

You seem to think I’m offended by ‘those rabid Apple fans’. I wouldn’t write one word about Apple if so, nor respond to commenters like yourself. I am offended by bloggers and journalists who pen aggregated posts or write rumor stories about Apple (and other companies) in pursuit of pageviews rather than responsibly reporting news or posting thoughtful analyses.

As for the ‘you’ll lump anyone who owns an Apple product in with them’, be sensible. BetaNews is not USA Today. My story isn’t directed at a general audience but technology enthusiasts. There is expectation of certain institutional knowledge, which is why we don’t explain every concept or word of jargon. We assume the audience is knowledgeable and intelligent.

Among this technology enthusiast readership you will find fanboys for several platforms, and generalizations apply in ways inappropriate for everyone—if say writing for USA Today. Read comments to any BetaNews story about Android, iPhone, or Windows and see how readers debate, argue, and even belittle one another. They are passionate.

Professionalism in writing starts by knowing your audience and writing for it, which we do here at BetaNews. Then treating readers as adults.

Apologies, but I won’t respond to any more of your comments. My time is limited, and I ignore other readers. I responded so much because you seem like someone who wants to be reasonable rather than rabid. I presume that your demand for professionalism is genuine, and I wish more readers asked the same—sincerely.

If you really believe in professionalism in writing, please feel free to email me, and I will provide a free copy of my book Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers.

Of course it’s not about me. It’s about your declaration about all those Apple users longing to belong. I have not veered at all. It’s you who’s trying to redirect my argument. You are perpetuating the ‘cult’, ‘religious’ nonsense that is in far too many articles about Apple and I’m calling you on it. It’s as simple as that.

‘We assume the audience is knowledgeable and intelligent’. Really now. Then what is the purpose of ‘For them—and others wanting to join the Apple fan club and to be the cool kid on the block, toostyle and feeling part of something important matter much”. Who are you writing that for? Technology enthusiasts? What possible purpose is that statement? You can’t possibly speak for hundreds of millions of people so why is it there? There’s nothing knowledgeable or intelligent about that statement so how does that fit in with a knowledgeable and intelligent audience? If that’s not lumping them all together, if that’s not saying they all just want to be cool, be a part of the ‘cult’ then what the hell is it?

And how is that in any way superior to rumor articles? You’re doing exactly what you claim to be offended by.

For the record, my analysis doesn’t use “cult” or “religion” but does refer to the “Mac faithful” and “Apple fan club” one time each. Not that it matters for the big picture, because I probably have used the C and R words in some past story. But in the here and now the commenter doesn’t let the terms go, which says more about his cumulative frustration, I presume.

My first response attempts to answer his original proof requests. The commenter wants quantifiable data by the millions, which isn’t available nor is it for most anything measured. A small number represents a larger group for many reasons, such as logistical sampling size available. That said, if I interview a dozen people waiting for any new Apple product, consistencies are clear. The majority are loyal fans. Always. Attractive design and good taste is important to them. Always. Many praise the Apple community and express sense of belonging. These things are as true for iPod or Mac buyers 10 years ago as iPhone purchasers today.

I didn’t respond to his (presumably he) last comment, as promised. But in a way, this post is my response. There is value in the dialogue, and I want an easily accessible record of my responses, which I might repurpose later on.

I rarely engage in comment debates like this, and it sadly reinforces my commitment simply to not bother. My focus should be engaging many readers rather than one or two. For me, the interaction is a a valuable mental exercise, but based on our mutual responses little more.

Photo Credit: Tristan Schmurr