by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the bloody PowerPC/Pentium marketing war, Intel has fired another shot (well, what did you expect them to do?). Several people have reported that the magazine Computer Shopper is running a poll to see if people are interested in the PowerPC chip. To this end, Computer Shopper has set up an 800 number with a simple voicemail voting system. If you call 800/505-5087 (sorry, no overseas number), you hear a message that says, "Based on the information you have currently, would you purchase a system with a PowerPC in it?" Pressing 1 registers a YES vote and pressing 2 registers a NO vote.
Sounds fairly reasonable, so far, right? Well, it's not a terribly scientific poll, since (as far as I can tell, anyway) the system lets you vote more than once from the same number. In other words, "vote early and vote often" applies in spades. From the messages I've seen, Intel has apparently sent the number around internally and encouraged all of its employees to vote, one presumes for the Pentium. Now Apple and Motorola (although IBM wasn't mentioned in the messages I saw) are getting into the game and asking all of their employees to vote as well.
This might seem like some of a joke, after all, the poll lends itself to abuse by redial, or even automated abuse via modem. (Ideally the system would eliminate duplicate votes from the same phone number - a good use for caller ID.) However, I think the concern on both sides of the PowerPC/Pentium fence goes a little deeper than that. Think about it for a minute. There are two basic possibilities, with a third unlikely one. If Intel overwhelms the poll with a massive quantity of NO votes, that becomes a potent marketing comment - even though the poll wasn't scientific, the damage is done. If Apple and Motorola overwhelm the poll with YES votes, that's a big marketing plus for the PowerPC-based systems, even if sales don't reflect the interest shown in the poll. The third possibility is that the votes would come out more or less even, at which point the two ballot-stuffing efforts would cancel each other out, and it would be difficult for either side to score a marketing goal.
Of course, none of this has any effect on reality, but that's not point behind certain types of marketing, which rely solely on customer and media perception.
Coincidentally, I also just received a semi-anonymous posting about "Operation Market Intelligence," a write-in campaign to attempt to show the major PC clone manufacturers that there is interest in them making PowerPC-based computers that could run Apple's System 7.
Operation Market Intelligence has several problems. First, the contact information given for companies such as Compaq, Dell, the IBM PC Co., and Gateway is spotty and relatively random (unlike the very specific Computer Shopper poll above), which makes me suspicious as to how effective any contact with those people would be. Second, if the people contacted are not at all interested in working with the PowerPC and System 7 right now, being hassled by large numbers of letters and phone messages won't make a positive difference, if it makes one at all. Third and finally, I'm not at all convinced that individuals writing in to express personal opinions would have any effect on large computer manufacturers. Let's face it, all posturing aside, these companies care primarily about their large customers. It's in some ways a conflicting attitude because most are also chasing the holy grail of the individual consumer (after all, there are only so many large companies, whereas there are millions of individual consumers).
So in the end, I don't have high hopes for a write-in campaign from individuals who aren't even existing customers (for the target companies) having much effect. I'd like to be wrong, but it seems that the best way to focus a specific public opinion on a large organization is for a single entity, much as the EFF and CPSR have done with certain political issues, to collect email messages from all over, and then funnel them to the appropriate person in the target organization. That should get the point across without negatively impacting on the target organization in any form, which is a bad way to attempt to convince an organization of a point of view. After all, if hundreds of people called you and flooded your mailbox with requests for you to fundamentally change the way your business operates, you might listen, but you'd also be upset about the constant interruptions.